The big moves everyone expected out of Steve Cohen once he purchased the Mets in October 2020 have come with regularity. They just haven’t worked out very well.
Cohen is now on his fourth main baseball decision maker, an awkward phrase that is necessary because he went through three official general managers (plus Sandy Alderson in a de facto capacity for a period of time after Cohen purchased the team and after Jared Porter and Zack Scott exited in embarrassing fashion) before he finally hired the long-term object of his desires, David Stearns, as president of baseball operations on Oct. 2.
But Billy Eppler, the general manager Cohen wanted to retain under Stearns, resigned three days later, just before news broke that the Mets were being investigated for manipulating the injured list.
Eppler departed after a season in which the Mets’ three biggest free agent signings under his watch were either apparently hampered by lingering injuries (Starling Marte) or traded for prospects in a rapid teardown (don’t hold your breath for the Mets references in the Hall of Fame speeches delivered early next decade by Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander).
Stearns’ first act as the president of baseball operations was to butcher the firing of Buck Showalter, who won Manager of the Year in his debut season with the Mets in 2022. One of his next acts was to widen the gap between the Mets and homegrown superstar Pete Alonso by declining to say whether or not Alonso would remain with the Mets long-term. Alonso then went and hired Scott Boras, so have fun with that negotiation. David!
But Cohen has delivered over and over again when it comes to doing the little things that are possible because of his endless pockets. The perception of the Mets has improved because Old-Timers Day returned in 2022 and the numbers worn by Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry will be retired in 2024. These are gestures the Wilpons never would have made, even if they owned the team until the year 3000.
On the field, the 101-win team in 2022 was a 101-win team because of smaller moves like the signings of Mark Canha and Eduardo Escobar, the acquisition of Chris Bassitt and the release of Robinson Cano once it became clear Cano was never going to regain the form he displayed before multiple PED busts.
And if the Mets are going to be better than expected in 2024, it’ll be because of players like Luis Severino — or at least the thought process behind the acquisition of Severino, who was signed to a one-year deal worth $13 million on Wednesday.
Severino, coming off five injury-plagued and ineffective seasons, represents a low-risk, high-reward investment for these Mets. If he finds his 2017-18 self again — when Severino went a combined 33-15 with a 3.18 ERA while making a pair of All-Star teams and earning Cy Young Award votes in both of his age-23 and age-24 seasons — then the Mets will have an ace-caliber pitcher bringing up the rear in their rotation.
And if he isn’t able to reverse his slide — Severino is 13-12 with a 4.47 ERA since 2019, a span in which he’s missed most of one season with a shoulder injury and most of two more recovering from Tommy John surgery before subsequently battling lat strains — then the impact will be minimized for the Mets, who will surely be in on the high-end pitching market once the winter meetings kick off next week.
This isn’t the late fall and early winter of 2019, the last year of the before times, when the Mets’ off-season pitching moves consisted of signing Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha but only after they made room in the budget by renegotiating Yoenis Cespedes’ contract.
Porcello and Wacha were signed to be the Mets’ fifth and sixth starters, but because these are the Mets (or because those were the Mets), their minimal depth took an irrecoverable hit when Noah Syndergaard underwent Tommy John surgery just as the pandemic began.
Months later, Marcus Stroman opted out of the truncated 60-game season, which left Porcello and Wacha entrenched in the rotation despite a combined 6.17 ERA in 19 starts and forced the Mets to mix-and-match with the likes of Steven Matz, Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo behind Jacob deGrom and rookie David Peterson.
With only Kodai Senga and Jose Quintana entrenched in the Mets’ rotation, Severino is higher on the depth chart now than Porcello or Wacha were in December 2019. But these are the new Mets, where the big moves haven’t worked out but haven’t kept Cohen from trying. By this point next week, there’s a good chance Severino will be no higher than fifth on the depth chart, where he’ll be the big name but the small move properly slotted in as insurance for the bigger names and moves.