What’s long seemed like an inevitable pairing has come to fruition, as the Mets have reached an agreement with David Stearns to oversee their baseball operations department, SNY’s Andy Martino reports. Stearns, who was the president of baseball operations with the Brewers before stepping down and taking on an advisory role following the 2022 season, will hold that same president of baseball operations title with his hometown Mets. He’ll officially start in his new role at the end of the regular season. He will be signing a five-year contract, reports Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Martino adds that Billy Eppler will stay on in his general manager position.
Stearns, now 38, has long been speculatively connected to the Mets based on his roots. Born and raised in Manhattan, he worked for the Mets earlier in his career, though his baseball journey would take him to many other places before winding back to New York. After graduating from Harvard, he interned with the Pirates, then worked for the Mets before bouncing to Major League Baseball and then Cleveland.
In November of 2012, he was given the title of assistant general manager of the Astros, working under general manager Jeff Luhnow. That club was deeply committed to a rebuild at the time, as that year was their second of three consecutive 100-loss seasons. They would eventually emerge from that period of futility in 2015 by going 86-76, starting a run of excellence that continues to this day, having made the playoffs in every full season from that year to the present.
But for most of that success, Stearns was in Milwaukee, having been hired away by the Brewers in September of 2015. That club made him general manager and hoped to follow a similar trajectory to the Astros. The Brewers had been hovering around .500 for a few years but dipped to 68-94 the year Stearns came aboard. The next three years saw the win total increase to 73 and then 86 and then 96, as the club won the National League Central in 2018, their first of four consecutive trips to the postseason.
As the Brewers flourished under Stearns, rumors about bringing him back to New York naturally followed. As far back of November of 2020, when the Mets were looking to replace general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, Stearns was connected to the job. But the Brewers had already signed him to an extension and promoted him to president of baseball operations. Standard practice in baseball usually sees teams allow their front office employees to pursue promotions but not lateral moves. Since Stearns already had the top job in Milwaukee, the Brewers denied the Mets the opportunity to speak with him.
As Stearns stayed in Milwaukee, the front office search for the Mets didn’t yield a permanent solution. Jared Porter was hired in December of 2020 but fired just a few weeks later when it was revealed that he harassed a female reporter in 2016. Zack Scott was then named acting general manager but was charged with driving while intoxicated in September of 2021. He would eventually be acquitted of those charges but the club had already moved on and hired Eppler as general manager in November of that year.
The results of late have been mixed, to say the least. Owner Steven Cohen has signed off on unprecedented spending levels, with the club signing many marquee free agents in recent years. That resulted in 101 wins last year, the second-best record in franchise history. But the club was quickly eliminated from the playoffs and didn’t carry their success into 2023. Various injuries, particularly to the starting rotation, quickly pushed the club out of contention and they went into the recent trade deadline as sellers instead of buyers. They are currently 65-78, just half a game ahead of the last place Nationals in the East division.
As the Mets have been going through those highs and lows over the past few years, they would continue to be connected to Stearns in rumors but his position in Milwaukee continued to be an obstacle, with his deal running through the 2023 season. Stearns stepped down as president of baseball operations last October, though he stayed with Milwaukee in an advisory capacity for the final year of his contract. At the time, he said he was “looking forward to taking a deep breath, spending time with my family and exploring some other interests.”
This led to immediate speculation that Stearns was setting the table for a move out of Milwaukee. The Astros parted ways with general manager James Click at the end of last season and owner Jim Crane was reportedly interested in bringing Stearns back to Houston. That job ultimately went to Dana Brown and Stearns stayed in Milwaukee with diminished responsibilities. It was then reported a week ago that Stearns had been reinvigorated by his smaller role and was contractually able to pursue other opportunities after August 1. He had already spoken with the Mets and Astros and now, at long last, he and the Mets are officially reuniting. As mentioned, he’ll take on the president title with Eppler beneath him as the general manager.
The Mets will be hoping that this is the perfect marriage to set off a proper dynasty in Queens. Since taking over the club at the end of 2020, Cohen has cited the Dodgers as a model franchise that he wanted the Mets to emulate. The Dodgers hired Andrew Friedman away from the Rays in October of 2014, allowing him to implement the creative, data-driven and analytical approach he deployed in Tampa but with more resources for signing or retaining star players. That club has continually produced significant players from its own system and indeed spent at the top of the market to great success. They last finished under .500 in 2010 and haven’t missed the playoffs since 2012.
Stearns already has a strong track record from his time in Milwaukee, even without massive financial resources. Per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, Milwaukee’s payroll was never in the top half of the league during the Stearns tenure, topping out at 17th place in 2019. Their success has been built on homegrown players like Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Devin Williams, as well as trading for players like Christian Yelich, Willy Adames and many more. The Mets, on the other hand, ran up the highest payroll in baseball history this year.
Time will tell what kind of timeline the club has in mind for its next steps. After being traded to the Rangers, Max Scherzer said he was told that the Mets would be taking something of a step back in 2024, focusing a bit more on the future and being a bit less aggressive in pursuit of short-term competitiveness. Eppler and Cohen responded and more or less confirmed that would be the case. Perhaps Stearns will take a year to get to know the club’s inner workings, keeping the moves modest until he gathers the necessary information to guide the club into the future.
The short-term trajectory will be revealed as the summer turns to fall and then to winter. But the long-term goal seems clear, as both Cohen and Eppler have long stressed the importance of building a strong farm system to supplement the club’s financial might. The Mets and their fans will be hoping that the combination of Stearns leading the baseball decisions and Cohen writing the checks will lead to a similar run of success as the Dodgers have enjoyed.
Images courtesy of USA Today Sports.