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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

No one is laughing at Steve Cohen now

New Mets owner Steve Cohen at Citi Field

New Mets owner Steve Cohen at Citi Field for a season-ticket holders event on Dec. 12, 2020.

The impact of the Mets’ signing of Max Scherzer isn’t really about Max Scherzer.

What else is there to say about his Hall of Fame resume? And teaming a three-time Cy Young Award winner with Jacob deGrom, who was on his way to a third before injuries derailed him last season, immediately creates the most lethal 1-2 pairing in the sport.

The numbers that represent the true meaning of bringing Scherzer to Flushing, however, are found in Monday’s contract agreement: three years, $130 million — a staggering annual average value of $43.3 million, blowing away Gerrit Cole’s previous record of $36 million.

Scherzer, even at age 37, was the best free-agent pitcher on the market this offseason, just as Starling Marte was the best free-agent centerfielder. And in the span of four days, all of it by Nov. 29, the Mets added both of them, along with versatile upgrades Eduardo Escobar and Mark Canha, for a total investment of $254 million.

That’s a dizzying amount of money spent in a shockingly short stretch of time for a baseball winter, even one with the lockout deadline looming Wednesday at midnight. And the fact that Steve Cohen didn’t blink at doing whatever was necessary to reel in Scherzer officially makes him the guy everyone thought he was when he bought the Mets for $2.45 billion a little more than a year ago.

At the start of free agency, few gave the Mets much of a chance to land Scherzer. Also, the Mets had plenty of holes to fill, and Scherzer was going to swallow a sizable percentage of a team’s payroll all by himself.

But we learned a few things about Cohen on the path to acquiring Scherzer. Primarily, he’s not a good loser, as you might expect of someone with a self-made $14 billion future.

Cohen was angry enough about what he perceived as being used by Steven Matz’s agent that he impulsively took to Twitter to vent his frustration. Roughly 72 hours later, he OK’d spending $125 million on three new players, including $78 million on Marte.

Cohen was only warming up. Two days later, the Mets came up short again on another free-agent pitcher, Kevin Gausman, who two sources confirmed took less money to go to the Blue Jays on a five-year, $110 million contract. But Cohen didn’t rage on Twitter. Instead, he chose to stun the baseball world.

Whether Cohen’s competitive fire was set ablaze or he merely wanted to significantly improve the Mets’ playoff chances for the 2022 season doesn’t matter. And by essentially handing a blank check to Scherzer, Cohen showed how far he’s willing to go to shed the embarrassment of his rookie year on the Flushing throne.

The Scherzer deal pushes the Mets’ projected 2022 payroll to $266 million, by far the highest in franchise history and currently the richest in the sport. For perspective, last year’s luxury-tax threshold was $210 million and only the Dodgers surpassed it at about $270 million.

Cohen’s spending spree is even more audacious than the Dodgers’ conglomerate because no one has any idea what the new economic rules — or the potential tax penalties — will be going forward.

With the CBA expiring Wednesday at midnight and a lockout almost certain to follow, teams are flying blind from a financial standpoint — and Cohen is going full throttle into the blackness, caring only how his Mets will look on the other side.

That’s a bold strategy, but with top free agents rushing to sign before the CBA deadline, patience is failure. And the Mets already endured a humiliating six-week stretch trying to fill a front-office position that ultimately went to former Yankees exec Billy Eppler, who now has to be considered one of the luckier GMs in the business.

Eppler talked confidently about Cohen’s "resources" when he was introduced, but these past few days have taken that to a different level. The Mets are big-game hunters again for the first time since Omar Minaya grabbed Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran during the 2004-05 offseason.

Beltran called that winter the birth of the "New Mets," and a year later, they were a 97-win team that fell one swing short of a World Series trip. These Mets need at least another starter and bullpen help, but after what Cohen already has spent, he’s not going to turn off the cash spigot for the sake of a few extra million.

When you’re baseball’s richest owner, the title only helps if you act like it, and Cohen’s recent flex in this free-agent market has shown that time has come. No one’s laughing at the Mets anymore.

New York Sports