Steve Cohen spends money with a casualness, almost a flippancy, that underscores his understanding of his own wealth. Whenever the players in baseball and its ownership class butt heads, officials from the players’ side become furious when the fight is painted as “millionaires versus billionaires.” Don’t you understand, folks from the union might say, how many millions there are in a billion?
The answer, of course, is a thousand. There are a thousand millions in a billion. And Cohen, the owner of the New York Mets, is a guy with more than a dozen billions. Do the math. He sure can.
If you felt a little dizzy upon waking up this morning, you weren’t alone. Overnight, as most of the baseball industry slumbered, Cohen was negotiating a shocking, 12-year, $315 million contract with free-agent shortstop Carlos Correa. The deal, of course, is pending a physical, which proved to be a stumbling block of epic proportions for the team that thought it signed him last week. In a stunning reversal, Correa had agreed to a 13-year, $350 million contract with San Francisco, but the Giants canceled a Tuesday morning press conference, reportedly because of medical concerns.
The nature of those concerns is unknown. But it was enough to create an opening for the Mets. On a night when Correa was supposed to be toasting his new life in the Bay Area, his representative Scott Boras was on the phone with the owner of the Mets. Cohen had already doled out a little shy of $500 million on free agents. He felt his team still needed an additional hitter to challenge the Braves and the Phillies in the National League East. If it took increasing his offseason tab to $806.1 million, paying a premium to place Correa at third base beside shortstop Francisco Lindor, so be it.
“We needed one more thing, and this is it,” Cohen told Jon Heyman of The New York Post.
In his brief tenure owning the Mets, the hedge fund manager has collected players with the same zeal with which he collected art. He can afford to splurge. Bloomberg estimates his net worth at just shy of $13 billion. He is considered the wealthiest of all the owners in Major League Baseball. He acts like it.
When the Mets season ended in October, after 101 regular-season victories but only three postseason games, there was a sense of missed opportunity. The team might be good again in 2023, but it would be hard to recapture the magic. A bevy of vital contributors — ace Jacob deGrom, star closer Edwin Díaz, popular outfielder Brandon Nimmo, plus starters Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker — would become free agents. It would be a challenge, the general consensus went, for the Mets to plug all those holes.
That is the sort of thinking that ignores how many millions are in a billion — and ignores Cohen’s understanding of the math.
After letting deGrom depart for Texas, Cohen started spending. And he really hasn’t stopped. In the course of one offseason, the Mets signed the youngest of the four available star shortstops (Correa), the most accomplished pitcher on the market (Justin Verlander) and the best reliever (Díaz). Almost as an afterthought, the team re-upped with Nimmo on an eight-year, $162 million deal. As an upside play, the Mets threw $75 million at Japanese pitcher Kodai Senga. Oh, by the way, there was a stray $65.5 million split between starter José Quintana, catcher Omar Narváez, and the relief duo of Adam Ottavino and David Robertson.
The outlay places the team’s projected luxury tax payroll around $380 million, $90 million beyond the third tax threshold, the so-called “Cohen Tax.” Cohen laughed at the tax after it was codified in the newest collective bargaining agreement. “It’s better than a bridge being named after you,” he said. He wasn’t joking — he does not care. And, if this even makes a difference, the brevity of most of these deals means the Mets will be considered the favorites for two-way star Shohei Ohtani next winter.
Even so, the team is trying to shed some salary. Correa makes third baseman Eduardo Escobar expendable. The presence of catcher James McCann is also redundant. General manager Billy Eppler can try to improve his pitching staff by dangling infield prospects like Brett Baty and Mark Vientos in trades — which might be tempting for the White Sox, who have listened to offers for closer Liam Hendriks. With Lindor and Correa each signed into the 2030s, there is little need for youth on the left side of the Mets infield.
So Eppler will stay busy through the holiday season. He had operated as an emcee for a variety of press conferences over the past two weeks, with Nimmo, Senga and Verlander all visiting New York. On Tuesday morning, Verlander was asked why he chose the Mets. His answer was the same as the reason why Correa, who was supposed to be introduced in San Francisco later that day, will now commit the rest of his career to the Mets.
“Steve,” Verlander said.
Cohen has operated with ruthless directness this winter. The Mets needed a closer. Cohen signed Díaz to a record-setting $100 million deal. The Mets needed to replace deGrom. Enter Verlander, tying Max Scherzer’s average annual value benchmark with a two-year, $86.7 million contract. Even after nearly half a billion in spending, the Mets needed another bat. When there was an opening with Correa, Cohen did not hesitate.
And why wouldn’t he? Do you know how many millions are in a billion?
Steve Cohen does.
(Top photo of Carlos Correa: Jay Biggerstaff / Getty Images))