In his first year at the helm, Mets owner Steve Cohen didn’t quite start out on the right foot. He was forced to contend with the residual impact of the coronavirus pandemic, a cobbled-together front office staff, as well as an incomplete roster left to him by the Wilpons and former GM Brodie Van Wagenen.
Through all of this, Cohen maintained his initial sentiment: he wanted to build the Mets into the “east coast Dodgers,” and win a World Series in 3-5 years. After a sub .500 first season, it was easy to doubt this vision. After all, every owner says they want to win, but many have other priorities. However, in just one month since season’s end, Cohen has made his vision clear, and backed it up with 200+ million dollars: he is not only willing to spend absurdly to win now, he is building the Mets into a true model organization that can deliver winning baseball every year.
Baseball’s Richest Owner
When Cohen’s purchase of the team was first announced, one of the most exciting factors was the hedge fund manager’s 11 billion dollar net worth. Just about anything would have been an upgrade over the Wilpon’s penny-pinching, but few could have expected the payroll to balloon to 235 million before the Mets are even finished this off-season.
In just one year, Cohen has inked Francisco Lindor to the largest deal in franchise history, and signed Max Scherzer to a contract with the highest average annual value of any in the history of MLB. As it currently stands, the Mets’ payroll is 20 million dollars higher than that of the Dodgers or Yankees, although those two will certainly look to make more additions after the lockout comes to an end.
However, Cohen and co. have not just thrown money wildly at the best available free agents. There has been a clear strategy behind the players signed and the deals made.
Planning for the Future
One clear trend in the moves made by GM Billy Eppler is that players are being signed to short-term deals, even if it means a slight overpay in terms of AAV. The best example of this is Max Scherzer, the top pitcher available, signed to a 3-year, 130 million dollar contract last week. 43.3 million is a ludicrous sum to pay to one player, but Scherzer is worth it, and Cohen can afford it. Most of all, it prevents the team’s budget from being weighed down in the long term, as has been the case with pitchers like Stephen Strasburg, David Price, and Patrick Corbin. Even in the worst-case scenario, Scherzer’s deal would be off the books by 2025.
The Mets used the same approach with their offensive additions, with two-year deals for Eduardo Escobar and Mark Canha, and a four-year deal for Starling Marte. It’s clear that this was purposeful, as the team has been largely absent from rumors surrounding guys like Carlos Correa and Corey Seager, who were seeking 10-year megadeals.
On top of this though, is a more subtle strategy: avoiding qualifying offer players who would cost them a first-round draft pick. The Dodgers didn’t become The Dodgers based purely on payroll. They have developed a consistently great far system that continues to supplement their big free-agent acquisitions. For every Mookie Betts, there is a Corey Seager; for every Max Scherzer, there is Walker Buehler.
The Mets system on the other hand was ransacked by Van Wagenen, who seemed to love trading multiple minor leaguers for one fringe major league player. While it has taken a step forward in the past year thanks to the development of Francisco Alvarez and Brett Baty, there is still a serious lack of depth beyond the top few guys. Clearly, this team needs as many picks as it can get in the upcoming draft.
In this vein, there are still many options available that fit this description. Carlos Rodon has no qualifying offer attached and could be seeking a high AAV, short-term deal in order to prove his health. On the offensive side, Kris Bryant looks like an ideal fit for this roster, and similarly has no attached QO because of his mid-season trade to the Giants. Bryant is known to be seeking a long-term deal, though it’s unclear if his offers have matched that.
As a Scott Boras client, he was said to be looking to sign prior to the lockout; the fact that he did not may mean that no team has met his demands. Despite the money already spent, the Mets have continued to be linked to Bryant and will likely continue their same approach, offering Bryant a shorter-term deal with more money per year. While Bryant’s projected contracts range wildly in value, perhaps something along the lines of 4-years, 100 million would bring him to New York.
Analytics, Analytics, Analytics
The Dodgers have become one of the best teams in the sport due to their ability to combine the Yankees’ spending with the Rays’ analytics. They are known to have one of the largest analytics departments of any MLB team, allowing them to utilize their players most effectively. Over the last several years, this has enabled them to pilfer star players from other teams’ scrap heaps, like Chris Taylor, Max Muncy, and Justin Turner.
The Wilpons, of course, had refused to invest significantly in their analytics department. However, since his takeover, Cohen has massively expanded this facet, reportedly to upwards of 30 employees by next season. This again shows Cohen’s dedication to the future of this franchise. He knows what makes other teams successful, and he won’t hesitate to spend his vast wealth to bring it to New York.
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