Steve Cohen and Billy Eppler smelled blood and sunk their teeth in to make Carlos Correa a Met
Steve Cohen's organization has taken the payroll into uncharted territory and are now the game's biggest financial superpower
Well, the calculus of the Mets off-season - and pretty much all of baseball - changed in the last 24 hours or so, didn’t it?
I’ve spent the better part of the day today trying to gather my thoughts and wrap my head around what has transpired for the Mets since I went to bed last night. At that point, all we really knew was the Giants were postponing (that was the word they used in their press release at 11:15 AM ET yesterday) their news conference to introduce Carlos Correa at Oracle Park. It was later reported by Susan Slusser of the SF Chronicle there was some kind of issue perceived in Correa’s medicals.
Then, the next thing we all knew this morning, Correa was the new third baseman for the New York Mets.
I know when I saw all of the messages and texts on my phone at 6:44 AM ET, I couldn't believe it. I figured I was still asleep or there was some kind of mistake. These things don’t happen, at least not at this order or magnitude.
But it had. And I was, as Elaine Benes once said on my all-time favorite sitcom, without speech.
Of course, my wife was pretty annoyed I had woken her up to tell her the news. But anyway…
It was just a week ago Steve Cohen - the Mets owner and CEO - completely acknowledged to the New York Post he got into the Correa sweepstakes seemingly moments before he agreed to terms with San Francisco.
At a minimum, we could extract a few things about the situation:
The Mets are going to be in on literally every single free agent every winter
It doesn’t matter what the cost is financially
Steve Cohen wants the best team with the best players at all costs and will do whatever it takes to deliver upon the promise of a championship within the first five years of ownership
Undoubtedly, the Mets will be in on Shohei Ohtani and Juan Soto when they eventually become free agents
So, fine. The Mets had already shown off all of that by flexing their muscle in free agency. They had just introduced Justin Verlander yesterday, a day before it was Kodai Senga (that seems like forever-ago, doesn’t it?). They managed to retain a homegrown talent in Brandon Nimmo, retained the best closer in baseball in Edwin Díaz, reportedly agreed to terms to bring back Adam Ottavino, and fortified their bullpen with David Robertson and Brooks Raley.
All of this to the tune of $360 million-ish committed towards to the 2023 payroll, with an effective payroll after tax closer to $425 million. Cohen and the Mets demonstrated what these new Mets were all about already - a big market, big destination, must-see TV organization which intended to shed the cutting corners reputation of the previous ownership group.
“I made a commitment to the fans,” Cohen explained to the Post last week. “If it means I have to spend money to fulfill that commitment, so be it.”
Which leads me to bullet number five in the list above:
If Mr. Cohen and the Mets smell even the hint of blood, they are going to sink their teeth in for the name on the front of the jersey.
And, that’s exactly what Mr. Cohen did, apparently while on holiday in Hawaii. Surprising literally everyone not at the virtual negotiating table.
Once the deal with the Giants appeared to have hit this snag, he and GM BIlly Eppler sank their teeth in via their iPhones, swooped in and pulled the rug out from under the Giants and signed one of the great free agent prizes of this winter and in recent memory.
Even if it was for a few million more than Mr. Cohen had originally wanted to commit. But again, at the admission of the owner himself, money is indeed no object.
“In the end, what the (heck’s) the difference. If you’re trying to make a move, you make the move,” he told the Post from Hawaii. “If it’s (a few percent) percent more, what’s the difference?”
Only Steve Cohen can one-up the Yankees on an otherwise joyous day in the Bronx where they re-introduced and named Aaron Judge the 16th captain in Yankee history.
And all the Giants could say or do today was issue the following statement:
“While we are prohibited from disclosing confidential medical information, as Scott Boras stated publicly, there was a difference of opinion over the results of Carlos’ physical examination. We wish Carlos the best.”
It has truly been an amazing 24 hours in baseball and for the Mets specifically. Actually, it’s been an amazing two weeks for the Mets as they’ve become the game’s foremost financial superpower.
Indeed, it’s truly remarkable what Cohen has done since assuming ownership of the New York Mets.
He has begun to recognize the club’s history dramatically with the retirement of Keith Hernandez’s and Willie Mays’ numbers. There’s now a statue of the club’s best all-time player in Tom Seaver outside the Jackie Robinson rotunda. He’s resurrected a long lost tradition in Mets history with Old Timers’ Day.
And that’s only a small bit of their off-the-field identity change.
On the field, he inherited a flawed and meandering organization with a $193 million roster in 2020 and quickly transitioned the Mets into a powerhouse in the National League, a team which had but one winning season in the previous four with gaffe after gaffe after gaffe sandwiched in between the general dysfunction of the club. In two years, he has been able to attract star power, attract quality hires and transition the club culturally, making the Mets a destination (money talks, of course) for the greatest talents in the game.
Now he will oversee a roster projected to earn around $390 million with an effective cost closer to $500 million. With this unprecedented payroll will come equally lofty expectations for Steve Cohen’s gold bar of a roster.
As they should. He should have championship expectations of his own team given the amount of money he is pouring into it.
Despite being approximately $100 million above the next-highest luxury tax payroll (that which is across town in the Bronx), there’s more work to do here. They could still use some positional depth and another left-handed pitcher in the bullpen specifically.
But as Cohen put it, at this point, what the (heck) is the difference?
At a total cost of nearly $500 million and a tax at 90 cents on the dollar for every penny they’re spending above the luxury tax thresholds, why stop here? He clearly has both the financial might and the influence to convince pretty much any free agent to sign with the Mets, since they’ve signed pretty much everyone they need in the top tier of free agency. So, why not bring Michael Conforto back into the fold, or figure out how Adam Duvall might fit on the roster?
For those out there complaining about how the Mets are spending like, “drunken sailors” as Mr. Cohen once said (and something he said he wouldn’t do, which is obviously what he’s doing), let me be the first to remind everyone how for years, and years and years, all pretty much anyone did was complain about the Mets lack of spending and being under-market with their payroll.
For context, here are their luxury tax payrolls since 2012, per Cots Contracts:
2012: $105 million
2013: $109 million
2014: $98 million
2015: $123 million
2016: $157 million
2017: $165 million
2018: $160 million
2019: $186 million
2020: $193 million
2021: $208 million
2022: $287 million
You can’t have it both ways. And as I’ve said before, if the Mets are going to be contenders at a minimum, they must commit dollars in the short-term towards that goal while retaining and continuing to develop their farm system for later.
Now, it’s pretty easy to surmise the Mets will look to make a trade from what can now be considered excess, perhaps to fill one of those aforementioned needs. Eduardo Escobar immediately comes to mind but he’s a switch hitter (that has a ton of value) and comes with intangibles not easily found around the league. Then there’s Mark Canha, who the Mets could move and slot either Eduardo Escobar and/or Jeff McNeil into the outfield. That seems a little like a natural solution, but still an option.
Or, maybe they will just keep both. Why not?
The point is, there’s never a day off for Billy Eppler and the front office. Not in these parts. Just ask the owner himself, who made this deal for Correa happen while vacationing in Hawaii.
They’re always fighting for that edge, fighting for some way to make the roster better. Even when it seems all hope could be lost in the players they covet.
Now that they’ve won the off-season (sorry San Diego and Philadelphia), it’s time to go win in between the lines.