Mets’ hunt for top baseball exec far trickier than superstar search

George Springer, Connecticut native, would surprise no one if he signs with the Mets, and it sure sounds like Trevor Bauer and J.T. Realmuto would make Citi Field their workplace if Steve Cohen spends sufficiently like a drunken sailor on them.

Landing superstar ballplayers constitutes a pretty simple process; a few reach free agency each year and you go get yourself one or three. Landing superstar baseball-operations executives, however, can be hairier.

That lesson rears its head as the Mets try to build upon their superb first wave of the Cohen Era, the sport’s richest man firing up not merely his team but his entire sport with his five-clicker introductory news conference. It’s fitting and telling that Theo Epstein, upon stepping down as the Cubs’ president of baseball operations on Tuesday, made clear that he wanted to take 2021 off. It’s not easy to land an Epstein type.

The Mets are playing their search for their new PoBO (let’s make this acronym popular) close to the vest, with Michael Hill, who held that same title for the Marlins until last month, the only known candidate to have interviewed for the post. Early indications, however, are that Cohen and Sandy Alderson, who aspired to make the hire by Thanksgiving, might not land the sort of full-blown, front-office stud whose move to Flushing would shake the industry. They might have to build baseball operations excellence through depth rather than star power.

Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti is said to be very happy in Cleveland, and the same goes for Rays general manager Erik Neander in Tampa Bay. MLB.com’s Jon Morosi reported that the Brewers unsurprisingly didn’t grant the Mets permission to interview their head baseball person David Stearns, understandable given Stearns’ success in Milwaukee.

Plenty of appealing talent remains. Morosi reported the Mets have asked the Indians to speak with Antonetti’s GM Mike Chernoff, who grew up in New Jersey as the son of WFAN’s boss Mark Chernoff. However, Chernoff, who turned down the chance to interview with the Mets two years ago when they wound up hiring Brodie Van Wagenen, is said to be happy in Cleveland, too.

Would A’s general manager David Forst, who worked with Alderson the prior two years and has consistently built playoff teams on the cheap with Billy Beane, come east? Is the Tony La Russa debacle on Chicago’s South Side untenable enough for White Sox GM Rick Hahn, who rebuilt the White Sox into a contender, to push his way to the Big Apple? As for Hill, his time with the Marlins — where he first persevered for the unpredictable Jeffrey Loria and then did the best he could despite not being a longstanding member of Derek Jeter’s small circle of trust, helping guide the club through a COVID outbreak to make the playoffs — prepared him for plenty and makes him an intriguing possibility as well.

History shows how hard it can be to pry an elite executive from another team. This century, you can find only three examples:

1. In 2001, Dave Dombrowski left the Marlins for the Tigers because his boss John Henry was selling the Marlins (and buying the Red Sox, where Dombrowski would later work).

2. In 2011, Epstein departed Henry’s Red Sox, where he was openly unhappy and one year away from freedom, for the Cubs in return for three inexperienced players who didn’t pan out.

3. In 2014, Andrew Friedman left the Rays, for whom he worked without a formal contract, for the Dodgers.

Dombrowski, dismissed by the Bosox last year, is focused on bringing a team to Nashville. Former Astros architect Jeff Luhnow is eligible to return to work after serving a one-year suspension for the sign-stealing scandal. Would Cohen and Alderson go there with a guy currently suing the Astros and ripping Rob Manfred?

Alderson, currently working out of his Florida home, said at last week’s news conference, “Suddenly, overnight, I think people are interested in working for the Mets within the game who perhaps were not before.”

That’s true, although that’s also a low bar to clear, as evidenced by the Wilpons’ turndown-heavy search two years ago that landed on the agent Van Wagenen. It turns out that every step of Cohenpalooza might not be as breathtaking as the first, although the next — landing a superstar free-agent player — carries a higher chance of success.

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