At Spring Training in Port St. Lucie, Fla., former Mets star Darryl Strawberry talked about how the club can win now, drawing comparisons between the current team and the teams he played for in the '80s. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — To see Darryl Strawberry wearing a Mets uniform again, as he did Tuesday at Clover Park, instantly takes the mind back to the glory days of the franchise. Not just to the iconic ’86 champs, but the initial blueprint drawn up by general manager Frank Cashen, the architect of that legendary group.

Strawberry was a pillar of Cashen’s championship foundation, as the No. 1 overall pick by the Mets in 1980, the new GM’s first draft. They were coming off three consecutive last-place finishes in the National League East, and Cashen was tasked with rebuilding the organization from the ground up, a process that began with Strawberry’s freakish power as the cornerstone.

The Mets’ restoration didn’t happen overnight. They didn’t even make the playoffs until that 108-win team went on their title march. But Strawberry sees some similarities between Cashen’s strategy and what David Stearns is trying to accomplish in his debut season as the Mets’ new president of baseball operations.

“He’s doing exactly what Frank did,” Strawberry said. “When I look at some of the things he’s done this offseason, and the way most want to criticize him saying, he’s not doing a good job. He’s doing a good job because he’s looking at the future of the New York Mets.”

Strawberry mentioned how owner Steve Cohen isn’t “throwing money away” because he’s now choosing to invest in younger players. Some of the prime examples being the very expensive Max Scherzer/Justin Verlander trades that yielded a pair of top prospects in Luisangel Acuna and Drew Gilbert, respectively (Cohen could end up paying as much as $85 million total for Scherzer and Verlander pitching elsewhere).

“The upside of the organization is what really counts,” Strawberry said. “And if they continue to go in this direction, they’ll be in the race like the Atlanta Braves are and the other teams that are young ... if they do it the smart way. Baseball is different now. You have to do it a different way. And it’s all about tying your young players up and being able to keep them for a long period of time.”

When I brought up some of the public frustration over the Mets taking a season to “reset” -- despite having the sport’s highest payroll at $329 million -- Strawberry didn’t necessarily agree with that assessment. While it would be incorrect to label this ’24 season as a rebuilding year, Stearns is clearly trying to stabilize things after the flurry of spending that marked the first three years of Cohen’s ownership.


But Strawberry pointed to the talented core that already existed in Flushing, and how Stearns could complement that group with the next generation of Mets. It’s then up to the prospects to fulfill the lofty expectations.

“I wouldn’t call it a complete reset,” Strawberry said. “They’re still good enough to win right now. Do they have the marquee players like other teams have? Yeah, they do. They got [Pete] Alonso, they got [Francisco] Lindor. They got guys with experience. And it’s going to take the younger players that are coming up to really be able to produce and play under the pressure of playing in New York. The young guys need to learn how not to listen to the outside noise.”

Strawberry is an expert on the subject. The key to stifling that chorus? Having clubhouse leaders. Creating a winning culture. And Cashen eventually needed to trade for stars like Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter, in subsequent years, to finish the job. These ’24 Mets are still a work in progress, due to Stearns’ need to evaluate what he’s got at every level of the organization. Creating a deep system with the ability to reload at the top is what Stearns is trying to map out at this stage, as Cashen did more than four decades ago.

“He has a lot on his plate, because it’s New York, you’re the Mets and the Yankees are on the other side,” Strawberry said. “Fans don’t have a lot of patience sometimes. But I just know that he’s very smart and he’s got a great baseball IQ. Of course, he’s in a bigger market. But if you can do what he accomplished in Milwaukee, I surely believe he can accomplish some great things in New York City.”

The closest thing these Mets have now to Strawberry is Alonso, MLB’s most prolific home-run hitter (192) since 2019, his rookie year. That’s enough to put Alonso fourth on the franchise’s all-time list, and probably a bit too far away to catch Strawberry (252) this season. And given Alonso’s pending free agency, Strawberry could end up keeping the title a while longer. He’d obviously rather keep Alonso in Flushing — a chance that Strawberry didn’t have after the 1990 season, pushing him to sign with the Dodgers.

“The door’s going to be open for him,” Strawberry said. “The opportunity for staying in New York is going to be there. The door was not open for me to stay. I think the front office, and the people here, do like [Alonso]. You have a big year, and they’re going to open their arms to you. Hopefully, he has a great season and that opens the door for them to talk and put something together, to keep him with the club.”

Strawberry doesn’t want to consider the alternative. He’s all about the Mets repeating history under Stearns, as long as it’s in the best ways.

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