steve cohen mets dead money
Brad Penner | USA TODAY Sports

Three years in, and who knows what to make of the Mets’ Steve Cohen era?

A year to clean up the collective, chaotic mess left by Fred and Jeff Wilpon and Brodie von Wagenen. An offseason of spending that yielded not only Max Scherzer in free agency, but 101 wins last year. Only an unprecedented Braves hot streak kept the Mets in the Wild Card and not NL East champs.

And the third year under Cohen has been … an in-between? It’s certainly not progress, but also not a complete Wilponesque disaster. The roster is talented enough on paper that the Mets shouldn’t be a lowly 32-36 and fourth in the NL East. They’re 3-9 in June, though that’s largely because Pete Alonso is out with a wrist injury.

Worst of all is that in 2023, Cohen’s Mets have MLB’s highest payroll at nearly $345 million. Cue longtime Yankees boss George Steinbrenner spinning in his grave, even though the Bronx Bombers aren’t far behind. Son Hal has the payroll at nearly $280 million.

The difference is, though third in the AL East and in their own downward spiral, the Yankees are still nine games over .500.

Another difference is in plain sight for all to see. In an active offseason, under a CBA which features a luxury tax tier named after him, Cohen clearly spent his money in the wrong places.

It starts at the very top of the payroll with Scherzer and Justin Verlander, both first-ballot Hall of Famers. They’re each earning $43.3 million this year. Next is star shortstop Francisco Lindor at $34.1 million, then outfielders Starling Marte and Brandon Nimmo at a combined $39.2 million.

It hasn’t been money well spent. Scherzer turns 39 in July and finally looks old this year thanks to diminished velocity and probably pitching hurt at points last season. Verlander was overpaid after the overachievement of the century. Lindor is streaky and has ten years left on his deal. Marte played well last year despite injuries, but has regressed in 2023.

Nimmo, who looked like an overpay in the offseason, is the only one playing consistently well.

It’s a hard pill to swallow, but the Mets’ payroll says it all. Of their ten highest-paid players, only Lindor is under 30 years old. The group’s average age is 34.3 years old.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s great that Cohen jumped in headfirst and immediately started reinvesting in the Mets. The Wilpons barely even tried towards the end and the Madoff Mets jokes were starting to get old. Just like the current roster.

But at what cost? Scherzer and Verlander won’t be around forever and any high-potential homegrown arms are at least a year away. Alonso also has to get paid, but the Mets also can’t just hope to out-slug the opposition.

If this sounds familiar to anyone, it should. All too often did George Steinbrenner utilize free agency for bad contracts at the expense of youth, who he traded away for aging talent. The only difference is that, unlike Steinbrenner, Cohen has had the half-decency to not absolutely gut the Mets’ farm system.

Three years isn’t a long time to own a team, nor does it define said owner’s legacy. It does, however, give fans an idea of how they do business and what to expect. Mets fans used to chide the Yankees for buying their entire roster and the shoe is now on the other foot. Talk about irony!

It’s not too late for Cohen to change tack. Even he knows money doesn’t buy championships.

But all of the orange and blue faithful’s eyes are on him. If he’s serious about winning, he’ll start writing some big checks not intended for aging, over-the-hill veterans.

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Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.