Imagine a day when money isn’t a concern for the Mets. When players like Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon are no longer Tiffany necklaces on the other side of bulletproof glass, always for somebody else to buy. When homegrown talents like Zack Wheeler get paid to stay in Flushing rather than return wearing a division rival’s uniform.
That day isn’t here yet. But it’s coming. Oh yes. Finally, it’s coming.
Because after the deal receives approval from Major League Baseball and the billionaire hedge-fund manager Steve Cohen assumes control of the franchise — which is scheduled to happen five years from the sale currently being negotiated — the Mets will be run by the richest individual owner in Major League Baseball.
Go ahead. Read that last line again. As a long-time chronicler of Mets’ matters, many colored by financial restrictions, we’re having trouble wrapping our brain around that. Cohen’s net worth, as reported by Bloomberg, is $9.2 billion, and the team itself issued a statement Wednesday that basically spelled out the terms of succession.
In so many words, the Mets admitted that Cohen would be increasing his stake in the team (currently at 8 percent) while Fred and Jeff Wilpon would remain in their existing roles for five years. Fred is listed as the Control Person and CEO with Jeff as the COO, but their tenure as shot-callers for the franchise is now on the clock.
The statement didn’t provide any detail into what happens after those five years, but a person familiar with the negotiations assured that Cohen will take control of the team at that point. And it’s not a stretch to suggest that the Mets will then be operated in a way that hasn’t been seen since the Madoff scandal,with Cohen flexing as much financial muscle as any franchise in the sport. And likely more.
As one friend of Cohen put it Wednesday upon hearing the news, “He plays to win.”
We used to say the same about the Wilpons. There was a time, not all that long ago, when the Mets pursued every high-priced player, whether it was Carlos Beltran or Pedro Martinez or Tom Glavine or Johan Santana. After Madoff, however, money became more of a concern, and while the Mets built themselves up to back-to-back playoff appearances— with a 2015 World Series trip — their reluctance to spend on a large scale again remained an obstacle to sustained success.
Writing huge checks, of course, doesn’t guarantee a title. Or even playing in October. But when you’re the Mets, being a big-market team has to mean more than Citi Field’s zip code. It comes with a greater responsibility, especially with fans paying New York prices. You don’t have to throw cash at problems. But fixing obvious needs with the best solutions money can buy is just good business, and the Wilpons had lost their way in that regard, with an eye always on the budget rather than the ultimate prize.
To them, running the Mets eventually got reduced to that compromise. How could they balance the books and still (hopefully) field a competitive team? And then we learned Wednesday that the situation evidently was more dire than we thought. Not only were the Wilpons driven by the bottom line, they were looking to cash out, and ultimately found a deep-pocketed parachute in Cohen, a friendly face who grew up a Mets fan in Great Neck and already owned a piece of the club.
In Cohen, the Wilpons seem to have engineered the best possible exit. Rather than get immediately replaced, the Wilpons still can ride out the transition in their executive roles, though it’s unclear how much of that power they truly will retain as Cohen’s share increases over these five years. Bloomberg reported that Cohen is looking to own 80 percent of the team, but along that timeline, he could reach a majority stake before ultimately getting to that number.
So what happens between now and then? In the short term, you probably won’t see much of a difference. The sale hasn’t gone through yet, and we’re talking about a team that’s worth an estimated $2.6 billion, so it could take a while. It’s not like Cohen can just wire a half-billion on Venmo for the Wilpons to use on Cole and Rendon to pump up their chances in 2020.
Ideally, you’d think the Wilpons, with the end in sight, would try to go all out for a World Series title inside of this five-year window, to end the Mets’ 33-year championship drought under their stewardship. To get one last chance at being the heroes. But if they’ve already crunched the numbers on this sale, does it make any sense for them to spend more, or go over the luxury-tax threshold? Probably not.
One day, presumably under Cohen’s ownership, you won’t have to worry about these things anymore. And that day is coming. Finally.