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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Steve Cohen is present at Mets spring training, but not intruding on baseball activities

New York Mets player Michael Conforto and Mets

New York Mets player Michael Conforto and Mets owner Steve Cohen chat during a spring training workout Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, in Port St. Lucie, FL. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.

For what it’s worth, Steve Cohen had face-to-face conversations with Francisco Lindor and Michael Conforto during Saturday’s batting practice session at the Mets’ spring training facility.

They looked like positive discussions. Negotiations? I wouldn’t go that far. There’s only so much you can say between swings, and having the new owner around, touching base with a few of his brightest stars, isn’t all that unusual at this time of year.

Cohen didn’t do any formal interviews Saturday — his second weekend dropping by Clover Park — and he’s been saving the small bits of his public discourse lately for his reactivated Twitter account. But he was a very visible presence after arriving at 10 a.m., watching the workouts with president Sandy Anderson from the centrally located observation deck, then heading down to chat with Lindor and Conforto.

Otherwise, Cohen kept his distance.

While he expects to visit camp on the weekends during spring training — Cohen’s day job is running his Point72 hedge fund — his ownership style appears to be much different from the Wilpons before him.

During their reign, Fred and Jeff Wilpon were fixtures at the complex for most of spring training. Both often were seen in the clubhouse, in the manager’s office and either roaming the back fields or standing on the raised platforms behind the cages during BP.

Jeff, in particular, stretched the title of chief operating officer to the seams, consulting on just about everything the team did, between the lines and beyond them.

After games, it wasn’t unusual to have Jeff already in the manager’s office before the manager got there. Suffice to say, the Wilpons’ constant presence — or "micromanaging," as one person put it — had a tendency to wear everyone down. Employees were constantly looking over their shoulders, which often made it difficult to deal with the more important tasks right in front of them.

That said, when you own the team, you pretty much have license to do whatever you want with it. In Cohen’s case, he pledged early on to let his baseball people run the baseball part of the organization, and those involved indicate he’s sticking to that strategy.

Cohen grew up a Mets fan in Great Neck and obviously remains passionate about the franchise, but he’s not going to run it like a WFAN caller. He

plans to be at all the Citi Field games, but it’s unclear how often he’ll swing by during batting practice, if at all.

Unlike the Wilpons, it’s doubtful that Cohen is the sort who will drop by manager Luis Rojas’ office very frequently, and that’s for the best. The most successful franchises tend to be the ones that don’t have meddling owners, or at least ones that know what they don’t know about managing or playing the sport.

Rojas talked some with Cohen on Saturday, but the owner spent most of the day with Alderson at his side. It hasn’t been an easy winter for the front office. Alderson had to fire the general manager he personally hired, Jared Porter, after revelations that Porter sent a barrage of unsolicited, suggestive texts to a female reporter in 2016. The problems continued to pile up with former manager Mickey Callaway’s reported history of sexual harassment of female media members — including some incidents during his time in a Mets uniform — forcing Alderson to be on the defensive again.

While Cohen has started out feeling comfortable letting Alderson and company handle the baseball-ops side of things, those episodes must have had the new owner pressing them for explanations. In the case of Porter, Cohen announced the firing on his own Twitter account the morning after ESPN broke the story.

For Rojas, this is only the second year of his tenure, and he basically gets a pass on 2020 because of the pandemic. Despite the Mets’ playoff expectations, it’s impossible to judge him on a 60-game schedule saddled with an entire manual of COVID restrictions. Rojas may have been promoted by the previous regime, but Alderson already has a long history with him from his earlier stint as general manager, so he has an important ally upstairs.

It also helps that Cohen has been supportive since coming aboard. From their early phone conversations, Rojas got the sense that Cohen would let him do the job as he saw fit.

"The first time we talked, it was kind of like that," Rojas said Saturday. "Every time I have a chance to talk to him, it’s been a really good conversation about the team and his passion. But more his willingness to learn and to hear your perspective, your angle about the team and the game."

Cohen appeared to be soaking up more of that Saturday from a number of Mets, including two of the biggest names in Lindor and Conforto. Both were all smiles while talking to the owner. And Cohen has the ability to make them much happier in the very near future.

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