The Mets plan to spend big again in 2023 — which for their fans is a good thing, because they’ll need to in order to field a competitive team.
Fortunately for general manager Billy Eppler and the front office, they have the backing of hedge-fund giant Steve Cohen, the richest owner in baseball with an estimated net worth of $17.5 billion.
According to Eppler, Cohen will do the same thing this offseason that he did last: green-light massive amounts of spending.
“Steve has continued to say, ‘I’ll support this cause financially. We can use money to bridge [to] ultimately where we want to take this place,’ which again is to that sustainability, where we’re winning year in, year out,” Eppler said Friday. “As we sit here today, there’s going to be a lot of work to do this wintertime.”
The Mets’ payroll heading into the offseason already stands at about $220 million, as calculated for luxury-tax purposes, subtracting Jacob deGrom (who has said he plans to opt out of his contract) but adding estimates for arbitration-eligible players such as Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil.
That is higher than 24 of 30 teams in 2022 — and that is before the Mets fill out four-fifths of the rotation and almost the entire bullpen, plus other unpredictable, inevitable roster machinations that every offseason brings.
The Mets’ approximately $290 million payroll for the season that just ended was by far the highest in franchise history. Eppler said Cohen has given him a “pretty close” idea of how much he is allowed to spend on the 2023 club but declined to specify.
Spending big, of course, was always the plan for the Mets under Cohen, particularly in these early years when their farm system isn’t producing capable replacements for free agents such as deGrom, closer Edwin Diaz, centerfielder/ leadoff hitter Brandon Nimmo, righthander Chris Bassitt and others. The Mets hope to get to a point that when key players hit the open market, they are able to backfill that position internally and inexpensively — key to the sustainable part of “sustainable winner,” a buzzy phrase that Eppler, like so many executives these days, throws around as the overarching goal.
But the Mets aren’t there yet, so they’ll make up for it with Cohen’s cash. That also will allow them to hold on to their best prospects if they choose, as they did at the trade deadline, when, with one eye on the future, they made minor moves instead of major ones.
“When you make trades, it hurts. Any trade hurts. Right? You want to keep as much of your talent as possible,” Eppler said. “That’s why Steve has said what he has said, which is: We’ll use some financial strength to keep us out of that position so that we can build something long-term.”
In discussing how to replace the Mets’ dozen-plus potential free agents this offseason, Eppler said he will have to look to the open market but brought the discussion back to maybe not doing that so much in the longer term.
“I’ll tell you, though: I think building sustainability is not going to come via free agency. I think it’s going to come internally,” he said. “There’s a couple franchises out there that are kind of the model for that right now, and that’s where we strive to be. But it’s going to take some time to build to that. It doesn’t happen overnight and nothing happens by accident.”
In the immediate term, the Mets have an exclusive negotiating window with their own players. DeGrom, Diaz, Nimmo and the rest are due to become free agents after the World Series and will be allowed to talk with other teams but cannot sign with a new team until five days after the season ends. In the meantime, the Mets can try to lock them up before it gets that far — if they are interested enough to try.
Eppler said the Mets eventually will “have conversations with all three” but declined to say if he will pursue pre-free agency talks in the next couple of weeks.
“It’s not a two-way street, it’s a multi-party endeavor now,” he said. “We’ll get a sense of understanding their expectations, they’ll get a sense of understanding ours, and we’ll see if something can be executed. It’s talking to all three. It’s not prioritizing one over the other.”