That sends a strong signal that at the end of the five-year period, if not well before then, Cohen will be calling the shots. Of course, he first would have to be approved by other team owners — not a complete certainty, if only for the notoriety he attained when the company he founded, SAC Capital Advisors, was hit with nearly $2 billion in criminal and civil settlements in 2013 while pleading guilty to insider trading.
That episode, as well as other aspects of Cohen’s rise from an upper-middle-class childhood to hedge-fund titan status, helped make him a major inspiration for the character of Bobby Axelrod, the protagonist of Showtime’s “Billions.” (Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, a crusading figure who took on SAC, was a model for Axelrod’s primary antagonist, Chuck Rhoades.)
Mets fans will just be happy if Cohen’s new association with “billions” becomes the vast amounts he begins spending on top-flight talent. That could well be the case, to judge from a person familiar with Cohen who told the New York Post on Wednesday that the 63-year-old Long Island native happens to be “a passionate fan” of the team who “has deep pockets.”
“If I were a Met fan, I would expect that means more money [for payroll]," the New York Post was told.
Another source who has dealt with Cohen also cited his deep pockets and declared, “This should bother the [New York] Yankees, because he will be playing in their league.”
The Mets haven’t come close to going dollar-for-dollar with their crosstown rival in at least a decade, or since the Wilpons were implicated in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. That caused a major financial hit for the family, which in turn took loans and sold off small shares in the team, such as the one Cohen bought, to raise much-needed operating funds.
A recent study by the Athletic revealed that the Mets had the smallest increase to their payroll over the past decade of any MLB team, even as overall revenue exploded. Granted, the Mets were among baseball’s biggest spenders the previous decade, but fallout from the Madoff scandal suddenly had them acting like anything but a team rooted in the nation’s largest market.
According to Spotrac, the Mets were outside the top 11 in payroll in every year from 2012 to 2018, plunging as low as 20th in 2014, below the likes of the Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, Kansas City Royals and Colorado Rockies. Meanwhile, the Yankees have been first or second in payroll almost every year since 2011, and whereas this decade was the first in 100 years in which they did not reach a World Series, they still enjoyed more overall success than the Mets.
Alone among the major U.S. sports leagues, baseball does not have a salary cap, and while small-market franchises such as the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays can find ways to compete, there is generally a strong correlation between teams’ underlying wealth and on-field success.
That could be good news for the Mets, as Cohen, who is estimated by Forbes to be worth $13.6 billion, would likely be MLB’s richest owner. According to Bloomberg, which cited a person familiar with the matter, Cohen is in talks to purchase as much as an 80 percent stake in the team.
He’ll need plenty of cash to do that, with Bloomberg also reporting the proposed transaction would value the Mets at $2.6 billion. At that point, in for a dime, in for a dollar, right?
Of course, that remains to be seen, as does just how much control over the team the Wilpons actually maintain for the next five years, assuming the transaction goes through.
However, Mets fans — who earlier Wednesday saw their team lose starting pitcher Zack Wheeler to the division-rival Philadelphia Phillies rather than match his reported five-year, $118 million offer — can start to dream about Cohen turning a mom-and-pop operation into something more along the lines of shock and awe.