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Wilpons in talks to sell majority stake in Mets but remain in control for 5 years

Mets owner Fred Wilpon looks on during the

Mets owner Fred Wilpon looks on during the team's 1969 World Series Championship 50th anniversary celebration at Citi Field on June 29. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Mets’ Wilpon era may be nearing its end.

Owner/chief executive officer Fred Wilpon is in talks to sell a majority stake of the Mets to Steve Cohen, a multi-billionaire Great Neck native and a minority owner in the team since 2012, a source familiar with the deal said Wednesday.

The Mets announced that Sterling Partners — the Wilpon family business — is negotiating an agreement for Cohen to “increase his investment” in the organization. He already owns 8 percent of the team, and Bloomberg reported that this arrangement will lead to Wilpon selling “up to 80 percent” of the club, leaving the current owners with a small stake.

The transaction values the Mets at an MLB-record $2.6 billion, the Bloomberg story said.

As part of the agreement, which will require approval from Major League Baseball, the 83-year-old Wilpon and his son, chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, will remain in their roles for five years.

After that, a source said, Cohen would become the “control person,” which is baseball’s term for a franchise’s majority owner and top decision-maker.

It is not clear what this means for the Mets’ financial wherewithal over the next half-decade, but having an owner like Cohen — who Bloomberg estimates is worth $9.2 billion — would be a dramatic change from what has become the Mets’ norm. Since being wrapped up in the Bernard Madoff investment scandal more than a decade ago, the Mets have been reluctant to spend big money on top free agents, limiting their on-field product.

If and when the deal comes to fruition, it would mean the eventual end of the Wilpon family’s reign, which features a long list of controversies and a short list of accomplishments.

Fred Wilpon first bought portions of the Mets in the 1980s, and in 2002 he became the majority owner when he bought the other half of the team from Nelson Doubleday Jr. He installed Jeff Wilpon as COO immediately. In more than 17 years of Wilpon control, the Mets have had seven managers, five general managers, three playoff appearances and zero World Series championships.

Cohen, a 63-year-old hedge fund titan, is CEO and president of Point72 Asset Management — a role in which he will continue when he buys the Mets. His stake in the Mets will be managed by his family office, Cohen Private Ventures, the team said in its news release.

His previous hedge fund, SAC Capital Advisors, pleaded guilty to investment fraud in 2013. It paid a record $1.2 billion fine, though federal investigators couldn’t tie Cohen personally to the wrongdoing.

For Cohen, who grew up in Great Neck attending games at Shea Stadium, buying a baseball team has long been a dream, a source close to Cohen said. And the Mets are not the first team he has tried to buy. Cohen made a bid for the Dodgers in 2012, but lost out to a group headed by Guggenheim Partners boss Mark Walter and highlighted by Lakers legend Magic Johnson.

Shortly before the Dodgers’ sale closed — for a then-record $2 billion — Cohen paid $20 million for a small stake in the Mets, who were seeking investors in the wake of the Madoff scandal. That was a ripe opportunity for Cohen, who became involved with his hometown team as a de facto tryout for a larger role in MLB’s ownership ranks.

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