New York Mets owner Steve Cohen is balancing on a delicate tightrope. That much was apparent during his special press conference on Wednesday afternoon, in which he delivered an impassioned monologue on the state of the team before fielding questions from a room full of reporters.
Cohen knows that things are not good in Flushing right now. As the man that has spent nearly $400 million in payroll on a team that sports the fourth-worst record in the National League, he is acutely aware of the shortcomings of his club, but he said that blame for the disappointing season belongs to everyone, including him. "I'll take responsibility. I'm the owner," he said.
Hearing a Mets owner speak as a responsible adult is something fans are not used to after years of Wilpon foolishness.
Cohen knows that there are many in the Mets fanbase that want blood, whether that be Buck Showalter, Billy Eppler, or even a token sacrifice like pitching coach Jeremy Hefner. The Mets owner resisted the urge to act on those baser impulses, though, saying that Showalter and Eppler will "absolutely" hold on to their jobs through the end of the season.
Continuity is key in building a successful franchise, and though there are instances of teams turning it around following an in-season managerial firing (see last year's Phillies, for one), searching for quick fixes usually only leads to long-term problems. Cohen pointed out that making reactionary firings could discourage top talent from wanting to work for the Mets, something that will take on added importance as he continues searching for a president of baseball operations to work above Billy Eppler.
Although Cohen was measured in his words and engaging in his manner, nothing he said should make anyone in the organization feel safe from change. He did state that unless the team improved, they wouldn't be looking to add at the trade deadline, and nothing he said indicated that Showalter and Eppler are safe beyond this year if the team doesn't improve.
For fans that want heads on spikes, the press conference was a pile of fluff, especially as the Mets responded by losing to the Brewers hours later. If baseball is Game of Thrones, though, Cohen is more Tyrion Lannister than Joffrey Baratheon, a man that leads with wisdom rather than emotion. Though that can be frustrating for fans that are rightfully angry with the nosedive this once-promising season has taken, it portends good times ahead.
Cohen expressed confidence in his players and optimism that the team could fight back this year, while also acknowledging that a fourth-place NL East finish is entirely possible. When asked if he was open to trading Max Scherzer and/or Justin Verlander if the team continued its poor play, Cohen said, "I don't want to broach that topic."
Don't mistake Cohen's reticence to talk about such a touchy subject in front of the media with an unwillingness to make the moves necessary to field a winner. He again spoke of the importance of building up the farm system and developing pitchers from within the organization, two things he sees as key to building a long-term winner.
Though he didn't sound as cocksure as he did in his introductory press conference when he said that the timetable to win a World Series was 3-5 years, Cohen's words should instill confidence in sensible Mets fans that the team is moving in the right direction.
For older fans and students of the game, "Wait 'til next year" is a loaded phrase, tied to the "always the bridesmaid but never the bride" Brooklyn Dodgers. New York fans are notorious for demanding instant results, but where has that gotten us? There may yet still be time for the Mets to salvage the season, but even if they don't, Mets fans need to appreciate having an owner that a) will speak openly about the team even in times of trouble, and b) is running the team with the pragmatism and intelligence that has made him such a success in the business world. The Mets are in good hands, even though they keep playing like they've been dropped on their heads.