By Bret Botfeld
The New York Mets officially introduced David Stearns as the first president of baseball operations in team history at a press conference held on Oct. 2. The press conference took place at Citi Field and was hosted by Mets owner Steve Cohen.
Stearns was a former intern for the team, and much like Cohen, he grew up in New York City cheering on the Mets. “I’ve ridden the roller coaster of disappointment and hope along with every other Mets fan,” Stearns said at the press conference.
Stearns is a Harvard graduate and has had a role in Major League Baseball for over a decade. He worked in the commissioner’s office at MLB from 2008-2011. The Cleveland Indians hired him the following year to become their director of baseball operations. In 2013, the Houston Astros pried him away from Cleveland, and Stearns led a successful rebuild as their assistant general manager up until 2015.
“People describe him [Stearns] as incredibly smart, thoughtful, open to new ideas and inclusive. It aligns with my thinking about what I like and how I like to run an organization,” Cohen said.
Stearns’ big break occurred in September 2015 when the Milwaukee Brewers hired him as president of baseball operations. He created a track record of success with the small-market Brewers up until the time he stepped down in 2022. The team was one win shy of a World Series appearance in 2018, and made the playoffs three straight seasons while winning two division titles.
Cohen had his eyes on the executive a year ago, but the Brewers would not let Stearns out of his contract. Stearns stepped down into an advisory role for the Brewers last year. He had to wait until Aug. 1 of this year to begin speaking with other organizations. Many teams had interest in Stearns, including the Mets and the defending World Series champions, the Astros.
“The people who worked under David loved working for him, so he was really able to establish follower-ship wherever he was,” Cohen said.
The Mets had championship aspirations entering the season with the highest payroll in MLB history. They missed the playoffs, finishing fourth in the National League East with a record of 74 wins and 87 losses. The Mets were never able to recapture the magic of last year after a 101-win season, the second highest in franchise history. Stearns has a lot of work to do as he builds his administration with an eye on free agency less than two months away.
His first major decision was firing manager Buck Showalter on Oct. 1, just one day before Stearns was officially announced as head honcho of the Mets front office. “When hiring a president of baseball operations, they’re entitled to bring in their own people,” Cohen said, explaining why Stearns decided to fire Showalter, the four-time manager of the year with one season remaining on his three-year contract.
“I’m proud of what the Mets did. We won close to 180 games in two years. Especially last year, as much fun as I’ve ever had in the game. It reminded me why I’ve always loved this kind of work,” an emotional Showalter said during his pregame news conference on Oct. 1.
The most talked about candidate to replace Showalter for the Mets is Craig Counsell, the Brewers’ manager. Counsell completed the final year of his contract on Oct. 4 after the team was swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League Wild Card Series. New York can begin negotiating with Counsell on a contract now that he is officially a free agent.
Stearns emphasized the need for building “a true partnership” with whoever he chooses to manage the team for the foreseeable future. Stearns described that partnership as someone who is extremely engaged and open to new ideas. Counsell worked side by side with Stearns in Milwaukee for seven years, building a consistent winner with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball.
Counsell was hired by the Brewers in 2015 to become their manager. He owns the franchise record for wins and games managed with 707 wins and 625 losses, while leading Milwaukee to the playoffs five out of the last six seasons.
If the Mets truly want Counsell to manage the team moving forward, Cohen’s deep pockets will certainly allow New York to make him an offer he can’t refuse. However, Counsell leaving Beer City for the Big Apple isn’t as easy as it seems. The free agent manager has deep-rooted ties to the city of Milwaukee because he grew up in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin and has lived there his entire life. Before managing, Counsell had a 16-year career as a player, and he played as a Brewer for six of those seasons. His father, John, also worked for the Brewers as their director of community relations.
Stearns faces another major decision just a few days into his tenure as the man in charge of the Mets: finding a new general manager. On Oct. 5, Billy Eppler resigned after two seasons due to an ongoing investigation by MLB for alleged improper use of the injured list. “I wanted David to have a clean slate and that meant me stepping down,” Eppler said in a statement released by the team, per CBS News.
Eppler had two years remaining on his contract and was prepared to go from first in charge to second working as Stearns’ right-hand man. “I have a lot of respect for the experience he has in this game, the experience he has in New York, and I’m looking forward to working with him,” Stearns said at his introductory press conference. But now Eppler is out, and his exit makes him the fourth general manager the Mets have had in the past five years.
With this hire, Cohen is counting on Stearns to stabilize the franchise and bring a championship back to Queens for the first time since 1986.