In 1992, Steve Cohen opened his first hedge fund, Sandy Alderson was still the A’s general manager and for the final time the Mets had a larger payroll than the Yankees.
That was then …
In the now, Cohen in his role as owner sent a congratulatory tweet to Marcus Stroman after the righty announced that he was accepting the $18.9 million qualifying offer and returning to the Mets.
What would have made the Wilpons gulp and possibly end their offseason spending before it really began is just the appetizer for Cohen. He has empowered Alderson, in the words of the new team president, to “emphasize the acquisition rather than the cost” when it comes to building the Mets roster.
Thus, we may see a converging point this offseason in which the Mets’ payroll actually exceeds that of the Yankees for the first time in nearly three decades. With Stroman back, the Mets project to roughly a $155 million payroll for luxury-tax purposes next season. The Yanks are currently at $175 million.
But in his only public comments since the end of the Yankees’ playoff run, Hal Steinbrenner said no franchise lost more revenue in the pandemic season than his. So there are questions about how low the Yankees owner will order his baseball operations department to go for 2021. Will the Yanks pay what they have to in order to retain DJ LeMahieu, who rejected the qualifying offer? Will they upgrade their rotation? Shortstop?
The best bet is the Yankees will fall under the $210 million luxury-tax threshold for 2021. Cohen promised not to spend “like drunken sailors in the marketplace.” But he also said the Mets will have a payroll “commensurate” to a major market. A Springer or Realmuto here, a rotation splurge there and a few relievers for good measure will push the Mets toward the tax threshold, toward the Yankees and within a reasonable spectrum of where they could head this offseason.
Remember that while the Mets made the qualifying offer to Stroman under the Wilpon/Van Wagenen regime, it fell under a large enough potential investment that Cohen had to give his blessing even while the sale was being finalized. The new administration was fine with Stroman staying at those dollars even with a split in the game about the righthander.
Those who like him see the righty as high as a No. 2 starter. Those who don’t see him more as a No. 4. For the 2021 Mets’ purposes it works either way, especially if the $18.9 million does not force tough decisions elsewhere.
Jacob deGrom was the only sure thing in next year’s rotation. David Peterson did enough as a rookie to warrant a spot, too. The Mets will have to decide if Seth Lugo is more valuable as a starter or reliever. They will have to determine if they want to tender a contract to Steven Matz and try him as a starter yet again. They will wait on Noah Syndergaard and hope he comes back well from Tommy John surgery by June.
Stroman, if right, will provide better-than-league-average innings. That he did not go into the marketplace suggests he and his representatives saw the difficulty of securing a sizable multiyear deal after he missed 2020, first due to a calf injury and then by opting out. Thus he will be motivated, knowing now that he will be a free agent again next offseason, but by rule not having to worry about having the qualifying offer and draft compensation tied to him again. Stroman will have to rebuild his credentials in his age-30 season to position himself well for that multiyear contract, which not only works for him, but Cohen and the Mets.
That he will earn the third-largest salary on the 2021 Mets — at least for now — and that is not turning off a spigot to upgrade the team screams about the difference from yesterday’s Mets to today’s. Alderson already has praised the top starter in the free-agent market, Trevor Bauer. The Mets could play for Yu Darvish in a trade if the Cubs, as expected, have to do sizable payroll pruning. By the way, Bauer, Darvish and deGrom were the finalists for the NL Cy Young, so imagine what the rotation could look like if either is added and Syndergaard comes back well and Stroman is the No. 4 starter even if he pitches like a No. 2. This is what is possible now with the Mets.
“Marcus, that is great news,” Cohen tweeted back at Stroman after the pitcher announced that he was accepting the qualifying offer.
For the Mets, their fans and what is possible in a future when their payroll might soon eclipse that of the Yankees, it certainly was great news.
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