February 3, 2023

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Cohen impressed by Mets' grit: 'It's amazing'

4 min read
New York drops first 2 in LA, but owner enjoying team's play early in '22
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LOS ANGELES — Not long after his cross-country flight touched down in Southern California on Thursday night, Mets owner Steve Cohen was back at work, waking up before dawn so that he could tap into the hedge-fund markets by 4:30 a.m. Monitoring stocks from the Pacific Time Zone isn’t ideal; Cohen only did so given a rare opportunity to watch his Mets take on one of the National League’s model franchises. It seemed worth losing a little sleep to evaluate in person.

Upon buying the Mets in November 2020, Cohen declared that he wanted his new club to become the “East Coast Dodgers.” He’s since worked toward that goal in ways that go far beyond the likes of Max Scherzer and Starling Marte. In broad strokes, Cohen has fleshed out the Mets’ organizational infrastructure, beefing up their investments in technology, player development and analytics. 

Until that process is complete, Los Angeles is likely to remain the NL’s most meaningful measuring stick, as evidenced again Friday by its 6-1 win over New York. But make no mistake: the Mets are making “significant progress as far as rebuilding the franchise.”

“We’ve added a lot,” Cohen said before the game. “I will never feel satisfied — that’s not who I am. I’m always trying to figure out where else we can go next. I’m always in a state of constant improvement, and that’s the way I want this organization to run.”

That doesn’t mean winning every game, as Cohen knows. Much like manager Buck Showalter, Cohen downplayed the significance of this series in Los Angeles even before his team lost its second in a row, calling it “a good test, but just a series … a moment in time.” This particular moment involved another two homers allowed by Mets starter Chris Bassitt and another hollow game on offense. It also did little to affect the Mets’ standing in the NL East, which they still lead by 8 1/2 games.

For now, that’s what’s most important. In Cohen’s second full season as owner, the Mets entered Friday’s play sporting the third-best record in franchise history through 53 games, short of only the 1986 and ’88 clubs — a World Series winner and a pennant runner-up. These Mets began the day ranked first in the Majors in hits and RBIs, second in on-base percentage, OPS and total runs and third in run differential, putting themselves in fine shape to afford a little losing streak.

“Forgetting the [8 1/2]-game lead, it’s how they’re playing the game,” Cohen said. “We had a big lead last year, but it was different, right? This is different.”

Last year, the Mets led the NL East by a season-high 5 1/2 games in late June, only to see that margin evaporate by early August. Given the team’s injury troubles, depth issues and clubhouse drama, the late slide came as little surprise to many.

This offseason, under the direction of Cohen as well as a new GM (Billy Eppler) and manager (Showalter), New York did its best to build up depth. The result has been one of the spunkiest Mets clubs in recent memory, as capable of engineering seven-run comebacks as they are of bludgeoning teams from the start. And while Cohen wouldn’t get into the specifics of his Trade Deadline or payroll strategies (except to quip that he might stop spending at $299.9 million), the general expectation is that he’ll do what it takes to reward a group he characterizes as “night and day” from last year.

“It’s amazing, the grit on this team,” Cohen said. “Just watching them come back — how much fun is that? You’re never out of it. The real problem is now I can’t turn the TV off, because I’ve got to stay up and watch. Before, you could turn the TV off. You’re not going to come back. [Now], you’ve got to leave the TV on.”

At home, Cohen only sometimes has that problem, given that he attends about 40 percent of Mets games in person. On the road, he travels when he can to watch his team play.

So Cohen knows a bit about what he sees. As much a baseball fan as he is an owner or a stock trader, Cohen said he’s guarding against irrational exuberance — even while admitting that “I’ll get excited in August.”

“How can you not enjoy it, right?” Cohen said. “When it’s not going well, it’s frustrating. So when it’s going well, you’ve got to allow yourself to enjoy it, OK? But it’s still early in the season. I’m not getting excited. I’m trying to stay disciplined, measured and allow it to occur. And we’ll see where it goes. The goal is to get into the playoffs. And when we get into the playoffs, we’ll see what happens.”

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