All the billions in the world, apparently, cannot change one stubborn truth about modern baseball: everything takes time. The Mets will have a general manager someday, and the new owner, Steven A. Cohen, will surely find players to take a small slice of his fortune. But for now, the industry is adjusting its batting gloves, stepping off the rubber and checking the defensive-alignment card tucked inside its cap. So we wait.
In normal times, executives and agents would be prowling the halls of a hotel in Dallas at the winter meetings this week. The pandemic canceled the event, but the Metroplex’s local team made some news. The Texas Rangers introduced the former pitcher Chris Young as their general manager on Monday, hiring a rising star who had interested the Mets for the same vacancy.
Young, 41, had been a vice president for Major League Baseball, handling player discipline, overseeing umpires and serving as the primary liaison between the commissioner’s office and field managers. He is the second general manager hired this off-season from the M.L.B. office, after Kim Ng of the Miami Marlins.
Cohen, whose record $2.475 billion purchase of the Mets closed on Nov. 6, had pledged to hire both a president of baseball operations and a general manager to work under Sandy Alderson, the new team president. Alderson, the general manager of the Mets’ pennant-winning team in 2015, quickly realized that teams have become increasingly protective of intellectual capital.
Blocked from speaking to some of his top targets, Alderson scaled back the search and committed to taking on more baseball operations responsibilities himself. But the team still needs a general manager, and he reached out to Young, a fellow Ivy Leaguer who pitched for San Diego when Alderson was the chief executive of the Padres in the 2000s. (Alderson is a Dartmouth man; Young a Princeton graduate.)
“Sandy is someone whom I greatly respect and admire,” said Young, who will report to Jon Daniels, the president of baseball operations, with the Rangers. “He has been, like J.D., somewhat of a mentor to me throughout my career. Out of respect for him, I wanted to have a conversation there; he asked me to. He’s got an unbelievable vision.”
But Young explained that he is raising his young family in his hometown, Dallas, where he grew up rooting for the Rangers, the team he made his major-league debut with in 2004. There was nothing the Mets could do to match that pull.
“I’m a Texas Ranger,” Young said. “As much as I respect Sandy and think that Steve Cohen will do great things in New York, I belong here.”
Free agency means free choice, as Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman likes to say, a reminder that some decisions are ultimately out of a team’s control. The Mets have signed one free agent so far this month, the former Minnesota Twins reliever Trevor May, for two years and $15.5 million. But others will have their own reasons to accept or reject the Mets’ overtures, and as usual, the players at the top of the market — starter Trevor Bauer, center fielder George Springer, catcher J.T. Realmuto, infielder D.J. LeMahieu — are taking their time.
Cohen’s influence will surely help the Mets’ pursuit of a World Series title within his stated timeline of five years. Not just his willingness to spend, but his fresh vision, endearing fandom and customer engagement can only make the Mets a more alluring destination. The man spent $410,000 to own a certain little roller up along first from 1986, after all. His heart is in the right place.
But for Young, at least, the right place was not Flushing. He lived in the New York area for a while after joining M.L.B. in May 2018, but eventually moved back to Dallas. Young has ties to the Mets, too — he pitched for them in 2011 and 2012 and made his only World Series start at Citi Field, for the Kansas City Royals — but the chance to revive his favorite team was too tempting to resist.
“These opportunities do not present themselves often, and I recognize what a special opportunity this is and I’m up for the challenge,” Young said. “To me, that’s everything. I am a competitor by nature and what the Texas Rangers mean to this fan base and this community and what they’ve meant to me — that, to me, is the most compelling aspect of this decision.”
Young is a big loss for the commissioner’s office. As a 13-year major leaguer who was playing as recently as 2017 — and who happens to be 6-foot-10 — he commanded respect and had a keen understanding of the game on the field, something many players find lacking from the league office.
Young’s formal role did not extend to labor relations, but it did not hurt to have a longtime player on staff — especially with the sides still unsure if pandemic-year rule changes (universal designated hitter, expanded playoffs, the runner on second base at the start of extra innings in the regular season) will be in play again for 2021. Young was a go-to resource for Commissioner Rob Manfred on everything from the composition of the ball to the impact of analytics on the pace of action. Those big-picture answers will have to come from elsewhere now.
“We’re in an era where there is countless information available,” Young said. “Has that impacted the style of play in our game? Probably, to some degree. And does it make for the most compelling entertainment value? That’s something the central office is evaluating.”
As for Young, he will be evaluating just one team now — far from New York, where a rich and ready superfan is learning all about the peculiar, plodding rhythms of the baseball winter.