Steve Cohen is absurdly rich, surprisingly charming and, it sure appears, diligently devoted to his new endeavor.
What he is not, is Rookie Owner of the Year.
For as much enthusiasm as the Mets’ new big boss has generated among the jewel franchise’s rabid fan base, as much on-field success as his club has enjoyed, Cohen also has managed, inadvertently, to rehabilitate the reputation of his predecessors, the Wilpons. It turns out that gargantuan mistakes were not exclusive to the previous owners: Fred and Jeff Wilpon and Saul Katz.
Perhaps the biggest doozy yet came to a head on Sunday, shortly after another loss by the big league team at Citi Field, when the Mets announced their failure to sign top draft pick Kumar Rocker, infuriating those same rabid fans who couldn’t believe their good fortune when, exactly three weeks prior, the Mets chose the Vanderbilt right-hander with the 10th selection.
As first reported by The Post on July 27, the Mets held concerns about Rocker’s pitching elbow following a physical examination, Rocker’s camp, headed by adviser Scott Boras, disputed those concerns, and they never came close to a resolution.
“This is clearly not the outcome we had hoped for and wish Kumar nothing but success moving forward,” acting general manager Zack Scott said in a statement, and that the Mets employ an acting GM harkens back to their other epic blunder under Cohen and president Sandy Alderson, their December 2020 hiring of Jared Porter to head their baseball operations. That blew up the next month when ESPN reported of Porter’s inappropriate 2016 contact with a female journalist.
If Porter’s horrendous conduct appeared to catch the bulk of the baseball industry by surprise, however, the Mets simply should have better inoculated themselves better against the Rocker situation. Start with the fact that he fell to them at 10 after being projected to go much higher. While Boras said in a statement, “Kumar requires no medical attention and will continue to pitch in the regular course as he prepares to begin his professional career,” backing that up with assertions of clean MRIs — and Rocker deserves the benefit of the doubt based on his track record of never missing a start at Vandy — the scuttlebutt about Rocker’s arm had been out there.
The Mets could have gambled on the worst-case scenario of Rocker requiring Tommy John surgery, from which most pitchers recover, and stuck with him. The Yankees drafted Clarke Schmidt 16th overall in 2017 a month after he underwent Tommy John surgery and Schmidt’s ceiling remains high.
Or the Mets could have hedged their bets and drafted a reach guy late in the draft as a Plan B, in case the Rocker situation imploded. The Angels, who passed on Rocker with the pick directly in front of the Mets, selected high-school southpaw Mason Albright in the 12th round and gave him a signing bonus of $1.25 million, a record for that round, to forego his commitment to Virginia Tech. The Mets, who had budgeted $6 million for Rocker, left more than $1.3 million of their $9.02 million pool unspent, as first reported by ESPN, because they signed the rest of their selections to under-slot figures.
As a result of not signing Rocker, the Mets get a makeup pick next year that will be no lower than 11th. Active players who were drafted 11th include Max Scherzer, Andrew McCutchen, George Springer and current Met Dom Smith. Yet the Mets won’t get that $1.3 million back, and that presents terrible optics for an owner trying to show off a new and improved culture.
Meanwhile, the Mets wrapped up their longest homestand of the season with a sleepy, 7-1 loss to the Reds, dropping them to 5-6 during their extended Flushing stay. Their National League East lead fell to 3 ½ games over the Phillies. To the road they go, their short-term future hazy and their long-term future having taken a big hit.
It was a rough day for Cohen and his deputies, who will get more chances to do this right, but are showing everyone that money can’t buy you anything close to perfection.