“I can make millions of people happy,” Steve Cohen said in the November press conference introducing him as the new owner of the Mets. “What an incredible opportunity that is. … It’s really about building something great, building something for the fans, winning, and I just find this an amazing opportunity.”
The latter part of the quote is fairly standard-issue: An owner is supposed to talk about winning, about building something, even if that does not actually become an area of particular focus. But it’s rare to see a direct connection made between those goals and making people happy—happiness situated as not just a byproduct of winning but as a worthwhile achievement unto itself.
There’s plenty of overlap between a team designed to win and a team designed to make people happy. These are not exactly the same thing, but they’re often close enough, and the gaps occur just around the margins. The distinction would not matter too much for most clubs. For the Mets, however, there is a longstanding tradition of living in those gaps around the margins. They have frequently been designed to win. But they have made a habit of going about it in ways that are ridiculous, or darkly funny, or simply maddening. The Mets might win despite this habit. (They have won despite it!) But they have never really been a team designed to make you happy. They have instead been a team designed to make you want to set your hair on fire.
So Cohen’s press conference seemed to indicate the start of a new era for the Mets—one that would be designed not just for winning but also for happiness. It suggested that the team would be able to push forward not only with money but also with new features like all-around competence and consistent good faith. For a team whose identity had become its own adjective—“Metsian” has been shorthand for “absurd” since at least the early ‘70s—this was a chance to rewrite the definition.
Two months later, we have our first serious hint of what that new era might look like. Thursday’s deal to acquire Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco from Cleveland is a straightforward move designed to help the Mets win. It is also one designed to make their fans very happy.
It’s not the Mets’ first transaction of the offseason—James McCann was signed to a four-year deal in December—but it’s certainly the biggest yet. (The last word there might be important: When general manager Sandy Alderson was asked on Thursday about the appetite for another move, he responded, “We’re always hungry.”) It lands them two players who were fan favorites in Cleveland, a shortstop with the talent and charisma to be a face of the franchise, and a starter who adds quality pitching depth. Lindor, with one more season before free agency, will probably be targeted for an extension; Carrasco has two more years on a team-friendly deal. If the Mets already felt on the brink of having a sure playoff berth for 2021, this should lock it in, with a clear path to a wild-card spot at the very least. There’s a good chance that it will bolster their chances beyond this season, too. And it introduces an emotion that might feel somewhat unfamiliar to fans: genuine, unbridled, glorious hope.
The Mets did not have to give up a seriously heavy return here—Cleveland, which has its own experience living in the margins as a team that wins without necessarily doing much to make its fans happy, signaled years ago that it would not hold on to Lindor. Its desire to cut costs led to a bargain that includes Carrasco, too. In other words, Mets fans don’t have too much of a flip side to reckon with here. This simply made the team better on Thursday than they were on Wednesday, without any potential strings attached or other shoes to drop, and with room to dream of even more. (Those George Springer rumors are still out there!) It’s not a promise of complete success, because in baseball, nothing is. But it’s very much a statement of purpose, a sign of a change in organizational philosophy and a reason for serious hope.
To acquire a player like Lindor—a bigger star than any position player available right now in free agency—is to commit to a different vision for the future of the team. (While there’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to sign a contract extension with the shortstop, it’s an obvious next step, and with their financial resources under Cohen, it seems like there should be plenty of room to reach for it.) It’s a move for them to be reckoned with as a bona fide major-market team. And there very well might be more where that came for.
It’s a move for “building something great, building something for the fans, winning.” It’s a move for a new definition of “Metsian.” Perhaps most strikingly, however, it’s a move that aims to make people happy.