SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Not that long ago, the Mets used to be Scott Boras’ favorite punching bag, the runway for his favorite one-liners, the guys who infamously shopped in the “fruits and nuts” aisle while MLB’s elites were pricing the porterhouse.
Once Steve Cohen bought the franchise, however, the Mets abruptly vanished from Boras’ standup routine. The superagent doesn’t joke around when it comes to money, other than maybe a few flattering puns for our benefit, and there was no more predictable buddy flick than Boras and baseball’s richest owner.
Enter David Stearns, now a month into his president of baseball operations gig, and he got a taste Wednesday of what it’s like being in the employ of someone with an $18 billion fortune. Stearns told us that he’s “always had a good relationship” with Boras from his previous life in Milwaukee, running the small-market Brewers, but he’ll soon find they’re going to be BFFs going forward.
Case in point: Boras had no qualms about revealing his “lengthy” sit-down with Stearns here at the GM meetings, a chat the agent described in very chummy terms. The only thing missing was Boras making their friendship IG official, though I hadn’t checked lately to see if the two showed up on my timeline.
“Certainly working in a New York environment is very different than working in a Milwaukee environment,” Boras said Wednesday. “I think that he’s much like all of us who work for people — he’s grasped the concept of his ownership.”
Stearns may be new to Cohen’s business style, but this isn’t Boras’ first rodeo with the hedge-fund titan. In the past two seasons alone, Cohen gave two industry-shaping deals to a pair of his clients: the record three-year, $130 million contract to Max Scherzer and the eight-year, $162 million pact for Brandon Nimmo.
There was very nearly a third. Cohen agreed to a 12-year, $315 million contract for Carlos Correa — negotiated with Boras by phone from Hawaii — but that later dissolved over medical concerns. No hard feelings, of course.
We mention all this now because there’s going to be plenty more Boras client deals in the pipeline for the Mets. Or at least there should be. But let’s put Pete Alonso aside for a moment — he’s a Met this coming season regardless — to focus on some stuff with tighter timelines, like restocking the rotation and possibly adding a DH, two urgent needs for 2024. It just so happens that Boras has a number of top-shelf free agents from both categories, at different price points, depending on Cohen’s appetite.
We’re thinking those at the very top, like Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery, could be beyond where Cohen/Stearns want to spend, especially if they’re deeply invested in the pursuit of NPB ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto (think $200-plus million range). Perhaps the next tier, like Hyun-jin Ryu, Kenta Maeda or Erick Fedde, who just rebuilt his value in Korea this past season (30 starts, 2.00 ERA, 70% ground-ball rate).
As for DH, we’re thinking J.D. Martinez — who the Mets passed on a year ago at the bottom of his market — is going to be a bit too pricey this time around after his 33-homer, .893-OPS bounce-back for the Dodgers. Instead, how about the former Phillies slugger Rhys Hoskins, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL and could seek a one-year pillow contract (like Martinez) to bump up his value.
We’re only suggesting some budget alternatives from Boras’ stable because the Mets have a number of holes to fill — and it’s unclear where Cohen plans to take next year’s payroll. The Mets already have $281 million on the books (for luxury tax purposes) according to FanGraphs, down from $377 million at the start of the 2023 season.
Plus, Cohen is on the record suggesting that he’ll dial it down a bit on free-agent stars this winter after the sticker shock from a very expensive 75-win season. His exact words at the trade deadline: “It doesn’t mean we’re not going to bring in free agents. It may not be to the extent that we did in the past.” Boras, for one, isn’t sold on Cohen suddenly putting the checkbook away.
“When you have the bigger jet, and you say you’re going slower — you’re still going faster,” Boras said. “That’s what I would say about the Mets. I think their idea and their vision is long-term. I think they see advantages in this market, and next year’s market.
“The Mets have a lot of work to do. They inherited a team that had a very limited minor-league depth. And therefore, they have to do some very unique things in free agency to ramp and particularly to be competitive with the National League East.”
That’s where Boras comes in. Tuesday’s summit with Stearns was the start of that feeling-out process, for both sides to get a rough sketch of what could be on the agenda for the weeks ahead. Cohen, as always, is the wild card here. And Stearns realizes he’s not in Milwaukee anymore.
“Steve has clearly demonstrated that when the right players are there, and when the right opportunity is there, he’s going to invest in the team,” Stearns said.
Nothing makes Boras happier. No punchlines needed.