Not too much longer, Mets fans. By next month, Steve Cohen’s purchase of the team should become official, and then you can start debating legitimately whether you’d rather sign J.T. Realmuto or George Springer.
(Probably not both. Sorry.)
Yet as we prepare for this long-awaited new era, there’s one upcoming checkpoint that intrigues me the most. That every high-payroll team encounters along the way. That will be especially telling for the man who instantly would become Major League Baseball’s richest owner:
How will Cohen deal with a big buy — be it, Realmuto, Springer, Trevor Bauer or someone else — gone wrong?
How much or how little dead money will he prove willing to stomach? For this is where Cohen and the Mets really could distinguish themselves. It’s a market inefficiency, prime to be exploited.
First, your update: Cohen’s ingratiation into the ownership fraternity has proceeded smoothly, according to multiple industry sources. He met virtually with the Ownership Committee about two weeks ago. As long as that committee signs off on Cohen’s $2.4 billion purchase of the Mets from the Wilpons and Katzes, the Executive Council must do the same (each of these groups features fewer than 10 owners), and then the matter would go to the decisive team-by-team vote, where Cohen must receive support from 23 of 30 clubs (which is actually 22 of 29, since the Mets presumably will vote yes). This vote could occur as soon as a week after the conclusion of the World Series.
Cautious optimism exists that Cohen will secure the necessary votes; unanimity appears quite unlikely. White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf opposed Cohen’s pursuit of the Dodgers last decade — Reinsdorf’s good friend Dennis Gilbert, the agent-turned-White Sox executive, took part in a competing group, as both fell short to the Guggenheim consortium — and he doesn’t seem too keen on this transaction, either. Reinsdorf is very friendly with Alex Rodriguez — whose teaming with fiancée Jennifer Lopez, and business titans Vincent Viola and Mike Repole to buy the Mets fell short and is ready to pounce again if the opportunity arises.
Cohen’s announcement that Sandy Alderson would return to the Mets, this time as team president, scored points in the ownership industry by sending a message. Sure, hope exists that Cohen would elevate the Mets to the “jewel franchise” status they merit, but not with an immediate, historic free-agency binge — which wouldn’t match Alderson’s personality. Though Cohen is a super-rich Mets fan, he also is a businessman, and it’s hard to envision the team signing two or more free agents to ginormous deals when the novel coronavirus makes it impossible to forecast 2021 revenues.
One ginormous acquisition wouldn’t surprise in the least, however, and then plenty more down the road. And not all of them will work out. That comes with the territory. What came with the Mets always was a serious hamstringing of the club’s payroll when one of these commitments went sideways. Which really shouldn’t have been the case when you consider their largest boondoggles — David Wright, Johan Santana and Yoenis Cespedes — emanated from injuries rather than underperformance, which meant that insurance helped cover their sunk costs.
If you want to see real suffering, look at the Angels, who have paid Albert Pujols nearly $92 million these past four seasons for -0.9 wins above replacement and owe him another $30 million next year. See the Tigers, who have given Miguel Cabrera about $99 million over the same stretch for -0.6 WAR and must pay him another $94 million through 2023. Releasing these two future Hall of Famers would be painful, no question, yet by holding onto them, their employers ensure they eat up playing time as well as payroll. Ideally, neither should happen.
The record for money-eating goes to the Angels, who absorbed $63 million of Josh Hamilton’s contract (over three years) to return him to the Rangers in a 2015 trade — Angels owner Arte Moreno was livid with Hamilton’s struggles to stay sober. The Blue Jays own the record for a straight release when they gave Troy Tulowitzki $38 million over three years to go away in December 2018 (thanks to the Associated Press’ Ron Blum for his mad institutional memory).
The Mets’ priciest goodbye occurred under Alderson and not because of him, as they paid $21 million to Omar Minaya signee Jason Bay (he agreed to slightly restructure the payments, originally due in 2013) in November 2012. The Yankees set their record in August 2016 when they gave A-Rod about $27 million through 2017 to no longer suit up for them.
How high would Cohen, his estimated net worth at $14 billion, go to ensure the Mets don’t find themselves weighed down by the inevitable misfires? If, say, Realmuto experiences standard catcher’s regression by 2024, his age-34 season, would Cohen authorize a ripping off of the proverbial Band-Aid, even if Realmuto had another $75 million or more coming to him, and not let it seriously impact payroll?
This’ll take a while to reveal itself, and obviously as a Mets fan you root for the dilemma to never emerge. It’ll happen at some point, though, because it happens everywhere. And when it does, you’ll get the best indication possible of how large a game-changer Cohen intends to be in this game.