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As Mets' new era begins, owner Steve Cohen welcomes sky-high expectations: 'I can take the heat'

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You’ve got to love the candor, the honesty, the passion, and in particular, the freshness.

Steve Cohen is a Major League Baseball owner, the richest in the entire sport, but to New York Mets fans, he’s “Uncle Steve.’’

You can talk to him. Interact with him. Joke with him. Even criticize him.

Bring it on, Cohen says, he’s here for you.

What other owner would reach out to his 195,000 Twitter followers asking how much they thought it would take to sign one of his players (Francisco Lindor) to a contract extension?

What other owner talks about his weight loss on Twitter and solicit comments on the team's jerseys? (The black jerseys are coming back, by the way)

And who else would come out publicly hours before the Mets’ season-opener and dare predict they’ll be in the playoffs?

“I’m not going to predict a World Series out of the gate,’’ Cohen said, “but what I do think is that we’re going to be really competitive. And I do believe we’re going to make the playoffs. And once you get into the playoffs, anything can happen, right?

“So, I’m pretty optimistic. The team looks good to me, and I think the fans are really going to enjoy this team.’’

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Cohen has Mets fans believing it could be 1986 all over again.

Certainly, after missing the playoffs the last four years and acting like a team located in Milwaukee instead of New York, who can blame Mets’ fans for wildly celebrating the start of the season?

Cohen vowed in his initial press conference that he wasn’t going to come in and spend like a drunken sailor, and sure enough, kept his word.

The biggest move was locking up Lindor to a 10-year, $341 million contract extension, which was officially announced Monday, but Cohen says he wasn’t about to sign Lindor at all costs. If Lindor had stuck to his 12-year, $385 million request, he’d be playing out the final year of his contract, with Cohen simply offering the original 10-year, $325 million to another marquee free agent shortstop in the offseason.

“Obviously, I made a significant bid,’’ Cohen said, “and we were waiting to see if they were willing to move off their offer. They finally did. …I would have been surprised if we weren’t able to accomplish something.’’

Yet, Cohen made it clear that no matter how much unrest there may have been by the fanbase not to have Lindor signed, he wasn’t going to make a deal just to be splashed across the back pages of the tabloids.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea in any situation to say, 'I’m going to do it, no matter what,'" Cohen said. “You’ve got to be disciplined. Whether I’m buying a piece of art, whether I’m doing a business deal, there’s a limit to what you’re going to do. I don’t think you just to just pay anything…So I tend to be disciplined in that regard. And I think I was disciplined here. I hope that was reflective in how I handled negotiations.

“No guarantee it was going to happen. I wanted it to happen, but not at the expense of making a bad deal for myself.’’

Francisco Lindor and Michael Conforto during a spring training game.
Francisco Lindor and Michael Conforto during a spring training game.

It’s no different than their initial extension talks with outfielder Michael Conforto and ace Jacob deGrom, who can opt out of his contract after the 2022 season. The talks went nowhere. Conforto is a free agent at the end of the season. DeGrom will be a year closer to free agency. So be it.

And if fans want to rip Cohen, no problem. He’s immune to the scrutiny with his day job as founder of a hedge fund.

“Nothing surprises me,’’ Cohen said. “Listen, fans are emotional. They’re passionate. They wear their emotions on their sleeve.

“That comes with the territory. That comes with being owner of the New York Mets. I can take the heat. I’m pretty seasoned, I can handle it.’’

What Cohen will promise is that the Mets will always be a big-time player in the free-agent market. If there are players they believe that deserve the big bucks, the Mets will have their checkbook ready.

“We’re going to be significant players for free agents down the road,’’ Cohen said. “We're going to act like a major market club.’’

The Mets’ opening-day payroll of $190 million is the largest in franchise history, ranking fourth behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, New YorkYankees and Houston Astros i. It’s fine to have tons of money and resources, and win once in a while, but the trick is winning year after year.

“Our task not only is to win,’’ Mets president Sandy Alderson said, “but to win sustainably over a period of time. So sometimes decisions have to be made that reflect a longer term view than a shorter. Steve said he's starting to get his sea legs, and it's tough to get your sea legs if you're a drunken sailor.

“I think Steve has done a great job of navigating down these issues, and unfortunately, you often get measured by whether you sign a free agent or don't sign a free agent. There's so much else going on, you know, the iceberg below the waterline, where we've made significant progress, and I think will contribute to what we can do longer term.’’

Mets owner Steve Cohen in February.
Mets owner Steve Cohen in February.

So, the Mets’ new era begins, with Cohen and Alderson not promising a World Series title by October, but respectability by May.

They’re in the most challenging division in baseball where Atlanta has won three consecutive division titles, the Washington Nationals are only a year removed from a World Series title, the Philadelphia Phillies are back on the prowl, and even the Miami Marlins are coming off a postseason berth.

The Mets may still be a year away from returning to the playoffs, but when their biggest fan is their owner, and that owner has the deepest pockets in baseball, well, who would count them out?

“We’re excited about the team,’’ Alderson said. “It’s a good team. I think it’s going to be an entertaining team. I think its captured the imagination of Mets’ fans_at least for the moment.’’

And perhaps for a long, long time.

“I can’t hit the ball, I’m not pitching, it’s ultimately up to the players,’’ Cohen said. “We can lay down all sorts of plans. You can acquire players and promote players, but ultimately it’s up to them to play.

“I think our organization is prepared to perform well. Our goal is to win. That’s the mantra.’’

Sweet music to the ears of every Mets fan.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mets' Steve Cohen era has high expectations: 'I can take the heat'