SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — In his first general managers’ meetings in his big new job, Mets baseball president David Stearns lost out in the grand managerial derby for old Milwaukee buddy Craig Counsell, then was overshadowed by his Yankees counterpart Brian Cashman and the spicy, sometimes profane rant that went viral. But only a month into his new job, it’s becoming more and more clear the Mets made the right call to bring Stearns back home.
Mets owner Steve Cohen made Stearns one of the highest-paid team executives ever, right up there with Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman — word is he can make close to $75 million counting incentives through five years, with about two-thirds of that guaranteed — but this may turn out to be the Mets’ greatest bargain. Let’s face it, a $10 million guarantee is the price of a veteran No. 4 starter or average setup man.
Meantime, this is the man charged with transforming an entire operation, one that’s star-crossed even when it’s star-studded, one that plays little brother to the crosstown team and has managed to rise from the shadows to win only two World Series titles, none since 1986. The Mets are known for making hires that turns out to rank somewhere between questionable and disastrous. But based on early returns, this Upper East Side product looks can’t miss.
Other GMs and agents who have met with Stearns say he seems amazingly comfortable in his new job, which is very different from his old one. One agent even said he seems “like a new man.”
I’d just consider this a coming-out party for a guy who was partially hidden in baseball’s 30th market (as opposed to the 1st market he’s in now). While he has yet to make headlines beyond hiring a rookie manager they’ve yet to announce — yes, it’s Carlos Mendoza, as The Post first reported — he exudes confidence. His answers may not rival Cashman’s for news value, but they are consistently on point.
“I don’t think I have the tenure in this to start dropping F-bombs in press conferences,” Stearns told us regarding Cashman’s spirited soliloquys. “But I appreciate Cash’s enthusiasm for his team and his operation.”
As a professional writer (no cracks please), I appreciate his choice of words for both precision and diplomacy. While the Mets’ current roster looks even less than the squad that went 75-87 in 2023, Stearns doesn’t let on that he’s inherited an inadequate team that’s missing more than half a viable rotation, or more than half a workable bullpen.
Perhaps he is energized by his new job or maybe he’s simply relieved to finally now be out of the small-market sandbox after seven years trying to compete with big-market Chicago and big-revenue St. Louis (and often doing it successfully). While he somehow managed to put together four straight playoff teams in Milwaukee (something the Mets have never done), he surely relishes having the wherewithal to talk about bigger players now.
He said that in his hour-long meeting with agent Scott Boras he’s “talking about a slightly different segment of his personnel now that I’m with the Mets.”
Stearns, who mentioned that his mom on the Upper West Side now is thrilled, looks like he’s having a blast, too. “Whenever you have the resources it expands what you can do and it gives you more opportunity, so we can explore more things,” he said. “That is enjoyable.”
The Mets have headlines ahead. Stearns said he’s looking for “multiple” starters, and one person suggested he believed the Mets would shoot for one top-tier starter — they’ve been linked most to Japanese import Yoshinobu Yamamoto but there’s also Blake Snell, Aaron Nola, Jordan Montgomery and Eduardo Rodriguez out there — and one in the depth category.
The whole difference with Stearns, one person said, is that “he finally has money.”
That doesn’t mean he’s going to be imprudent. Counsell understandably opted to stay in the Midwest for “significantly” more money than the Mets were offering. (One caveat: Even though the Mets never made a final offer since Counsell didn’t want to see his old friend bidding needlessly, sources suggested from the start they weren’t going to pay “Joe Torre money” and thus weren’t going to be close to his record $40 million, five-year Cubs deal.)
That he couldn’t lure his old manager Counsell out of the Midwest is no reflection him. It was going to be difficult to compete with the Cubs’ geography (the North Side team is 90 miles from his home in Whitefish Bay, Wis. and word is he’s going to try to commute despite the occasional traffic on I-90/94) or the Cubs’ market-busting offer.
While I’ve said they needed to bring in Counsell, that wasn’t the bargain Stearns’ deal will turn out to be. So I get it. Counsell is one of the best managers in the game, but he isn’t Bruce Bochy with his four rings, so it’s hard to knock the Mets for thinking he wasn’t worth double Bochy. Counsell also may not have been the fit for New York that Stearns quite obviously is.