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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Sandy Alderson's return to Mets makes for great theater

Sandy Alderson introduces MIckey Calloway as the club's

Sandy Alderson introduces MIckey Calloway as the club's 21st manager during a press conference on Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 at Citi Field. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

We’re going to spend the next few months analyzing the baseball benefits of Steve Cohen’s plan to bring back Sandy Alderson as the Mets president. And it is a lengthy list.

But I’m still processing the idea of Alderson returning to Citi Field just as the Wilpons are packing up their belongings, reduced to 5% minority shareholders without a say in the franchise’s operations for the first time in nearly four decades.

Not only that, but Alderson -- the former GM -- is basically getting Jeff Wilpon’s job, as he’ll be working directly under Cohen, the hedge-fund billionaire who grew up a Mets fan in Great Neck.

Bobby Axelrod, the vengeful trader loosely based on Cohen in the Showtime drama "Billions," couldn’t have drawn it up any better. Only the episode would probably script Alderson and the Wilpons crossing paths on the Shea Bridge, maybe with Sandy asking for the key to the clubhouse jacuzzi.

We’re not there yet. Cohen still has to be approved by 22 of the other 29 owners (presumably the Mets are a yes) and Thursday’s move of publicly naming Alderson as the club’s president was designed to help facilitate that process. But that’s expected to happen, possibly as soon as next month. And when it does, we should get to see what Alderson can do with a potential wealth of resources he never had during the Wilpons’ stewardship -- or his previous stops in Oakland and San Diego.

"Sandy is an accomplished and respected baseball executive who shares my philosophy of building an organization and a team the right way," Cohen said in a statement Thursday. "I am excited to have Sandy in a key leadership role with the Mets if my purchase of the team is approved."

As we know, Alderson already built one pennant-winner for the Mets, virtually from the ground up, with a noteworthy assist from the stable of young talent the previous GM, Omar Minaya, left behind. But Alderson’s 7 1/2-year tenure in Flushing didn’t follow a smooth, linear trajectory to that 2015 World Series loss to the Royals, and a major reason for that was operating amid the intrusive day-to-day involvement of the Wilpons.

Owners are entitled to do what they want. It’s their team. But some of the more successful ones usually tend to delegate baseball authority and then know enough to stay out of the way. Oh, and sign some big checks, too. From the jump, Cohen -- worth an estimated $13 billion -- already seems to have a handle on this part by immediately hiring Alderson, who now can begin framing a front office as they wait for MLB to green-light the sale.

With Cohen’s cash and Alderson’s lifetime of baseball knowledge, the ceiling just got a lot higher for the Mets, nearly overnight. This is not a case of someone coming in to rebuild a decrepit franchise. While the Mets as a business are drowning in red ink, the franchise has controllable talent -- most of it put in place by Alderson -- and should have been in the playoffs this season.

Alderson’s familiarity not only with the Mets’ roster, but the greater MLB landscape, is an immediate plus for Cohen, who carries limited insight as a previous 8% shareholder. It also means the two can quickly get to work on the transition process, which now is made all that much easier with Alderson back after a little more than two years away.

There are key Alderson holdovers in the scouting department -- including his son, Bryn -- and it’s possible to see Minaya, who has a relationship with Cohen, staying on as a trusted talent evaluator. Alderson taking over as president, however, does cast serious doubt on the future of current general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, who is finishing up his second season at the helm.

Van Wagenen was Jeff Wilpon’s outside-the-box hire as a CAA agent and his slick management vibe comes off as the polar opposite to Alderson, the former Marine and godfather to the Moneyball movement. Despite the personality conflict, it only makes sense for Alderson to pick his own GM, and that choice figures to determine how many current Mets staffers stick with the new regime.

Regardless of how this plays out, Alderson having a second act in Flushing will be fascinating theater. When last we saw him at Citi Field, Alderson was announcing a leave of absence from his GM post due to a recurrence of cancer, but also suggested he didn’t deserve to stay based on the Mets’ poor performance.

"If I were to look at it on the merits," Alderson said that day, "I’m not sure coming back is warranted."

At the same news conference, Jeff Wilpon declined to answer repeated questions about whether or not he would welcome Alderson to return as GM, health-permitting. But now that Cohen has bought out the Wilpons, Alderson is back to command an even bigger stage. And, for the first time, there’s no strings attached.

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