Steve Cohen kept a low profile during his first spring training as Mets owner.
The 64-year-old hedge-fund billionaire had previously said his “day job” running Point72 Asset Management would keep him from becoming too heavily immersed in the team’s daily operations.
Other than a recent weekend visit to Clover Park, which included sharing his suite with Mike Piazza and a highly publicized dinner with Francisco Lindor, Cohen’s presence was hard to detect. It represented a change from previous ownership — Fred Wilpon was extremely visible during past springs, often watching daily workouts from a golf cart he had chauffeured around the complex.
Cohen’s first five months running the team (his $2.4 billion purchase of the Mets from Wilpon and Saul Katz was approved by MLB owners in early November) has largely served as a time to become educated in the ways of the game. Likewise, he is keeping his employees sharp by asking probing questions.
“Steve is a very smart guy, but he has a sense of humor,” team president Sandy Alderson said. “He doesn’t pretend to be an expert on baseball at this point, but he is learning fast. He’s delegated to a large extent, and I have really enjoyed working with him. I have learned a lot. He asks penetrating questions, which require thoughtful answers — not that I always have the answers.”
Asked if he could foresee Cohen eventually becoming more hands-on, Alderson said: “I would be surprised at that.”
Cohen’s net worth of an estimated $14 billion (he is MLB’s wealthiest owner by far) gives him the wherewithal to transform the Mets, and that goes beyond payroll.
The organization more than doubled its analytics staff this offseason, and added additional hitting and pitching evaluators. Technology is more prevalent, beginning with the cameras that were installed throughout the various work stations at spring training, recording data on batting practice and bullpen sessions.
The Mets’ payroll of $203 million — as computed for luxury-tax purposes — ranks as the highest in franchise history, even after an offseason in which the team went without signing a big-ticket free agent such as George Springer, J.T. Realmuto or Trevor Bauer.
Lindor’s arrival with Carlos Carrasco in a trade with the Indians was a big splash that could become a tsunami if the All-Star shortstop and the team can find common ground on a contract extension. Lindor has said he will head to free agency after the season if he doesn’t have a new contract by Opening Day.
Alderson and acting general manager Zack Scott kept busy transforming the roster, adding versatile free agents Kevin Pillar, Albert Almora Jr. and Jonathan Villar late in the offseason after James McCann and Trevor May arrived earlier. Marcus Stroman’s return on a qualifying offer worth $18.9 million was the first piece in the offseason puzzle.
Stroman was asked last week how Cohen’s presence is felt in the organization.
“I think it shows most by just walking around the clubhouse and seeing the guys that are in the clubhouse,” Stroman said. “It just shows that he wants to win. Just to see the major league depth that we have at starting pitching, even in the field, that is something you see on teams that go deep in the playoffs and they have runs deep into October. We have guys at the alternate site, I forget about them … guys that have been great and elite for years. Having that depth is very reassuring.”
Alderson said he and Cohen communicate daily in some form, but the conversations and text messages are about more than baseball operations. As team president, Alderson is overseeing all facets of the organization, and there are numerous other issues to address.
Alderson previously served as Mets general manager; he spent 7½ years in the role after he was hired by Wilpon in October 2010.
Wilpon, now listed as CEO emeritus (he still holds a minority stake in the team), visited camp multiple times this spring and seems content in his life after running the Mets, according to Alderson.
“I think Fred might be enjoying things even more now than he did before,” Alderson said. “Just because he doesn’t have the responsibility for the operation and is enjoying the baseball, which is what I think he really enjoyed most.”
Steve Cohen timeline
It was an eventful offseason for the Mets after Steve Cohen completed his purchase of the franchise. Here’s a look:
Oct. 30: MLB owners approve Cohen as the new owner of the Mets after he agreed to pay $2.4 billion for the franchise.
Nov. 11: Starter Marcus Stroman accepts the team’s $18.9 million qualifying offer.
Dec. 1: Reliever Trevor May signs two-year, $15 million deal, the first significant signing of the Cohen era.
Dec. 12: Eschewing the more expensive catching option in J.T. Realmuto, Mets sign White Sox catcher James McCann to four-year, $40 million deal.
Dec. 13: Mets hire Diamondbacks assistant general manager Jared Porter as their new GM under team president Sandy Alderson.
Jan. 7: Mets trade Andres Gimenez, Amed Rosario and two minor leaguers for Indians superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco.
Jan. 19: Just hours after it’s revealed Porter had sent explicit text messages to a female reporter, he is fired by the Mets. Zack Scott is elevated to acting GM.
Jan. 23: Free-agent outfielder George Springer, a Mets target, signs six-year, $150 million deal with Blue Jays.
Feb. 5: Reigning NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer also passes on Mets, signing with Dodgers for three years and $102 million deal.