|David Stearns (right) soaks in the scene as Mets owner Steve Cohen introduces him to the press on Monday morning. Photo by Jason Schott.|
One door closes, another opens for Mets.
On Sunday, they put the 2023 season in the books, to paraphrase Howie Rose, and said goodbye to Manager Buck Showalter, the sun was shining on Citi Field Monday morning as a new era dawned for the Mets.
David Stearns was introduced as the new President of Baseball Operations by Owner Steve Cohen.
News reports on September 12 indicated that Stearns was set to sign a five-year contract and will begin in his role at the end of the season. It is likely that General Manager Billy Eppler will stay on and report to Stearns, and he was on hand on Monday's press conference.
The 38-year-old Stearns is a Manhattan native who grew up a Mets fan. He began his career with the Houston Astros, where he was an Assistant General Manager from 2013 to 2015. He joined Milwaukee at the end of the 2015 campaign, and he was General Manager from 2016 through 2018 and President of Baseball Operations from 2019-22 before serving as a consultant this season. Under Stearns, Milwaukee made the playoffs four straight seasons, from 2018 through 2021.
Showalter had one year left of a three-year, $11.25 million contract he signed ahead of the 2022 season, with $4 million guaranteed for 2024.
On Sunday afternoon, in his pregame press conference ahead of the season finale against the Phillies, Showalter revealed that Eppler informed him that the team would be going in a different direction with Stearns set to take over. After the game, Showalter said that he never spoke to Stearns, and Cohen also addressed the media to saythe decision was meant to clear the decks for Stearns to bring in his own Manager.
While it appeared the book was closed on Buck on Sunday, Cohen began his press conference with this:
"I wanted to make clear that I kind of orchestrated all of this. I wanted to, you know, handle Buck the way he wanted to go down and, obviously, David on Monday, and you have the MLB playoffs coming up (on Tuesday), and so the window of opportunity to do this was kind of short, and so, you know, that's how we did it, and obviously appreciate all that Buck did for the organization, for me, and so, that's that.
"So, now, I'm here to introduce David Stearns, our President of Baseball Operations. I'm really excited by this. You know, I've been really patient looking for the right person. As David and I got to know each other, I mean, you know, it's clear that we're aligned in our thinking; we get along very well. It was so interesting when I was doing the due diligence on David, I've never seen - I do a lot of due diligence in my hedge fund and I've never seen such universal congratulation that 'you've got to hire this guy.' That's pretty extraordinary.
"There was one instance when I was at an MLB meeting, at the dinners, and I'm sitting at the bar, two people come up to me, 'you've got to hire this guy,' unsolicited. I think that demonstrates how much respect David has in the industry, and I'm just so excited to have him on board and bring on the next chapter of the Mets."
Stearns then said, "Thanks everyone for coming today. It's felt like the last couple of weeks we've been inching towards this day a little bit for me, certainly thrilled we're finally here and I finally get to be here and get going. I want to start by thanking Steve and Alex. You know, throughout this process, really from the time we started talking, it became clear to me that not only do they have a real clear desire to win here, but they really understand that our franchise can impact our community. I think they understand that a sports franchise is not a normal business, and that we have the ability to affect millions of people's lives with how we operate, and so I'm thrilled to partner with them.
"I also want to thank (Milwaukee Owner) Mark Attanasio and the entire Brewers organization. I spent eight wonderful years in Milwaukee, had a lot of fun, we had some success together, and I made relationships that are going to last my entire life, and I'm very thankful, I'm very grateful for that.
"I want to thank my friends and family, my wife Whitney, our kids Nora and Austin. It's meaningful for me, it's cool for me that our kids get to grow up Mets fans now, that we get to share that, that we get to live this journey together, and that they get to experience a little bit of what I experienced growing up as well.
"At the top, I do want to touch on our managerial situation and the events of yesterday. You know, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Buck. What he has accomplished globally throughout his career, and specifically what he's done in this town. I think, as many of you know, up through yesterday, I was under contract with another team, so I wasn't allowed to talk to Buck. I reached out to him this morning, and I'm hopeful that we're going to be able to connect, and I'm very appreciative of what he's meant to this organization, and I think, unquestionably, the organization is in a better spot for him having been here."
This was quite an interesting statement by Stearns that he wants to talk to Showalter. It shows that, while Cohen cleared the decks for him to name a new Manager, he wants to get Showalter's views on the team, and one has to wonder where it will lead. The urge to connect with the recently deposed Manager seems a unique one
It is not unthinkable that Stearns might want to interview Showalter when he goes through his managerial candidates, and the book might not be closed on Buck completely. This could all be a way for Stearns to declare Buck his choice, and hand him a fresh multi-year contract instead of having him enter 2024 as a lame duck. Remember that when George Steinbrenner fired him as Yankee manager in 1995, in a pique of rage after they lost in the playoffs to Seattle, he was desperate to bring him back. Wouldn't that be a twist for Showalter's career?
Stearns continued, "As we move forward, I know there are going to be plenty of questions about my philosophies, what I'm going to bring here, how we're going to accomplish our goals, and certainly I'll answer all those to the best of my ability today and going forward.
"What I will say at the front end here is, operationally, what we're going to try to do is build groups of really talented people at all levels of the organization, people who care deeply about each other, people who care deeply about the Mets, and people who are energized coming to work every single day and working with each other. I'm certain that many of those people are here already and, over time, I also think we'll have the opportunity to bring in other really talented people who want to join us.
"I also want to dispel any notion that there's any magic formula to this, that there are short cuts or there's a secret sauce; there isn't. There aren't certainties in baseball. There are no guarantees of results, but I think we can guarantee that we're going to work really hard. I think we can guarantee that we're going to explore every single angle to make our team better, and I think we can guarantee an environment here for everyone associated with the Mets - our players, our staff, coaches, front office, here and really around the world, an environment where they're committed to the overarching mission of the organization, and where they feel empowered to effect the direction of our organization, and it's been my experience, and certainly my observation, that when we do those things well, and when we focus on those types of things, that generally leads to success and results.
"I know how much this team means to our fans and our community. I grew up listening to Gary Cohen and Bob Murphy and Ed Coleman every summer. I've ridden the roller coaster of disappointment and hope along with every other Mets fan, and I know I am here ultimately working for our fans, and I do not take that responsibility lightly."
The biggest concern for Mets fans heading into the offseason is the future of first baseman Pete Alonso, who was given a massive ovation by fans in the season finale on Sunday. Alonso hit 46 home runs this season, with 118 RBI, but his average dipped to .217 from .271 in 2022. He has hit 192 home runs in his five seasons in Flushing, already fourth-most on the all-time career HR list, tied with Howard Johnson.
Alonso will be entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2024, and Stearns said of what the future holds for the homegrown player, "I think the entire package weighs into it, so Pete is a great player, he is also good in the clubhouse, and he's also homegrown - all of that matters. I know over the summer there was some trade speculation, and, look, I'll just say, look, I expect Pete to be the Opening Day first baseman next year. Pete's an important member of this team, he's an important member of this organization, and I think we're really fortunate to have him."
Cohen was then asked about Eppler's future, and if him staying on as General Manager was built into Stearns' hiring, and he said, "Well, I mean, it's my goal to build up the management talent in this organization. I mean, Baseball Operations is pretty complicated, I mean, there's a lot of moving parts. You know, building up a strong management team is paramount to me, so I view it as 1 and 1 equals 3, okay."