Steve Cohen is so sure of his new Mets stewardship he has already done something most would advise against: he ramped up his Twitter account.
Monday night he was engaging with fans on the dreadful platform. Questions ranged from the chances of George Springer ending up in Flushing to if someone who had 14 steak tacos in the last three days has a problem (presumably other than gout). Cohen blessed him with a pass for his egregious consumption.
The new owner of the always-careening Mets has stirred their thirsty fan base since his purchase of the team closed Nov. 6. Cohen pumped hopes and managed questions about the Mets’ legacy with aplomb at his initial press conference. His message was simple: I’m not here to mess around. Which prompted the rest of the division to wonder what that will mean going forward.
As the founder of the hedge fund Point72 Asset Management, Cohen is rich, even by the standard of the rich. He has an estimated net worth of $14.1 billion. His cash haul exists despite S.A.C. Capital Advisors, which he co-founded, paying $1.8 billion in fines in 2013 after pleading guilty to insider trading. Cohen was prohibited from managing outside money for two years. Yet, here he is flush and ready to impact Major League Baseball.
Atlanta Braves Chairman John Malone has a net worth of $6.5 billion. Ted Lerner slots in at $4.8 billion. Phillies owner John Middleton is at $3 billion (reminder: these are the same folks who will talk about how little money they have to spend this winter). Add them together, they barely surpass Cohen’s number.
Major League Baseball does operate with the Competitive Balance Tax in place. The threshold hits $210 million in 2021. The Nationals generally view the CBT as a ceiling. They spend -- a lot -- but try to stay underneath the penalty marker, a strategy which prompted them to creep underneath in 2019 and 2020 to keep their “penalty clock” at zero. Whether this will be a deterrent for Cohen is on the minds of most watching the National League East.
“I’m not trying to make money here,” said Cohen at his introductory press conference. “I have my business at Point72. I make money over there. So here, it’s about building something great. Building something for the fans, winning and I just find this an amazing opportunity that I’m so excited for.”
Cohen’s biggest division rival in cash output is the Nationals. They entered 2019 with the seventh-highest payroll in Major League Baseball. Even after a winter of flamboyant spending, the Phillies were 13th. The Braves were 21st in large part because of the stupefying contracts signed by Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuña Jr. They also receive credit for so much internal development, as well as Freddie Freeman’s now severely under-cost contract (eight years, $135 million signed in 2014).
The last time the Nationals were out of the top-10 Opening Day payrolls was 2013. That, essentially, is Before Times for the franchise. The Mets tended to fluctuate in their spending under the stilted Wilpon ownership group.
Spending doesn’t equal success. It’s often necessary, however it doesn't provide a guarantee. What Cohen said in his initial press conference -- and his expansive bank account -- suggests the Mets will be spending soon. One of the more compelling storylines of this offseason is the prospect for a franchise willing to spend to do so with cheap money. In essence, a bevy of quality players can be signed this winter for less than they would typically command. The negative drag of lost revenue in 2020 does not affect Cohen the way it does the other 29 owners. He’s also new. That only happens once. The combination may be a perfect start point for Cohen to announce the new way of operations for the Mets.
His ownership leaves the National League East dealing with an unknown commodity and a long-tenured one. The Mets are now run by a cash-flush owner who is new to baseball ownership. Sandy Alderson, who became the general manager in Oakland in 1983 and has worked in various front office or league capacities since, is in charge of the team. Alderson knows the Mets. Cohen knows his ambitions. Together, they are forcing the rest of the National League East to brace for a prospective new power.