In the short time since he bought the Mets, Steve Cohen seems to have learned that money doesn’t always talk in baseball — even when you’re the richest owner in the sport.
Cohen, the hedge fund billionaire from Great Neck, explained in an interview on SNY on Wednesday night why the Mets changed their original front office plan and now are looking for only a general manager to work under Sandy Alderson.
"I'm a little surprised that we haven't been able to find people for the front office," Cohen said in the wide-ranging conversation with Steve Gelbs. "I thought it'd be a little bit easier than it's been. Baseball is kind of funny where you have to ask for permission and all that stuff, and we're not getting a lot of permission."
Cohen’s big bucks will really come into play when it comes time to sign one of the marquee free agents on this winter’s market, though, right?
Not so fast, the lifelong Mets fan cautioned.
The rest of the fan base may have visions of George Springer, Trevor Bauer, J.T. Realmuto and DJ LeMahieu dancing in their heads — the Mets are going to sign at least two of them, aren’t they? — but Cohen seemed to tamp down that speculation on Wednesday.
"We're talking to everybody," he said. "I mean, I can't predict if a player wants to come play for me. Maybe they want to play in a different city. So there's a lot of unknowns. But we're having conversations with everybody that matters and anybody that the fans are excited by. Hopefully something happens, but I'm not going to predict it.
"As I realized with the front office, you can have all these great plans to want to do something. Then you’ve got to be able to pivot to ‘what if you don't get it?’ Or ‘what if they don't want to play for you?’ Or ‘what if, what if, what if?’ So you have to be flexible.
"The goal is to build a great team. We have a great core already, but we have holes. I don't know if we can fill all our holes the first year. That might be a lot to ask. But I think we can make significant improvements so that we get closer to where we want to be."
Cohen did mention that he learned to play poker as a young man. Is that what he was doing? With a bunch of teams trying to cut payroll, the free-agent market is expected to be depressed. Cohen could simply be bluffing in the hopes that prices will come down to a level at which he can go all in.
"I do think we have holes to fill," he said, "and I can't say for certain that we're going to fill those holes . . . Being all in means if you lose, then you're out. I want to stick to my philosophy here. If we have the opportunity to pick up ballplayers that fill needs in a way that that makes sense — that doesn't hamstring us for the next five years — that's something we're going to entertain."
Cohen touched on a myriad of other topics:
On his wisecracking Twitter persona and interacting with fans:
"They're the customer, right? I want to hear from them because they're the ones that are paying the bills and they're the ones that live this and breathe this day to day. And I'm having a blast with them. I mean, they know what they're talking about. They're passionate. They're funny. I mean, being on Twitter is a hoot."
On plans for the future:
"Old-Timers' Day, I think, is a no- brainer. The Fan Fest or Fan Appreciation Day, that seems like that makes sense."
Cohen also said he is in favor of bringing back the Mets’ black jerseys, at least for a limited number of games. He joked that the black jerseys are "the most important issue I'm going to face as an owner."
What is his favorite piece of Mets memorabilia?
Cohen revealed that he owns the "Buckner Ball" that Mookie Wilson hit through Bill Buckner’s legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.
Cohen said he was told he could buy it from Charlie Sheen for $100,000 to $150,000, and his right-hand man, Andy Cohen (no relation), ended up paying $410,000 for it. Steve Cohen said he’s planning to have the ball displayed in the Mets' museum at Citi Field.
"I was not happy," Steve Cohen said. "But I’m happy now."
So maybe money does talk after all.