David Stearns officially kicked off his Mets career Monday afternoon at Citi Field the way all their new hires do. Wearing a fresh-pressed navy suit and an easy smile, Stearns deftly answered every question, talked up his Shea stories and gave us reason to believe that this time, with him as the Mets’ first president of baseball operations, the future will be different.
That’s how this always begins. But in the Mets’ case, whether it be a manager or someone upstairs, the end frequently comes way ahead of schedule — and usually in some ugly or regrettable fashion.
Stearns’ arrival came less than 24 hours after Buck Showalter announced his own firing in the same room, seated at the same table, after only two years on the job.
Only in Metsville.
The juxtaposition of these two events, bunched together in such short order, was a product of MLB’s tight playoff schedule. It forced owner Steve Cohen to settle all of the family’s business in a very small window so as not to interfere with baseball’s October tournament. Showalter’s uniform from Sunday’s farewell tour probably still was in the clubhouse dryer.
Showalter, like Stearns, was supposed to be the Mets’ savior. The right guy at the right time. But as so often happens in Flushing, the expiration date gets accelerated, and Stearns’ first executive order — before he even got a company ID — was to fire Showalter, who was only a season removed from winning 101 games.
Starting Monday, however, Stearns, 38, is the guy in charge of the entire Mets baseball operation, signed to a five-year deal and reporting only to Cohen. Historically, that has been a position with the job security of a summer lifeguard, or maybe a Jets quarterback.
Since Sandy Alderson’s ironman streak running baseball ops from 2010 to ’18, the Mets have burned through four general managers, and that doesn’t account for Alderson filling in some vacated gaps amid that chaotic five-year period.
Former agent Brodie Van Wagenen leads the pack with 738 days holding the GM title, followed by Billy Eppler’s 703 — he’s staying on as GM, but below Stearns — Zack Scott (281) and Jared Porter (37).
Showalter was the fourth manager in that span, teaming with Eppler, the only combo to produce a playoff appearance. In that sense, we’re talking about a very low bar for Stearns to clear, especially for someone who built the small-market Brewers into a perennial contender.
But the expectations for Stearns go way beyond mere competency. Bankrolled by Cohen’s billions, the Harvard grad with the high baseball IQ needs to make this year’s 74-win team, a $377 million Seaver Way sinkhole, a forgettable dot in the rearview mirror as soon as possible.
Stearns grew up a Mets fan in Manhattan, so he fully realizes the daunting task in front of him better than most others who’ve occupied that Flushing office.
“The first thing I’d say is this is a hard job anywhere,” Stearns said. “This is massively competitive. Every organization is run by really smart people who work really hard and have good people working for them. I think all of that becomes magnified in New York — and for all the right reasons. Because people really care.
“When you make mistakes in New York, they get magnified. And I understand that I’m going to make my mistakes, they’re going to get magnified and I’m going to have to learn how to handle that. And I think I will.”
Stearns’ resume suggests that he’s smart enough to survive the Citi Field cauldron, but all we had to go on Monday was his ability to smoothly navigate through a sea of microphones and TV cameras. That was the easy part. But if he’s half as good as Cohen apparently thinks he is, Stearns should be able to deliver the “sustainable success” that Cohen has been striving for since he bought the Mets in 2020.
Cohen waited three years for Stearns to be free of his Milwaukee contract — Brewers owner Mark Attanasio wouldn’t let him out — and wound up filling that time with three different GMs (four if you count Alderson subbing in). Listening to Cohen gush about Stearns, you’d think he found his baseball ops prez for life.
“I’ve been really patient looking for the right person, and as David and I got to know each other, it’s clear that we were aligned in our thinking,” Cohen said. “When I was doing the due diligence on David — I do a lot of diligence in my hedge fund — I’ve never seen such universal congratulations, saying you’ve got to hire this guy. That’s pretty extraordinary.”
Cohen obviously is a brilliant investor, but as a baseball owner, his education remains ongoing. That’s why hiring Stearns is so crucially important at this juncture for the Mets.
Cohen discovered the hard way that trying to buy a championship not only isn’t a sure thing but can have disastrous consequences. Stearns is here to steer the Mets back on the course Cohen initially envisioned for the franchise and to succeed where so many others in Flushing have failed — at stunningly rapid speed.
“There’s no guarantees, right?” Cohen said. “But I expect David to be here for a long time.”
In other words, bucking the Mets’ recent trend.