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Mets’ David Stearns pursuit could ramp up again

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Could former Brewers honcho David Stearns be coming to lead the Mets for 2024?

Rumors suggest Mets owner Steve Cohen and Stearns could possibly get together on a monster deal — maybe the biggest ever for a baseball executive — for Stearns to come to Queens as the leader of the team’s baseball operations, presumably with a baseball president title.

When reached about this logical possibility, Cohen didn’t touch the rumors, which were mentioned here two weeks ago and again, more explicitly, with USA Today now saying Stearns is “expected” to head the Mets, his hometown team.

“I have never met the person, but why would that matter?” Cohen responded to The Post. “I’m so focused on the Mets season right now. It’s not something I’m thinking about.”

Though Cohen is disallowed until after the year from contacting Stearns, who’s currently advising the Brewers after stepping down from his baseball president job after he declined Milwaukee’s extension offer (and also after the controversial trade of star closer Josh Hader).

It isn’t completely clear why Stearns abdicated the GM job, but folks suggest at least two possible factors: 1) a temporary respite needed from the 24-hour-a-day job, and 2) he and team owner Mark Attanasio understood he’d be moving on after the year, anyway, so it made sense to let right-hand man Matt Arnold, another of many the Mets interviewed before hiring Billy Eppler as GM, take the reins.

David Stearns stepped back from him GM duties with the Brewers before this season.
Getty Images

Though a couple folks suggested Stearns might have suffered from a bit of “burnout,” they also say he loves the game and expect him back with a big job. (Stearns declined to be interviewed.) Stearns’ previous Astros team was rumored as a possible landing spot, but before this season they hired deserving longtime Braves/Blue Jays scout Dana Brown. The Red Sox are the other team heard on the rumor mill.

Some suggest universally respected manager Craig Counsell, a free agent after 2023, is a natural to join Stearns wherever he goes. Multiple teams have called with interest in Counsell, so he can call his shot.

Attanasio told him he’d re-sign him on a one-year deal, a multiyear deal or give him time off, whatever he prefers, Counsell, from the Milwaukee suburb Whitefish Bay, might consider taking time to watch his two sons, who play college baseball, and two daughters, who are high school athletes.

As for Stearns, a Harvard graduate, the Mets always made sense. As one rival exec says, “On paper, it seems like a fit.” Cohen tried two winters ago to interview Stearns, but Attanasio declined that interest (as remains his right through this season).

Mets owner Steve Cohen walks off the field after the Mets Hall of Fame inductees.
Steve Cohen can’t speak with Stearns until after the season.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Though the Mets were rebuffed by up to 10 candidates before hiring Eppler, Stearns, who never had that chance, started at MLB’s home office in Midtown and grew up a Mets fans in Manhattan, and his mother still lives here.

As we know, Cohen is unafraid of spending for top talent. Though Milwaukee’s Hader trade was panned from fans to the owner, that deal did wind up netting starting catcher William Contreras, useful reliever Joel Payamps and pitching prospect Robert Gasser. The Brewers have the sixth-best winning percentage from 2018-22 (the Stearns years) — behind just the Dodgers, Astros, Yankees, Rays and Braves.

Cohen’s focus on his Mets has gone unrewarded so far this year following a 101-win season, with the Mets toting a 32-36 record despite an MLB record high $377 million payroll. It’s way too early to judge Eppler, but he’s known to be friendly with Stearns, so insiders could see them teaming up.

Mets GM Billy Eppler in the dugout during the Mets Hall of Fame inductees.
Mets GM Billy Eppler would be expected to retain a position if Stearns does come aboard.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Cohen was surely frustrated two winters ago by his many failed attempts to hire a GM, and it’s easy to see him doing what it takes to get his man. It won’t be cheap. Stearns was said set to make about $5.5 million this season on a team option (before they negotiated it down when he left the top post) after making $3.5M in 2022, and some could see that annual rate doubling, especially considering how difficult it is to lure qualified candidates away from comfortable jobs. As we’ve seen, Cohen will spend to win.

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