Steve Cohen to the Other MLB Owners: Hey, It’s Not My Fault You Don’t Spend
New York Mets owner Steve Cohen has been something of a controversial figure for most of the entirety of his public life, thanks to the combination of his outsized business success and the high-profile insider trading scandal at his hedge fund. His extreme wealth also made him a controversial addition to the MLB owner ranks a couple years ago, as some other owners feared he would simply outspend them on anything and everything he wanted to do.
With this offseason mostly in the rearview, where Cohen’s Mets racked up spending that puts their payroll in a totally different stratosphere from every other club, I am going to guess that those owners’ fears were realized.
Which doesn’t mean Cohen was wrong to do it, of course. Yes, Cohen has a general duty to the league as a whole, insofar as the whole enterprise doesn’t work if all the teams don’t work, but he has a much more clear duty to his own team and its fans: put together the best team possible within the rules.
To that end, Jeff Passan got a pretty wide-ranging interview with Cohen over at ESPN, and I think it makes for a good read for all baseball fans, because the impact of Cohen and the Mets extends far beyond New York.
Great read throughout for perspective on inter-owner relationships, Mets’ planning (they might not spend like this forever), and Cohen, but this is the money quote:
The flurry of spending — which is the second-most this winter behind the Yankees — has raised concerns among owners about the game’s financial disparities. Owners of lower-revenue teams in particular have taken issue with the Mets’ payroll, sources said, though the spending of the San Diego Padres — a small-market team with MLB’s third-highest payroll — dispels the notion that teams without the Mets’ advantages can’t compete.
“I’ve heard what everyone else has heard: that they’re not happy with me,” Cohen said. “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,” he added. “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.”
In other words: don’t blame me if you’re choosing not to spend. I mean, he’s not wrong, is he?
It might not be entirely fair to compare every single team to the Mets or every single ownership group to Cohen, specifically. He *DOES* have more resources than most. But I also think it *IS* fair to point out that many MLB ownership groups could spend more aggressively than they do. And if Cohen’s efforts underscore that point and tick off some of the smaller-market owners, I don’t think they’ll find much in the way of sympathy from fans.
The better question might be how the other large-market clubs view the spending. Are they going to be able to contend that the Mets (and Dodgers and Yankees) are truly unlike any other clubs, and therefore you can’t possibly compare their spending to your own? Or are Cohen’s efforts going to pull the baseline up for what we think is permissible minimum spending by large-market clubs? That might depend on how long the Mets run a payroll that dwarfs the top luxury tax tier.
… but it’s most likely to depend on how those owner’s react when it comes time for the next Collective Bargaining Agreement to be negotiated. Because we know the players are going to have ZERO problem with what Cohen has done, and as we saw last time, it is hard enough to get the players and owners on the same page when they aren’t huge factions of owners that are fighting with each other.