Steve Cohen's Mets are set to enter the 2023 season with a payroll of roughly $370 million -- not only the highest in baseball this year but the highest in the history of the sport.
The 66-year-old's plan has always been to spend big now while allowing the Mets' rapidly developing farm system to catch up and produce oodles of MLB contributors (who will also be relatively inexpensive and should allow New York to get back under the luxury tax).
The likelihood that this level of spending from Cohen is almost certainly temporary has done nothing to quiet the angst and complaining from other teams (often anonymously, sometimes on the record and much softer than the anonymous quotes) about Cohen's spending and what it means for the sport.
In a one-on-one interview with ESPN's Jeff Passan, Cohen discussed the Mets' payroll, what's next, and what he envisions.
"I've heard what everyone else has heard: that they're not happy with me," Cohen told ESPN. "I hear things from people who are maybe more neutral -- that they're taking a lot of heat from their fans. I kind of look at that like, you're looking at the wrong person. They're putting it on me. Maybe they need to look more at themselves.
"I'm not responsible for how other teams run their clubs. I'm really not. That's not my job. And there are disparities in baseball. We know that to be true. I'm following the rules. They set the rules down, I'm following them."
The disparities Cohen referred to are clear. A team like the Oakland Athletics can never outspend the Mets. But there have been other large market teams that have shied away from big free agent spending lately, including the Boston Red Sox.
As far as his own spending, Cohen told ESPN he was surprised at the heights it reached this offseason. But with the Mets having to replace so many core players -- and none of their potentially impact pitching prospects (Cohen said the Mets hope to soon develop some) close to ready -- the owner went for it.
"I didn't know I was going to have to spend like I did," Cohen said. "I actually was a little naïve in that regard. But once I got comfortable and realized, OK, what's it going to take to put a great team on the field, I still had made a commitment to the fans, and to baseball, that I was going to come in and turn this thing around. I came in saying I'm all-in. And I keep my word."
"We're in New York, and I'm competitive. If you're going to own a team -- I came in with a commitment that I was going to put a good product on the field. And I think I've done that. I had no idea what it was going to cost to put a good product on the field, but I'm in a position where I make a good income, right? So I can do this."
Explaining that "the goal is to eventually get our payroll down to something more normalized for a New York team," Cohen also discussed the highest luxury tax threshold (the $293 million 'Cohen Tax) that the Mets have blown well past.
"I didn't think it was that big a deal," Cohen said. "I was already going to be in a big bracket anyway, no question. So it's like the government raising taxes. You're already in a high bracket. What I think about is making income. If I make income, it solves problems.
"It'd be great to get the payroll to the point where I don't have to pay tax anymore. That's the goal. If we do our job and develop a farm system and get a nice, sustainable pipeline going, we should be able to accomplish that. The [Los Angeles] Dodgers did it. The Dodgers -- what was their payroll in 2015?"
When it comes to the Mets getting their payroll down to a more "normal" level, it's easy to see how they'll do it -- and when it might happen.
The Mets already have $266 million committed to the payroll for 2024, but that number plummets to $141 million in 2025. If the farm system develops as it has been, with prospects such as Francisco Alvarez, Brett Baty, Mark Vientos, and perhaps Ronny Mauricio ready to make an impact this season and others waiting in the wings, Cohen will be able to simply dabble in the top end of the free agent market when needed instead of relying on it each offseason.