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Mudville: July 19, 2024 8:56 am PDT

Once again, the stars are aligning for Theo Epstein.

The Mets with all their money seem to be the perfect landing spot for Theo. I’ve always felt Theo would be a good match with Steven Cohen because of the cash in Cohen’s coffers, about $14 billion, and I’ve known Theo since he was working for the Padres in public relations and then scouting in the mid-90s.

Money talks.

In just one fractured year as Mets owner Cohen has already reached the desperation point that he needed to reach to consider Theo as Boss of Bosses for the Mets, no matter what title Epstein could be given.

Theo’s name is coming up more and more in the New York media, which is no coincidence.

Giving Theo a piece of Mets ownership is a possibility, but either way Cohen has gobs of money, and if he wants Theo as President of Baseball Operations, he can sign Theo. After delivering $341 million to shortstop Francisco Lindor, what’s another monster payout matter to Cohen?

Two of Theo’s one-time hires have been major GM failures with the Mets, Jared Porter and Zack Scott – and we all know the nasty details to those stories – but in a way it shows the value of hiring an experienced GM with Hall of Fame credentials.

The timing and the money is right once again for Theo to make a big move.

Theo broke curses in Boston with the Red Sox and in Chicago with the Cubs. The Curse of the Bambino fell in 2004. The Curse of the Billy Goat fell in 2016. There is much more to the World Series champion stories, but the bottom line is Theo was in charge for those franchise altering events. It’s also one thing to do it in Boston and Chicago, quite a different challenge to win a World Series with the Mets, who haven’t won since 1986 – it just seems like forever – and have managed to screw it up a thousand ways from Sunday through the years.

This year’s team is no exception. What a terrible disappointment.

How the Mets could not win the NL East with such inferior competition everywhere you look in the division is beyond belief. But here they are going into Wednesday’s action with nine of their last 10 losses coming by one run, not in contention for the division and a long-shot for the watered down second wild card.

That’s an incredible one-run bad luck run down the stretch, and it reveals a deep character flaw within the leadership of the team, players, manager and Nerds included. So much has to go wrong to lose that many one-run games. Who knows if Luis Rojas has been ordered to follow a scripted pitching plan with the moves that have been made, but there is no doubt his decisions have been pretty crazy. The Mets have essentially done things to sabotage themselves over and over again, whether it’s a strange pitching decision, hitting into a key double play, lack of hitting with runners in scoring position or dreadful defense.

Then there are the side show acts throughout the season.

The Lindor fight with Jeff McNeil in the side room adjacent to the dugout at Citi Field and Lindor’s ridiculous explanation which I will not even go into, kind of a Saturday Night Live skit, and of course there was the Thumbs Down to the fans, another ridiculous (Who’s in charge, here?) moment for the Mets.

The lack of common sense is appalling.

Theo Epstein

Could Theo to the Mets be on the horizon?

Just play baseball, win games and move on, Mets fans are very forgiving if that is done and despite everything, they have opened their hearts to Lindor and Javy Baez after that escapade.

My favorite part of the dust up with the whistling Yankees the other night was when Brett Gardner gave the double thumbs down sign to Lindor and Baez as the two sides provoked one another. Gardner gave the double thumbs down, then pointed to the packed Citi Field crowd as if to say to the two, “Hey, you are the guys who dissed your own fans.’’

So, yes, there has been drama across the board, most of it unnecessary, but really, as I always say: Only the Mets.

If Theo can win a championship with the Mets, that becomes his Triple Crown.

And I will say this about Theo having known him through the decades, he is a competitor and sometimes just having a competitor in charge can change the culture.

Willie Randolph was a competitor with the Mets and brought a certain edge to the manager’s job and that was good. Unfortunately, the pitching staff Randolph and pitching coach Rick Peterson were given was sub-par and the Mets collapsed. Again … Only the Mets.

The last two hires as managers have been Mickey Callaway and Rojas. Their lack of major league managerial experience hurt both.

Sandy Alderson was brought in by Cohen to offer some wide-ranging MLB experience and show fellow owners that Cohen would rely on a veteran hand and was not about to become George Steinbrenner overnight. Alderson, Newsday reported, will continue in 2022. His son Bryn had been elevated to assistant GM in July so it appears no matter who is in charge one Alderson will   be around the Mets on the baseball side for a while.

This also has been a year where Cohen dissed the Mets hitters after the two experienced hitting coaches were fired in Chili Davis and Tom Slater. Theo also fired Chili with the Cubs.

As for McNeil, what the heck have the Mets done to his swing?

McNeil is ultimately responsible, he’s the one with the bat in his hands, but he has gone from a dangerous hitter who could hit the ball to all fields to someone who is pull happy, has no pop and no longer hits the ball as hard as he once did. He is hitting .176 with RISP.

Jeff McNeil #6 of the New York Mets poses for a photo on Photo Day at First Data Field on February 21, 2019 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Michael Conforto has also gone backwards this year. So, something is going on internally with the Mets hitting that needs to be fixed by the next man in charge of the Mets. Baez has made some good adjustments, but will they last? Baez is in the Yoenis Cespedes honeymoon period with Mets fans. Baez has all the talent in the world. Theo inherited that talent while in Chicago, Baez was drafted by the previous administration, and certainly Epstein has a relationship with Baez, which is good.

Theo is a fascinating person and as someone who has dealt with him for years told me recently, “Theo wants to be loved so badly.’’

Who doesn’t, of course, but in a baseball way, Mets fans know how to love.

Those fans will forever revere the 1969 Miracle Mets and the 1986 Mets. Those Mets had character and characters. Bad boys who knew how to win, until they won it all, and they are currently the toast of the town again with the new 30 for 30 on ESPN, detailing their rise to fame and World Series success.

If Theo watches the saga “Once upon a Time in Queens’’ he will see what it takes to win as a Met and once you have that success, you are loved forever.

Epstein had that success in Boston, beating the Yankees in the AL East in 2004 and then winning a second World Series in 2007. If he takes over the Mets, he can beat the Yankees and his friend Brian Cashman in his own city and the competitor in Theo would have to love such a challenge.

Theo is forever loved in Chicago too, breaking their curse in 2016.

New York, of course, is the Big Apple. It’s different in New York having spent much of my 45-year career covering New York sports.

I personally would love to see Cohen hire Theo and give him the Keys to the Mets Kingdom simply because Theo is great theater. He would love to be MLB commissioner and perhaps go into politics someday, but it would be so interesting to watch him run the Mets and his hire would have a little more pop than say, hiring Jared Porter or Zack Scott.

Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon before Game 1 of the World Series at Progressive Field on Oct. 25, 2016. (Photo by Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

The Mets have issues, but they also are in this division that features an improving Marlins team that still does not have offense. The Nationals are limited by ownership and any team that trades Trea Turner really doesn’t get it, so that team seems to be in long-time trouble. Then there are the Phillies, a franchise that should have so much more success than it is having, a franchise who had the good sense to sign Zack Wheeler away from the Mets but has had no sense in building bullpens. Scouts have told me the Phillies minor league system is dreadful and what they are teaching their pitchers in the minors is questionable, too. Let’s just say they are not focused on mechanics but are focused on iPads.

And you wonder why the Phillies pitchers give up so many 0-2 home runs.

The Braves are the only true competition in the NL East and what they have done after suffering an injury that knocked out Ronald Acuna Jr. for the season has been remarkable, but again, it could not have happened without the Mets becoming another Mets mess.

The Braves have leadership in Freddie Freeman and that takes them over the top in times of trouble. Kudos to the Braves. But the Braves are only playing .531 baseball, by far the lowest of any division leader and the wild card Dodgers who are playing at a .637 clip. The Mets have been NL East pretenders most of the year and talk a good game of meaningful September games but aren’t even .500. They should not be taken seriously.

The Yankees, for all their flaws, and there are many, are 17 games over .500 in their wild card quest.

No matter how you slice it, Cohen’s first year of ownership has been a pretty big fail.

He proclaimed that he wanted the Mets to eventually become an East Coast version of the Dodgers. That’s not happening unless there is a complete overhaul in perception and performance. Again, the Dodgers ooze leadership with the likes of Justin Turner, a player the Mets let get away and Mookie Betts, a player Theo drafted in 2011 with the Red Sox.

Betts saved the day. Those Red Sox had four picks in the first 40 players and chose Matt Barnes No. 19, Blake Swihart No. 26, Henry Owens No. 36 and Jackie Bradley Jr. No. 40. They then selected William Jerez, Jordan Weems and Noe Ramirez before grabbing Betts with the 172nd pick of the draft.

Theo’s last draft with the Red Sox produced Mookie Betts, who proved a steal with the 172nd pick in 2011. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

That was Theo’s last draft with the Red Sox. He resigned and jumped to the Cubs. The timing and the money was right. Dale Sveum was the manager and the Cubs won only 61 games Theo’s first year. Then 66 wins, then 73 wins in 2014 with Rick Renteria as manager, three straight good draft pick finishes. Theo named Joe Maddon as manager and suddenly the Cubs were in the NLCS only to be swept by the Mets in 2015. The next year they beat the Indians in seven games to win the World Series, something they had not done since 1908.

The Cubs are a mess now and Theo resigned this past November. Leave the rebuild to someone else.

Theo has spent his time helping MLB as a consultant, just to stay connected, a good spot to stay involved in the game and now his name is popping up again in the media with the Mets as Baseball Kingpin.

Funny how that works.

The timing and the money is right once again for Theo to make a big move.

The Mets have the need. Cohen has had an embarrassing first season of ownership and although he has been a Mets fan all his life, he is learning new lessons about: Only the Mets.

A few years ago, behind the batting cage I joked with Theo that if he really wanted to prove something he would go to San Diego and win a championship with the Padres, another curse to break. Despite all the fanfare going into the season, the Padres are about to go bust once again. They have been around since 1969 but have only been to two World Series, losing to the mighty Tigers in 1984 in five games and getting swept by the equally mighty Yankees in 1998.

While not the Padres, the Mets do offer a staggering challenge.

In my friend Dan Shaughnessy’s tremendous book “Francona’’ he describes a scene that took place in that 10th inning of the Mets Game 6 comeback against the Red Sox in 1986. Theo and his twin brother Paul were 12 years old, huge Red Sox fans, stunned as they watched the Amazin’ comeback in the family’s roomy apartment in Brookline.

The brothers wanted to be suspended in mid-air when the Sox finally broke the Curse, hey they were 12, so every time there were two strikes on a Mets batter with two outs in that final inning, they would jump off the couch.

They kept jumping.

The Mets and fate kept the Red Sox from winning that year. It wasn’t until 18 years later with Theo in charge the Red Sox broke the Curse, their first title since 1918. Here we are all these years later and the Mets are still trying to go where the 1986 Mets arrived, a World Series title. Steve Cohen has the need and has the money.

Theo resigned from the Cubs at the right time and now has the time to land on his feet once again, this time with Cohen’s Mets.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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