Back in early November of 2020, when billionaire hedge fund owner Steve Cohen was approved to purchase the New York Mets for his $2.5 billion bid, every Mets fan in the tri-state area and beyond was elated. And rightfully so. What his purchase signaled was the beginning of a new era for the Mets franchise.
Seemingly gone were the days of penny-pinching and taking unnecessary risks to sign only players that were former stars who were either past their primes or coming off of major injuries, hoping they would live up to their past glorious seasons and we could save a few dollars in the process.
With this new owner, things were going to be different. New baseball operations manager Sandy Alderson mentioned in the introductory press conference that under Cohen, the Mets would be “shopping more in the gourmet section than just for meat and potatoes” during this offseason.
We all interpreted that to mean this would finally be the offseason we could splurge on stars who would consistently be performing in their prime years and add value right away to a potential playoff-caliber baseball club. And who knows, that may still be the case?
Free agents may be using the Mets as leverage to bid up their offers
But over the last few months, we have seen a disturbing trend starting to appear that may suggest otherwise. And this is a trend that I don’t think I nor many other people saw coming at the time. A negative unintended consequence of having such a rich owner with deep pockets who is hungry to win is that it allows free agent baseball players the ability to use that owner to gain a sort of “leverage” when negotiating against other teams.
So, for instance, if a player wants to go to team A or a team B, but knows that in a depressed market he won’t be getting nearly as much as he wants from team A or B to go there, he can use team C as a point of interest and let that desperate team C know he would consider them as a destination also if they jacked up their offer to him. Once team C does this, the player can then go back to team A or team B and let them know this is the new price he expects if team A or team B are to also sign him. The Mets, in this instance, would be team C.
As counterintuitive as what I wrote above just sounds, in the past month or so, we have seen players the likes of Brand Hand, Trevor Bauer and now Jackie Bradley Jr. use this sort of tactic in negotiations against the New York Mets.
As of late, we saw Steve Cohen and the Mets front office go out of their way to offer a lucrative short-term contract to Cy Young award winner Trevor Bauer, only to have him use that offer to force the hand of the Los Angles Dodgers to outbid the Mets even more for his services. Trevor Bauer, being a native of southern California and publicly stating how he wants to win a World Series ring before he retires, more than likely wanted to sign with Los Angeles all along. But by expressing his desire for wanting to play for the Mets as well as a few other teams, he was able to get way more than fair value for his services by jacking his price up.
Jackie Bradley Jr., another player whom Cohen and the Mets have been targeting this off-season since losing out on George Springer, may have also gone this same route during negotiations this offseason. We all know Bradley Jr. is not the best offensive player in the world and probably isn’t worth more than maybe two years at $7 to $8 million a year. In fact, this is what most media reports were assessing Bradley Jr. to be worth. We fans know the Mets are interested in him because they are basically looking for a stop-gap in center field with good defensive abilities.
But Bradley Jr., reading on social media how many Mets fans were clamoring for him to be their next potential target, saw that as an opportunity to try and raise his price in an effort to cash out on our new owner’s and our fans’ desires. Reports out of Mets camp the past few days have been stating that Bradley Jr. was looking for long-term contract worth well over $12 million a year while speaking to New York. As a result, we ended up signing Albert Almora Jr. instead.
This trend is disturbing and reminds me of what is going on with another major New York sports franchise across the East River in the NBA. Similar to the Mets, the New York Knicks are an NBA franchise that is run by a billionaire owner named James Dolan who has a desire to win and has deep pockets. Over the last decade, we have seen Dolan and the Knicks franchise go out of their way to try and bring superstar free agents the likes of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving or LeBron James over to play at Madison Square Garden. And over and over we see him losing out to other teams in signing these big names. In all cases though, the trend is the same.
All the players go out of their way praising the Knicks and the city of New York to the public media, planting the idea in the heads of the fans and owner that they may actually come and play for the Knicks. The Knicks, thinking they are close to acquiring franchise-altering top talent, offer these players the world to come sign with them.
But in the end, the true desired destinations of those players end up matching or overpaying what New York’s highest offer was and the talent ends up going there instead. In case you haven’t noticed, the Knicks have also been the laughing stock of the NBA for almost two decades now. And that’s not a coincidence.
In order to get out of this dilemma, several things need to happen. I believe Cohen and the Mets are either going to have to outrageously overpay a few good players in their prime years in order to put a winning product on the field, but more importantly, establish a consistent culture of winning and excellence to show other free agents that the Mets aren’t just some push around franchise with deep pockets.
The fact that we have only two postseason appearances in the last fourteen seasons is clearly hurting our image right now. But with a little determination, smart on-field managerial moves and solid analytics to back up our acquisitions and trades going forward, it’s a stigma that can be beaten.
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If we spend, we need to spend smart. But more importantly, get the most out of what you have in-house already so you show other free agent players you won’t be as dependent on them for success as they think you are. If the Mets can accomplish this (it won’t be easy) then skies the limit to what the next five to ten years can hold for the ball club.