It’s not hard for people to draw comparisons to Mets owner Steve Cohen. When it comes to his big spending on free-agent talent, former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner is usually mentioned in the same breath as him.
All the similarities are there. They both are willing to do what it takes to put a winner on the field while owning a team in New York. Their respective personalities/actions also loom (or, loomed) over the game in a larger-than-life fashion. What does Cohen feel about this comparison? He answered that question, which was posed by ESPN’s Jeff Passan in a recent one-on-one interview:
George seemed bigger than life and passionate about baseball and brought a lot of life to the game. He made baseball interesting. And he did it his way. I’m going to do it my way. I don’t know if I’m making baseball interesting.
Cohen is definitely making baseball more interesting, both in New York and the rest of the league. And with his willingness to pay $100 million in payroll taxes, he’s definitely doing it his way.
A lot has been made about the Mets’ spending over the last couple of years. That’s especially been the case during this current offseason. Building a team with a record-setting payroll and a tax penalty that’ll make the overall outlay near $500 million will do that.
Is New York spending at record levels? Well, yes — of course they are. That’s clear as day. But it’s not like they’re just recklessly spending for whatever players they want. (If that was the case, they wouldn’t have let Carlos Correa re-sign with the Minnesota Twins.)
The Mets are paying top dollar for free-agent talent to contend for another postseason spot in 2023 and beyond. However, they’ve been doing it in a strategic manner to maintain long-term financial flexibility. Spending this far above the highest luxury tax limit doesn’t come without precedent, either.
Passan noted the following in his ESPN article about past teams who have spent in a similar fashion: the 2004 Yankees and 2015 Los Angeles Dodgers:
The Dodgers that year were 57.6% above the $189 million base threshold — almost identical to the 58.8% the Mets project to be over the $233 million threshold this year.
Perhaps the best comparison — and one that illustrates the Mets’ spending isn’t out of line with past teams’ — is the 2004 Yankees. In the second year of that incarnation of the CBT, the Yankees exceeded the $120.5 million base threshold by $83.6 million — 69.4%. Their total payroll, including taxes, of $229.2 million exceeded that of the next-highest team, Boston, by more than two-thirds.
This year, the Mets take on that role. Including penalties, their payroll is projected at $468.5 million — more than $150 million higher than the next-biggest: The Yankees’.
So, for anyone out there saying what the Mets are doing is completely unprecedented, it’s not. The payroll and tax penalties New York is paying in 2023 are higher than we’ve ever seen. But given the prior salary limits and the percentage by which the ’15 Dodgers and ’04 Yankees went over, it’s actually quite similar.
Cohen has said and done many things that can make any Mets fan want to run through a wall for him. Add the below quote to the list:
We’re in New York, and I’m competitive. If you’re going to own a team — I came in with a commitment that I was going to put a good product on the field. And I think I’ve done that. I had no idea what it was going to cost to put a good product on the field, but I’m in a position where I make a good income, right? So I can do this.
Unlike the previous regime, he understands the market in which the Mets play, and he wants to win. And most importantly, he’s willing to go beyond the limit he thought was necessary to make it all happen.
Matt Musico can be reached at [email protected] and you can follow him on Twitter: @mmusico8.