The Mets have soared by the Steve Cohen Tax. They have rocketed beyond a $300 million payroll. They are not done. By the time this is all tallied — with the penalties involved — an organization once owned by the Wilpon family is going to approach $400 million for players in 2023.
Welcome to the new world.
At the very top of the market, money is being spent furiously this offseason. And in that atmosphere, it really helps to have the game’s richest owner with a willingness to go for it.
By reaching an agreement to retain Brandon Nimmo for eight years at $162 million and enlisting David Robertson for one year at $10 million, the Mets moved major league offseason spending beyond $2.3 billion. Of that, with that duo plus Edwin Diaz, Justin Verlander and Jose Quintana, the team in Queens is responsible for $386.7 million of it.
And the Mets still want to add one more starter, with Japanese star Kodai Senga topping the list. Plus, they may also acquire a few more relievers and why not another bat?
In Cohen’s world, it makes no sense to spend and still be lacking. Not when he has the money to cover the cost and the hunger for his team to be championship relevant today.
After hiring Billy Eppler last offseason, Cohen asked his new GM and top lieutenants for a plan moving forward. He listened to a variety of ways to stretch a buck. Then essentially remarked that he wanted to win. Now. And was willing to spend the money to do so to cover until the farm system, especially with pitching prospects, was more positioned to help.
To solve the center-field problem now, for example, the Mets were talking to the Diamondbacks about Alek Thomas. But Arizona wanted Brett Baty, and why give up the third baseman of a future that could start in 2023 when Cohen’s money could keep an answer in place by retaining Nimmo? This is his way.
This is why he approved $258.5 million in free agency for Max Scherzer, Starling Marte, Mark Canha, Eduardo Escobar and Adam Ottavino, a year after authorizing the 10-year, $341 million extension for Francisco Lindor. The major league-high final payroll for luxury-tax purposes in 2022 was a hair under $300 million and meant about $30 million in taxes. In September, on “The Show with Joel Sherman and Jon Heyman,” Cohen said he thought a team should be able to win with a $300 million payroll, thus indicating that amount as what he might be willing to do again in 2023.
That was then.
Spending usually goes up in the immediate aftermath of a new collective bargaining agreement being signed due to the promise of sustained labor peace. It has. The expanded playoffs and the success of the Phillies and Padres, particularly, has created a wider desire for teams to try to win. The world is a little further away from the worst of the COVID pandemic and MLB’s revenues have rebounded positively.
All of that has led to a frenzy so far this offseason for contracts longer and more expensive than anticipated.
In that forum, it is good to have the biggest wallet and a hunger to win. So $300 million is so yesterday for Cohen’s Mets. That is the old math.
With the Nimmo/Robertson agreements, the Mets now have 17 major league contracts on the books for 2023 at $279.83 million for luxury-tax purposes. That includes the long-departed Robinson Cano at $20.25 million — the same as Nimmo’s annual value. Using the estimates at MLB Trade Rumors, the Mets have $27.15 million in arbitration eligible players, notably Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil. Every team will be charged about $18.2 million for benefits and to cover the pre-arbitration pool plan.
Add it all up and that is $325.18 million — with eyes on further upgrades. That is more than $32 million beyond the fourth tax threshold established in the CBA last year to try, with larger penalties, to slow the Met owner; thus, the Steve Cohen Tax. That threshold is $293 million in 2023 with a 90 percent surcharge on every penny over that. At this moment, the Mets’ tax would be about $58.2 million. The total outlay of payroll plus tax would be roughly $383.4 million.
The Mets could always trade a player owed some weighty money such as Carlos Carrasco (especially if they can get Senga) or Canha or Escobar. But, again, the price is marginal for a person worth $17 billion-ish. What isn’t marginal is the hunger to win. And Cohen sure is showing that if it lowers the chances to win, then don’t lower the payroll.
To that end, the Mets didn’t want to give up their leadoff-hitting center fielder when both of those commodities are hard to find at a top level. They saw the Nimmo/Marte/Lindor/Alonso lineup top four work exceptionally and kept it together by stretching Nimmo’s contract through his age-37 season to keep the yearly price a little lower. Or a little lower in Cohen World.
They needed setup men for Diaz, and Eppler was familiar with and a fan of Robertson going back to their mutual Yankee days. Even in his age-37 season for the Cubs and Phillies, Robertson was striking out 30.7 percent of hitters faced with a .173 batting average against. And the Mets know he is New York/postseason tested and unflappable.
Everyone around the Mets better be that — unflappable. Because with where the payroll is going, the dollar signs are going to be bull’s-eyes. The expectations and the dollars are rising in Flushing.
And Cohen and his team are not done yet.