LAS VEGAS -- Scott Boras used to openly mock the Mets at least twice a year, first at the GM meetings and then a month later, when MLB staged its annual winter carnival. The standup routine typically involved creative ways to call the Wilpons cheap, and what a shame it was that Flushing’s penny-pinching baseball club was forced to dumpster-dive for players every offseason.
But that punchline period for the franchise is over, and when Boras gathered the dozens of reporters here Wednesday for his Q&A session, the super-agent might as well have been wearing a Mets’ cap. That’s because second-year owner Steve Cohen possesses two of Boras’ favorite things: tons of money, and a willingness to spend it.
Cohen made Boras a very, very happy agent last December by making Max Scherzer the highest-paid player in MLB history, thanks to a record $43.3 million annual salary. Convincing Scherzer, the longtime Nats ace, to join the rival Mets was no small feat. But Boras clients follow the cash, and Cohen’s ability to land the future Hall of Famer sent a loud message to the rest of the league that the Mets weren’t screwing around. Oh, and money wouldn’t be an obstacle, either.
That trend continued this week with the landmark signing of closer Edwin Diaz, who didn’t even file for free agency before accepting a record five-year, $102 million deal that makes him the highest-paid relief pitcher by a mile. Credit the Mets for identifying their greatest need and writing another huge check to solve it, roughly 24 hours after the final out of the World Series.
Consider Diaz another signal to the league, as well as the rest of the free-agent crop, that the Mets are open for business, and to borrow one of Boras’ past comedic gems, not in the fruits-and-nuts aisle of the supermarket. Cohen has added a level of seriousness to the Mets’ offseason plan that hadn’t existed in the previous decade, something that Boras recognized immediately by their swooping in to grab Scherzer a year ago.
“When Steve Cohen reached out and signed Scherzer, he really raised the flag that 'we’re here to be a championship-level organization,'” Boras said Wednesday. “And the influence of Max on the team, their intensity, the pitching staff, the audience. I think that it brought a really credible illustration to what the new Mets’ organization is about. And that had not been there for a long time. There had not been a marquee [free agent] brought to Citi Field and I think that bringing that there really changed the perception of players -- how they look at the Mets, what they do.
“I think Buck’s role in working and dealing with the players has really been something in the players community that’s an advantage for them. So I think they’re very well-received in the player community.”
Boras doesn’t gush like that about just any team -- or any owner for that matter. Only the ones that he sees as potential business partners, as favorable destinations for his clients, and the Mets check all those boxes now. Diaz was one of the top prizes in this winter’s free-agent class, an All-Star closer coming off a nearly unhittable season at the age of 28. And the Mets didn’t even let another GM have a chance to call him on the phone.
It takes a certain degree of financial might to pull that off, and the confidence to settle on the right number. Diaz had repeatedly expressed a desire to remain with the Mets, so that obviously was a big help. But Cohen ponying up the cash to back GM Billy Eppler’s quick trigger was a credit to their decision-making process. Diaz already had proven himself to be a perfect fit in Flushing, so what was left to talk about? Make him an offer he couldn’t refuse -- like they did with Scherzer -- and move on to the next target.
“We trust the player,” Eppler said Wednesday. “We trust the character. He wanted to get something done. He wanted to stay here. He was very upfront about that. We just felt like it was a really good match.”
The Mets aren’t stuck in the position anymore of waiting around to see what drops to them, settling for the scraps. As Boras said, they’re a destination now, and that aggressive stance should be applied to their other half-dozen or so free agents, with Brandon Nimmo, Jacob deGrom and Chris Bassitt being at the top of that list. Diaz was their No. 1 target, and deservedly so. But the Mets have more money to spend, and for the players that want to be part of another World Series contender in Queens, it will be interesting to see how long they have to step up and take it.
With a bullpen to rebuild, rotation spots to fill and maybe a vacant outfield spot, the Mets can’t play musical chairs in putting together the ’23 roster. They’ll continue to push their offseason agenda, and based on what we’ve seen from Cohen & Co. in the past year, expect them to stay in attack mode in the coming weeks.