Mets owner Steve Cohen, who’s pushed his payroll right to the lip of the fourth-tier luxury tax number of $290 million, arrived just after 1 p.m. at the baseball owners meetings in New York with no agenda to placate other owners, no worries about the diving stock market and no interest in resting on his already impressive high-spending credentials. That is why we love this guy. He just wants to win, baby.
“I’m not ruling out anything,” Cohen told The Post about his deadline spending plans. “It would be dumb to rule anything out. You always have to keep your optionality.”
Beyond being an owner with benefits (his net worth is said to be $15 billion plus), which is exactly the right kind for this town, Cohen is here to aid us all. So when I remarked that I’d never heard the word “optionality,” helpfully, he told me that it began with an O.
Cohen is good with letters, better with numbers, and he knew his team was right at the fourth-tier threshold, $290 million. Anything above that is being taxed at a seemingly usurious rate of 80 percent, which is being called the Cohen Tax. If he takes that as a dishonor, he doesn’t say.
Fairly the Dodgers, who previously had the majors’ highest payroll, are right there with Cohen’s Mets at $290 million, though no one calls it the Guggenheim Tax. Maybe the other owners were used to having an owner in Queens handicapped by his own bad investments elsewhere, but word is that Cohen is a lot less popular with his team-owning brethren than he is with writers, or certainly fans, who appreciate him moving the Mets in a new direction. Quickly, they’ve moved from pauper to behemoth.
Starting Tuesday, the first-place Queens club hosts the Brewers, whose baseball president, David Stearns, a Harvard-educated, New York native, has been the apple of Cohen’s eye in the past. However, the way things are going, their seemingly endless search for a front office genius could be coming close to conclusion. Billy Eppler, Brian Cashman’s former right-hand man who was seen (publicly at least) as a consolation prize upon at his hiring, has built a deep team — in the lineup and rotation — that held a five-game lead in the NL East heading into Tuesday.
“Billy’s doing a great job,” Cohen said. “The whole operations staff is doing great. They are all working well together. There’s a lot to like.”
In other words, it’s not worth considering alternatives, certainly not now. “Let’s not muck it up,” the owner said.
Speaking of not mucking things up, there’s the manager Buck Showalter, who has turned out perfect. That was a Cohen call. They needed someone with gravitas, and got him.
“Buck’s doing a great job,” the owner said.
While the Mets (40-22) escaped their West Coast trip with the best record in the NL, and hopes for internal roster improvement with Max Scherzer and hopefully Jacob deGrom — the team’s two best and best-paid players — on the mend, Cohen is always seeking to improve. He’s exactly the owner we’ve been looking for decades in Queens.
Even better news: They don’t need nearly as much as usual. The hope is they could avoid the starting pitching market entirely, which would necessitate an overpay. Cohen said he hears Scherzer is ahead of schedule and it sounds like deGrom, whose progress is always more secret, is close to on schedule. Though they don’t name dates, they are still envisioning a first-half return, it seems.
“He’s going at his own pace. I don’t think he’s delayed or ahead,” Cohen said of deGrom. “I think his pace is the one being prescribed.”
Even if it’s only Scherzer who’ll be back soon, the Mets’ main needs may just be for another bat and another bullpen piece or two, preferably one from the left side. As for the offensive upgrade, we are just being picky as they lead all of baseball with 316 runs.
It’d be a luxury — and yes, they can afford those now — but another bat to take some of pressure off cleanup man Pete Alonso would be nice. With Juan Soto staying in Washington while the owners there take bids on the team, there’s nobody of near that caliber going to hit the market. Trey Mancini and Josh Bell, who could DH, are possible options, and if the Rockies consider it, C.J. Cron might make a nice add.
The Mets’ bullpen is also performing well, but like every other team, they will be on the lookout there. David Robertson, David Bednar, Gregory Soto, Michael Fulmer, Jorge Lopez, Cionel Perez, Mark Melancon and Ian Kennedy don’t even represent half the pen names expected to be out there.
They could look at catcher, but the Cubs’ Willson Contreras, called by one Mets person “the only game in town,” may cost too much in prospects. Money they will spend. Prospects they will keep.
After a winter when Cohen’s Mets set the per-year record with the $130 million, three-year Scherzer deal, anything is possible. It’s early to say exactly who’s coming next.
“A lot can change,” Cohen pointed out. “When we get to that point we will figure it out.”
We now believe they will. In Steve we trust.