Girardi: New Mets owner exemplifies what makes east coast baseball great


Before being hired as Phillies manager in the fall of 2019, Joe Girardi interviewed with the New York Mets.

The Mets ended up hiring Carlos Beltran, but probably wish they had gone with Girardi.

Beltran never even made it to spring training. He and the club parted ways a month before spring training 2020 when his role in the Houston Astros' cheating scheme of 2017 was revealed. The Mets promoted Luis Rojas, a longtime member of their organization, to manager while Girardi settled in with the Phillies.

Had things gone differently in the managerial musical chairs game that played out after the 2019 season — 10 teams hired new skippers for 2020 — Girardi might be starting his second season with the Mets. Or the Cubs. He also interviewed with them.

All three of the teams that were in on Girardi underwent significant change after the 2020 season. The Cubs cut their payroll and entered a transition phase with president of baseball operations and deliverer of World Series titles Theo Epstein moving on. The Mets went through an ownership change with Steve Cohen purchasing the club for $2.4 billion. And the Phillies, of course, blew up their front office and brought in the well-decorated and well-coiffed Dave Dombrowski as president of baseball operations.

Girardi earned his managerial chops over 10 years as skipper of the New York Yankees from 2008 to 2017. Sliding over from the Bronx to Queens seemed to make a lot of sense and the Mets today might be wishing they'd opted for the stability that the level-headed Girardi brings when they went manager shopping two autumns ago.

But Girardi is a Phillie.

And he wants to be one for a good long time.

That means he'll have to tangle with the Mets in the National League East and that became more of a challenge when Cohen took over as owner.

With a worth of $14 billion, Cohen is the richest owner in the game and his will to win is as fat as his wallet. He's a lifelong Mets fan and has openly expressed his desire to raise the Commissioner's Trophy. Soon.

Though focused on the team in red pinstripes, Girardi keeps tabs on the teams in the city in which he played, coached and managed for 15 years. He knows the challenge that the Cohen-led Mets will present — long and short term — and is ready to face it.

"I think he's talked about his willingness to spend and that doesn't always necessarily mean that you're always going to get better," Girardi said. "Sometimes you spend and guys get hurt or they don't pan out to be who they are.

"But I think he really cares about the Mets' success. I pay attention to all the clubs and I don't pay attention to the Mets more than I would the Braves or the Nationals or the Marlins because we have to compete against all of them and they all have talented rosters. But he seemed to make a little bit of a splash and I think Mets fans are excited, but I'm excited in Philadelphia, too."

Both the Phillies and Mets finished out of the money last year. The Phils (28-32) finished in third place, the Mets (26-34) two games behind, tied for the bottom spot in the division with Washington.

Both teams were active this winter. The Phils, who themselves have a championship-thirsty owner in John Middleton, brought back J.T. Realmuto (five years, $115.5 million) and Didi Gregorius (two years, $28 million) and signed reliever Archie Bradley (one year, $6 million) and a host of other pitchers to provide what the team hopes is difference-making depth.

The Mets waved $105 million at Trevor Bauer but were spurned when the 2020 NL Cy Young winner signed with the Dodgers. The Mets also struck out on George Springer, who landed in Toronto. Despite the Mets' whiffs at the top of the free-agent market, it would be foolish to say they had a bad winter. They added one of the game's elite talents in shortstop Francisco Lindor and an accomplished starting pitcher in Carlos Carrasco. They also brought in a solid catcher in James McCann, a power-armed reliever in Trevor May and a high-upside starter in Taijuan Walker. The Mets still have Jacob deGrom, arguably the best pitcher in the game, Michael Conforto, Pete Alonso and others. They might not win the World Series in Cohen's first year, but they'll be better.

Top to bottom, the NL East should be baseball's toughest and most competitive division. In addition to the Mets and Phillies, the Braves and Nationals both spent significant free-agent dollars this winter. The Marlins remain in a slow build, but they have young talent and did make strong offensive additions in Starling Marte last summer and Adam Duvall this winter.

When all the teams in a division go for it, it makes for a better division, better baseball.

Having the Mets throwing elbows in the corners, mixing it up in free agency and trading for stars is a tide that can raise all boats in the NL East.

"It definitely increases the product when all the teams have to compete," Girardi said. "But east coast baseball has always been, to me, very competitive from the time I can remember. The passion for baseball on the east coast has always been fantastic and I don't ever see that changing no matter who owns the clubs.

"Fans demand a lot on the east coast and I love it."

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