Steve Cohen Alone At The Top And Ready For – What?

Mets prospective new owner Steve Cohen (Photo: Yahoo Finance)

Steve Cohen is now in exclusive talks with the Mets to buy the beleaguered franchise. What comes next is the hard part – learning and leading.

Steve Cohen has been has been granted to negotiate the final terms of sale with the Mets negotiating led by Saul Katz, the longtime business partner and brother-in-law of Fred Wilpon.

Presumably, these negotiations will produce a result in a matter of days, as the Wilpon/Katz team is swamped in debt and eager to get out from under what has been a royal cluster_____k of dysfunction and failure.

Soon, Mets fans, who are once again suffering through another season of diminishing returns, will be looking to Steve Cohen for answers that show more than throwing money at a problem in a business far removed from his Cohen’s former hedge fund playground.

Steve Cohen: For You, Here’s Baseball Lesson #1

Baseball is its unique animal in the business world. Having money to spend does not automatically equate to wins and championships.

Billy Beane, the illustrious GM of the Oakland A's Photo: cnbc.com)
Billy Beane, the illustrious former GM of the Oakland A’s Photo: cnbc.com)

Bearing witness to that is the Oakland Athletics ($35.4 mil) and Tampa Bay Rays ($28.6 mil).

Each of whom is leading their respective divisions with payrolls far below the league-leading New York Yankees ($113.9 mil) – and for that matter – the New York Mets ($79.4 mil), who rank sixth in MLB team payroll spending.

Running a baseball club requires finesse, patience, and knowledge of a game that goes far beyond batting averages and stolen bases.

Where Will Steve Cohen Fit In As An Owner

Where will Steve Cohen fit in as an owner? And depending on what he chooses to be, how will that translate to winning baseball in New York?

Typically, baseball owners fall into one of two groups. The most popular and most successful group contains smart business people who have made their fortune or are caretakers of family wealth as an heir.

They are ready to ease into retirement, letting someone else (they trust) do all the legwork they used to have to do.

Steve Cohen does not fit comfortably into this group. He is still a man on the make, as witnessed by a decade-long attempt to buy a baseball club (he failed in a 2011 bid to by the Dodgers).

Hal Steinbrenner & Brian Cashman - Blending Perfectly Photo Credit: The Captain's Blog
Hal Steinbrenner & Brian Cashman – Blending Perfectly Photo Credit: The Captain’s Blog

The model Steve Cohen can look to is a quick trip across the Whitestone Bridge to the Bronx and Yankee Stadium.

The partnership between Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman is the envy of many in baseball. The balance between the two spheres of responsibility, baseball operations (Cashman) and baseball finance (Steinbrenner), is a thing of beauty.

Rarely, if ever, do they step on each other’s toes. Lines of authority are clearly drawn, but Steinbrenner leaves all the baseball stuff to Cashman, who, in turn, works in tangent with Yankees manager, Aaron Boone.

Steve Cohen: Baseball Lesson #2

Now, does that sound the Steve Cohen we have come to know?

No freakin’ way.

Steve Cohen is the mastermind behind a wildly successful hedge fund enterprise that was run with varying degrees of integrity.

Cohen blasts out orders, and his minions in hundreds of cubicles spread across the planet carry out those orders – or else.

Larger Than Life: George Steinbrenner (Photo: Sports Illustrated)
Larger Than Life: George Steinbrenner (Photo: Sports Illustrated)

You can run a baseball team the same way, but it comes with a cost, and sometimes downright failure.

Once again, Steve Cohen only needs to look across the river and the Yankees to find a perfect baseball role model – George Steinbrenner.

Steinbrenner’s legacy in New York is filled with championship trophies and parades down the Canyon Of Heroes.

But Steinbrenner is best remembered as the brash, in-your-face meddler in all of the Yankees baseball operations.

His general managers and field managers worked at his behest, and anytime someone crossed the line, he was fired. (think Billy Martin five times over)

Are we starting to ring some bells with Steve Cohen in a similar scenario with the Mets?

Gene Michael, Architect of the Yankees 90s run (Photo: AP)
Gene Michael, Architect of the Yankees 90s run (Photo: AP)

What few people realize, though, is that Steinbrenner’s Yankees labored from 1981 – 1996 as winners of nothing.

It wasn’t until George Steinbrenner permitted his then GM Gene Michael free reign in signing and developing young talent in a burgeoning Yankees farm system that things turned around.

Ergo – the birth of the Core Five – Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, and Jorge Posada – that produced five championships in six years.

If Steve Cohen buys into the Steinbrenner model, pretending to be a baseball guru and hatchet man, he too will suffer the consequences – until he reaches out for that Gene Michael, or (now) Brian Cashman to make all baseball-related decisions.

Steve Cohen’s First And Most Significant Decision

We can safely assume there is no one within any of Steve Cohen’s holdings who measure up to either Michael or Cashman or, for that matter, any number of GM’s currently employed in the majors.

This brings us to the standing of Mets’ current general manager, Brodie Van Wagenen. Under contract through 2022 for the remainder of a $10 million agreement, Van Wagenen has made few friends in Metland.

Brodie Van Wagenen, Mets GM (AP)
Brodie Van Wagenen, Mets GM (AP)

In any event, therein lies the first indication we will get from Steve Cohen as to what brand of owner he chooses to be – his selection as General Manager will tell us all we need to know.

If Steve Cohen opts to keep Van Wagenen on board, it’s because he senses Van Wagenen can be his whipping boy and yes, sir, man.

But more likely, Van Wagenen, who took a severe pay cut from $25 million per year to join the Mets, will excuse himself from the fray to resume his fledgling career as a player agent.

He Won It, But Is He Ready For It?

In sum, Steve Cohen has achieved a lifelong dream. What he does with the opportunity remains to be seen.

Cohen will be tested daily by Mets fans and the ever-present New York media. His words and deeds will be dissected and occasionally thrown back in his face.

Steve Cohen may think he is, but he is no longer a one-person show.

How Steve Cohen adapts to this new reality will determine the fate of a Mets franchise, fan base, and ballclub.

A city filled with Mets fans, Steve Cohen, “turns its lonely eyes to you.”

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Author: stevecontursi

I am an amateur writer with a passion for baseball and all things Yankees and Mets.