The Mets, in contrast to most teams, will enter the offseason with few fiscal constraints. How far will they go in the free-agent market?
Soon, Mets’ new owner Steve Cohen having been officially blessed by his peers will take the stage to begin what is expected to be the dawn of a new era in Mets history.
Blocked by New York Mayor DeBlasio, who is haggling over the renewal of the Citi Field lease, and keeping his name of the back pages of city newspapers, Cohen can only make “off the field” moves until the lease is settled, a development that could come as soon as Saturday morning.
Nonetheless, Mets fans are getting a good taste of what’s in store under Cohen’s reign. The New York Daily News is reporting that Cohen’s checkbook is already open, beginning with a pledge of $17.5 million to help NYC small businesses wade through the COVID pandemic.
Cohen also pledged to take care of “all Mets employees,” including unionized groundskeepers, security guards, and engineers. The new principal owner said employees will receive reinstituted pre-pandemic salaries as of Nov. 1. The act will reverse the 5-30% salary cut that was implemented in March. Cohen projected the value of this commitment to be over $7 million.
Regretfully though, a day that has been marked with anticipation for some time now as the break from the drama and dysfunction of the Wilpon Era is tempered by an uptick in the pandemic gripping our country, along with its subsequent rumblings throughout MLB.
Major League Baseball has released its schedule for the 2021 season, and it’s a full schedule of 162 games, complete with the annual All-Star Game in Atlanta, and highlighted for Mets fans with a first-time meeting on September 11 with the Yankees.
There is no one, least of all team owners, though, who views this offseason with anything but trepidation – and fear of the unknown.
How many games, if any, will be played with fans in the stands, the chief source of revenue along with TV regional and national contracts? 60, 90, 120 – who can say?
And with that, the Mets join all teams in devising an overall financial plan that includes team payroll for the coming season – essentially – in a vacuum of certainty.
For Mets fans, the good news is the team starts the offseason in the black, at least in terms of its projected 2021 payroll versus the threshold before the luxury tax kicks in. The table explains:
Mets: Counting All Their Blessings
The key figure, of course, the Mets and Steve Cohen are drawn to is the $68 million they have (in theory at least) to spend before they reach the luxury tax limit of $210 million in team payroll.
While the Yankees lead the field and are already beyond the limit, the Mets rank twelfth in the league in cap spending, according to Spotrac. But that’s not all.
Steve Cohen is a very rich man with an estimated total worth of around $14 billion. So, let’s suppose he earns a (low) return of 1% on investments, in theory, another $41 million can be earned over the next year that can be earmarked for the Mets.
Will The Mets Become Baseball’s Next Evil Empire
The salient point is this. The Mets have enough in “savings” towards the luxury tax threshold ($68 million), plus all the cash anyone can want ($41 million) to buy the top five 2021 free agents, at $20 million per year – or any mix of players they desire – if they want to.
And therein lies the crux of the problem for Steve Cohen, whose first year comes with a full-scale depression in sports economies and the U.S. in general.
I could be wrong but I do not believe Steve Cohen wants to be known as the John D Rockefeller, J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, or Cornelius Vanderbilt of the 21st Century, taking advantage of a marketplace and fellow businessman (team owners) who cannot compete – at this time.
We are already seeing how stingy teams are in making qualifying offers valued at $18.9 million for one year, with longstanding players like Ryan Braun, Charlie Morton, and Corey Kluber among those cast aside by their teams in the wake of COVID and last year’s revenues losses.
Steve Cohen: An Igniter Or Leader?
Mets owner Steve Cohen has a choice to make.
Cohen can infuriate team owners around the league by spending wildly, picking off top free agents like J.T. Realmuto and Trevor Bauer, striking while the proverbial iron is hot and his competitors are down.
Or, he can elect to slow it down so as not to make a spectacle of himself as Phillie’s owner, John S. Middleton, did last year when he declared he intended to spend “stupid money” on free agents.
It’s fair to assume Steve Cohen did not accumulate the mass of wealth at his disposal by spending stupidly.
Although when you look at extravagant collection of toys he has assembled over the year, it might give reason to think twice – Cohen has a new toy to play with – the Mets – and according to all we read – he’s dead serious about making this work.
Mets New Found Money Has Better Destinations
Twenty-nine owners of major-league teams are hoping Steve Cohen keeps most of his bankroll in his pocket, at least for this offseason giving them a chance to catch up on revenues lost in 2020, and a full season of fan attendance in 2021.
To that end, Cohen has earmarked two areas where he can spend freely and not be noticed and, subsequently, singled out as a “traitor” to their cause and temporary needs.
If analytics is the way of major league baseball today, and for the moment let’s say it is, the Mets have a lot of work to do in catching up with the rest of the league. Good for him, as Cohen has identified this area as one of his particular interest and worthy of significant financial expenditures.
Ditto the Mets farm system that glaringly lacks the ability to teach up and coming stars like Amed Rosario the fundamentals of playing shortstop and the art of stealing bases – to the point where a gifted player appears overwhelmed and on the edge of losing his job.
The Real Steve Cohen Will Stand Up
Steve Cohen as the Mets’ new owner is a mystery man. Which perhaps why he will not be a unanimous selection when his peers vote tomorrow granting approval for his team to run the Mets.
Some predict and portray Cohen as a rebel along the lines of Bill Veeck and George Steinbrenner, always willing to push the trend ahead, in spite of the damage to their reputation around the league.
2021 will give us the first glimpse of what the Mets have in Steve Cohen as their owner. The jury of fans and media will not take long to deliberate before reaching a verdict.
In what direction will Steve Cohen bring the Mets? Wish I knew, but I’m sure going to pay attention to what we see in the next couple or three months.