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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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No Wheeler; Less Wilpon; Now What?

When the rich guys meet for cocktails at the Rich Guys Club — which is where rich guys get together to tell each other how beautiful and brilliant they are — and one rich guy makes a deal to buy a baseball franchise from another rich guy, maybe one of the rich guys, after everybody’s shaken hands on everything that needs to be shaken on, could leave a large enough gratuity on the table so somebody can sign a frontline starting pitcher.

Or is that too shortsighted a priority for the rabble up here in the not-so-cheap seats?

I don’t know what to make of the news that Steve Cohen, very rich guy, is in negotiations to buy more than half of the Mets from the presumably doing OK for themselves Wilpons. I mean, yeah, hurrah for new blood, new money, a potential new attitude toward offseasons that Patti LaBelle herself would praise to high heavens. Cohen, if and when he takes over, shapes up on a thin sheet of paper as the kind of guy you’d want owning your team. I don’t want or need to know more than the part that says he can afford a baseball team and he’s committed to it being the best possible baseball team. People who have the means to buy professional sports franchises are different from you and me, and who are we — the ticket-buying, cable-subscribing, blog-penning public — to judge them and their outside-the-lines endeavors? Their job is to position the team we love to win and therefore make that team more lovable.

The best news about Cohen, in addition to his resources, is that he’s a Mets fan. Not a Mets fan because he already owns a minority stake in the Mets. Not a Mets fan in the sense that he politely applauds his investment. He’s a 63-year-old Mets fan originally from Great Neck, eight stops on the Port Washington line from Shea. I’ve read he attended games at the Polo Grounds, which means he’s old enough to remember the entirety of the Mets experience and young enough to not remember a time before the Mets. The latter shouldn’t feel like a positive, but after eleven seasons passing through the turnstiles of a ballpark whose guiding architectural principle was Ebbets Faux, I’ll take my chances on a baseball worldview shaped by love of the Mets and nobody else.

The least encouraging news is that this deal is by no means done. It’s supposed to take five years. Or less, depending on common sense and how rich guys operate. Five years sounds a little strange. Fred Wilpon sticking around for a half-decade as “control person” (the MLB acronym for owner that reads as both descriptive and chilling) when we are told Steve Cohen and his billions are en route sounds very strange. When I first heard these were the terms in play, I thought of the Season One episode of M*A*S*H in which everybody’s very certain there’s going to be a ceasefire…everybody but Trapper John, who rejects the rumor of peace “with all my cynical heart”.

“I’ll drink to it,” Trapper tells Hawkeye, “but I don’t believe it.” M*A*S*H, you may be aware, ran ten more seasons (plus a bloated finale movie), so Trapper was on to something there. And, by the way, anybody remember the name David Einhorn? He was the rich guy identified as the Mets’ owner-in-waiting in May of 2011. By September, that deal was dead.

If this does go through, though, it’s nice to think that when the Steve Cohen Mets encounter a baseball situation like the one that encountered the Fred & Jeff Wilpon Mets most recently, the Steve Cohen Mets will respond differently. The F&J Wilpon Mets had Zack Wheeler declaring free agency and fielding offers from all sorts of teams. Well, not all sorts of teams. The Met sort sat out pursuit of a pitcher who’d been very good for them the past couple of years and projected to be something similar a while longer. Zack just signed with Philadelphia, five years at $118 million total, a sum we’ll call Zack Wheeler money.

Maybe there are better options for the Mets than Zack Wheeler. I liked Zack Wheeler as a Met, but I could move on to another pitcher in his place. Who’s that gonna be? There are some fine pitchers out there on the market. I’d take Gerrit Cole, for example. He’s a major league free agent and the Mets are a major league franchise that isn’t paying Zack Wheeler anything. Cole would definitely loom as an upgrade.

Also as a fantasy in the F&J Wilpon Mets world. It’s never occurred to us to think the Mets, as run by their current control person and his right-hand son, would ever, ever, ever go after a pitcher like Cole who would command at least a Wheeler-and-a-half. That’s because we’re hyperconscious of who’s running the show and how they run it. But, hey, if a baseball decision were made that somewhere between Wheeler and Cole there’s an optimal answer for who will start games every fifth day, I’d be all for it. Walker Lockett ain’t it. Corey Oswalt ain’t it. Seth Lugo, unless you got a lot of relief pitching to take his spot, ain’t it. Any good ideas that will take wherewithal — the i is dotted with a dollar sign — are non-starters. That’s who the Mets figure to get to replace Zack Wheeler: a non-starter. When he arrives, we’ll be told it’s a creative choice.

The Steve Cohen Mets, had the clock truly started on their existence, might have extended Wheeler already. The Steve Cohen Mets might have said goodbye to Wheeler because they knew they were going hard after Cole or somebody else approximating his caliber. We don’t know what the Steve Cohen Mets would do. We don’t know for sure that there will be a Steve Cohen Mets. But if there are, I look forward to not even being aware that they’re the Steve Cohen Mets. In a decent-case scenario, they’ll just be the New York Mets whose control person will empower the baseball people to figure out who they need and tell them to do what it takes to get him. In an even better-case scenario, the next time we’d think about who’s in control will be when the control person shows up amid a couple of dozen heartily celebrating Mets to accept a many-flagged trophy from the commissioner.

That’s the best-case scenario, actually. I’d really like to see that.

8 comments to No Wheeler; Less Wilpon; Now What?

  • Steve

    This deal sounds positively Metsian so far. It came out of nowhere, seems like its going to move ultra fast, yet has a 5 year drag on it. Very strange.

  • open the gates

    The Wilpons just can’t let go. Correction – that does not apply to excellent young ballplayers who are finally ready to get paid what they deserve. Those guys, the Wilpons let go all the time.

    Five year deals? Fred as minority owner “control person”? Can we please get these people out of town tomorrow? (Yesterday would have been better…)

  • Greg Mitchell

    Cohen should be in prison but owning the Mets might be next closest thing.

    Phils will likely long regret Wheeler deal–as per usual with long term mega pitcher deals. Mets get a draft pick–which may help them in…four years, if Brodie doesn’t trade him away after 3 years for 38-year-old Brett Gardner.

    Meanwhile he has just dealt two more decent prospects–one a RP, no less, and the other a kid who hit .301 at age 19–for the great Jake Marishnick (sp -1), owner of lifetime .230 average.

  • Bruce from Forest Hills

    You don’t need to replace the 17-game winner that Zack Wheeler is going to be in Philly. You only need to replace the 11-game winner that Zack Wheeler will always be in New York. I don’t follow out-of-town baseball as closely as you guys. But somewhere on the free agent list, there has to be an 11-game winner who is willing to be paid like an 11-game winner. And that’s the guy the Mets have to sign. If the Wilpons are not willing to do that, then really, they have no business owning a baseball team. What’s that you say?

  • 9th String Catcher

    Zack to Philly has a Daniel Murphy potential to it, and really, did the Mets even make an offer? Is 118M over 5 years really beyond the going rate for #2/#3 SPs? I guess we’ll see. Would love to see him continue to give great half seasons for the rest of his career.

    As for Cohen – it’s a totally nothing story right now. If they’re serious and Fred is hanging around for another 5 years, we’ll be stuck with the same problems we’ve had since Doubleday wentaway.

  • Steve D

    This 5 year phase-in is fugazy for sure. Odd that the announcement comes at a time when I get 5 emails a day from the Mets to buy team merchandise. The Wilpon’s clearly don’t want to sell, but I think the Katz’s do…or at least don’t want to put their investment in Jeff’s hands. Smart guys.

    Let’s hope Cohen
    a) will hire competent baseball people and let them run the team
    b) decides that since he will be the owner in 5 years, may as well contribute some extra funding to buy players sooner than that

  • eric1973

    The Control Person?
    Sounds like ‘1984,’ but come to think of it, that was a pretty good year.

    As for Wheeler, he pitched for us for around 5 years, and it seemed like one big inning ruined many a game for him.

    The Wilpons are used to running with crooks, so this is no surprise. Hopefully, ?cohen hates the black uniforms ss much ss I do.

  • Michael in CT

    Beltran was involved in a cheating operation in Houston. Cohen ran a business where multiple employees were indicted for insider trading and the firm was fined almost $2B while Cohen was given a two-year timeout from trading. Seems the Wilpons learned nothing from dealing with Madoff.