At this point it should be obvious to everyone that the Mets are trying to thread the needle with their moves this offseason. They’re trying to assemble a team capable of making the playoffs this year, while maintaining payroll flexibility for the future. My opinion is that the flexibility is for 2026.

With the additions of Harrison Bader, Adrian Houser, Sean Manaea, Adam Ottavino, Luis Severino and Tyrone Taylor, the Mets have added just under $50 million in salary for players making above $2 million per year. With the luxury tax penalty of 110% that the Mets find themselves saddled with, that nearly $50 million is nearly $105 million spent this offseason on new additions. And we might see one more move to add even more money to this equation.

My opinion is that people who are upset because Cohen isn’t spending a ton this year need to realize that he’s spending $105 million to chase a Wild Card spot. He would be 100% justified in trying to lower his spending in a season where the Mets don’t have a great shot at the playoffs. Instead, he’s putting money up while maintaining his focus on future years.

To me, the question isn’t: Why isn’t Cohen spending more this offseason? The answer to that is he’s trying to build a perennial contender without being in the top tax bracket every single year. Instead, the question should be: Is Cohen just wasting money in a futile Wild Card chase?

Perhaps the answer to that question is how you feel about David Stearns and his ability to target the right players. Right away, we heard that the Mets were interested in Severino. Clearly, Stearns believes in Severino’s ability to turn things around. If Severino does turn in a good year, Stearns will deserve a lot of credit. My immediate opinion was that it was too much money to spend on the player and at the very least, the club should have received a team option in the deal.

But here’s why my opinion is that the flexibility is for 2026. If the moves the Mets make this offseason fail to produce a playoff club, they have the ability to cut payroll enough to get under all luxury tax thresholds in 2025 and reset their tax. That means if they sign free agents following the 2025 season, they won’t have to pay any tax at all on them that initial season, assuming the club remains under the initial luxury tax threshold. And if they do exceed that level, the starting tax would be 20%, rather than 50% that it would be without the reset.

If Severino is moderately successful, say the 1.4 fWAR season he had in 2022, and the Mets fail to make the playoffs – do you want the external pressure that a team option would present? If your goal is to reset your tax status, do you want to be responsible for $15 million or so to a below-average pitcher with an extensive injury history?

My opinion now is that the Mets did not negotiate for a team option with Severino because they felt it was too unlikely to be worth it for them. There’s a decent chance that Severino is as bad as he was in 2023, in which case, you wouldn’t want him back the following season. And add to that the chance that he’s mediocre – a sub-2.0 fWAR – and that the Mets could replicate that production from a guy in the farm system for minimum wage in 2025.

On the flip side of that is Manaea, with a player option in 2025. It’s my opinion that the Mets figure that it’s more likely that Manaea is good enough in 2024 to decline that option than it is that he stinks and opts in with the Mets for 2025. This will be Manaea’s ninth year in the majors. Assuming he’s healthy, he’ll have just one injury-marred season in nine on his record. That durability and even league-average results will get him a multi-year deal in free agency. If Seth Lugo can get 3/$45 after a season with 26 starts – the only time in his career he’s reached 20 starts – for his age 34-36 seasons, Manaea should be able to get at least that much at a year younger and a greater track record of going to the post as a starter.

It seems to me that Cohen is spending the money he did this year so that season ticket sales don’t crater in 2024. And that it would be easier to sell the fanbase on a one-year, belt-tightening plan, rather than a two-year one. We can call this Cohen’s way of rebuilding in New York. In a way, it harkens back to the pre-division days of baseball.

Some owners thought the best thing was that their club was in the race for the pennant in September but to finish short. That way, they could enjoy the benefits of ticket sales in September without having to pay raises for players coming off a year they went to the World Series. And before you get bent out of shape, this is not to imply that Cohen is in any way cheap. He’s spending a bunch of money to make this even possible, when a majority of owners would just punt on the 2024 season.

It’s easy to see what happens if the Mets fail to make the playoffs in 2024. But what if they’re this year’s version of the 2022 Phillies or 2023 Diamondbacks, teams that made the playoffs as a Wild Card and then advanced to the World Series? I don’t know. My guess is that Cohen and Stearns will blow up that bridge if/when they get to it. Difficult to imagine that they would be upset if that happened, it’s just that it might throw a monkey wrench in the plans to reset their tax in 2025.

But odds are that the 2024 Mets aren’t going to make the World Series, so it’s not a huge worry. My opinion is that the odds are that they’re not going to make the playoffs, either.

So, my crystal ball shows an 81-win type of season in 2024, with the three free agents with eight-figure salaries playing elsewhere in 2025. The Mets then get under all luxury tax thresholds and break in Luisangel Acuna, Drew Gilbert, Jett Williams and multiple pitching prospects in 2025. And then in the offseason before 2026, they make their big push in free agency to add whatever is missing.

And Voilà! You’ve rebuilt in New York.

24 comments on “Steve Cohen and his plan to rebuild in New York

  • Woodrow


  • Zozo

    If they do flop they can sell off all these one year pieces and build up the farm some more. I would do my best to sign Alonso now and if he doesn’t want to agree on your best offer, trade him.

    • Brian Joura

      What are the chances that they’ve flopped by the deadline and that the one-year pieces have significant trade value? It seems that if Severino and/or Manaea perform well that they’d still be in the WC hunt by the trade deadline.

  • ChrisF

    Exactly Brian. Incredibly well articulated. You stole the words out of my mouth, that is if I were capable of making that much sense without allegory and hyperbole.

    I think you’ve exactly nailed it on the head.

    Now, whether Mets fans will buy into this or turn to the summer Olympics and mow the yard more in summertime remains to be seen. I appreciate that this approach will not appeal to everyone.

    I just believe thhis year was the inevitable on-field team reset, which has followed the infrastructure and FO overhaul that will result in organization-wide alignment, making “The Mets Way” at the conclusion.

    He did try capturing lightning in a bottle and like usual, that is harder than burning money. By 2026 I expect the wallet to match the ambition once all aspects of the team are under his control.

    It takes a long time to turn around a supertanker or slow down a train.

    Thanks for writing this article.

    • ChrisF

      Id further add this site would be worth an annual subscription for an article such as this alone.

      • TexasGusCC

        I agree Chris.

      • Brian Joura

        Thanks for the kind words!

        I promise not to watch the Olympics over the Mets.

        To me, the question was if they could have essentially played for the 2026 season while still fielding better teams in the 2023-2025 seasons. You wouldn’t have Acuna/Clifford/Gilbert and if they turn out to be consistent 3-WAR or better players then you can say it was the right decision to sell. But if they’re 2-WAR types of players or worse…

  • TexasGusCC

    Very late last August, Cleveland was 7 games behind the Twins. Upon the Angels releasing all their higher priced players with hope that they get picked up and they sneak under the Tax, the Guardians picked up just about everyone and their contracts. For such a small market, it was quite a surprise and when reporters asked Antonelli why they did this, his response was “We want to try”.

    I will never forget that response as long as I live. The Guardians became an instant favorite -after the Mets- for me. I wish more teams actually tried. I wish more teams didn’t take a year for granted.

    I applaud the Mets for “Rebuilding For It” as our mayor likes to say. They could have sat on their hands and announce that they want to get under the cap and no one would complain. After all, if they just rehash the benefits of getting under the Tax in order the not hurt the drafting system and the QO signings, even the Cohen pocket spenders wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.

    Good for Steve Cohen who keeps trying to please New Yorkers. How’s that working out for you Steve?

    • Brian Joura

      I’m with you for more teams trying.

  • TexasGusCC

    Also, for teams making the playoff$, we all know what ticket prices go for there.

    • TexasGusCC

      Not to mention that players play for playoff shares. And, there are no salaries!

  • T.J.

    I echo the very well said. You pretty much nailed it…the NYC rebuild in disguise. Agree totally that no one can blame Cohen for not burning additional millions…despite not succeeding so far, he certainly has spent in huge ways. My question/concern is whether this Wilponian winter is the best play…they still have time for more additions, but as of now they don’t have a playoff staff, be it starters or relievers. I have no idea what they could have brought back for their top 2 trade assets – Alonso and Diaz. Tickets sales important, but would Vientos at 1B and signing Robertson to fill the hole left by a Diaz trade been better?

    • Brian Joura

      Thanks for the kind words!

      They’re spending over $100 million – I don’t see that as Wilponian at all. It seems more than fair to question how this offseason has unfolded. But Wilponian seems misplaced to me.

      • T.J.

        Wilponian is not in reference to dollars spent, that is clearly no contest. Wilponian is in reference to, as Boras would state, the aisle that they are shopping on. Wilponian is also in reference to “fielding a competitive play-off caliber team”. Right now, that’s a stretch for 2024, pending further acquisitions. Wilponian in reference to “cutting the baby in half”. Yeah, “you can’t do a full rebuild in NYC” yada yada yada. Why not deal Pete and Diaz, take the PR hit (and some more prospects/controllable players through 2026), free up $40 million, maybe re-spend a fraction of that in a pen arm than Ottavino, give Baty and Vientos every day jobs for 2024, and see what happens. 2024 could be awful, but maybe not, and it positions them better for 2025-26 in terms of deeper system, lower payroll/penalty losses, and a true verdict on Baty and Vientos. I’d prefer to reduce a low 2024 playoff probability even lower to be better positioned and more personnel clarity for 2025-26.

  • Metsense

    According to Spotrac, the Mets will have an salary allocation of $151.5m for 2025. Alsono and free agent signings aren’t included. Stearns has to get under $237m to reset the luxury tax. He has $85.5m that he can spend for Alonso and free agents for 2025.

  • Paulc

    If Apple puts out a subpar new phone because it skimped on R&D to save money, no one would defend it because customers don’t care about a corporation’s profits. They care only about the product. They won’t buy it or rationalize the poor effort.

    Why do fans hold team owners to a lower standard? Spend the money to put the best team on the field each year.

    • Brian Joura

      Consumers don’t need to care about corporation profits. But if you like the company, and what it produces, you don’t want to see it suffer nine-digit losses year after year after year. Because no company stays in business for long with those types of losses. And these are cash losses, not paper losses. As Cohen himself said – it’s a lot to ask him to continue to suffer these losses.

    • James

      Couldn’t agree with you more you get it

  • ChrisF

    Beciase it’s not that simple. The dream needs to coordinate all levels of the minors to have. A path to the top. So say you do t want to take a risk on unproven players, like Baty and Vientos and Gilbert, and Williams because you can’t guarantee these are the best ways to win, so let’s trade and decimate the farm for a huge trade and we need to take on that contract. So we’ve leveraged the future for one huge name for multiple players but now we need more FAs to fill other holes. So the budget becomes astronomical and no one can step up.

    This team is in need of exactly what’s happening ing to restore balance across seniority and salary.

  • OldBackstop

    Two things.

    I don’t think Cohen cares about the financial penalties, it is the draft and int’l budget penalties.

    And good luck resetting in 2025. If Verlander vests for 2024, we are on the hook for him in and Spotrac estimates our current 2025 obligations at $160m, $132 of that in 7 players. That leaves $80 mill. To compete in 2025 we would need two front end arms in the $25 mil per area, a few $10 mul bullpen arms. We give Pete the contract he wants @35 per. So that is @$265m, $25 m over. Then we can hope the kids fill out the back of the rotation and the bullpen, DH, 3rd base, 3/4/5 OFer and catcher.

    • Brian Joura

      Cohen has already said he cares about financial losses.

      “I don’t think it’s sustainable for the long term to be losing the type of money I’m losing,” he said. “It’s a lot to ask.”

      There’s no way Alonso is getting an AAV of $35 million. Freeman got an AAV of $27 million, Goldschmidt got $26 million and Olson got $21 million. If the Mets give Alonso $30 million they’re crazy. If they give him $35, they should be brought up on criminal charges.

      • Mike W

        If, tye Nets make Alonso an offer, it will be one that he rejects. He may even be insulted by it.

        If they have no real plans to sign him they will deal him.

  • NYM6986

    Sticking with 88 wins for 2024 and a wildcard spot. We are not a player or two away from being the Braves or Dodgers, who have always been smart enough to build a strong organization from top to bottom, including knowing how to draft and develop players, but I’m grateful we don’t have to live through an Astros total rebuild. But then again they are now a perennial contender. Food for thought. We won 75 games last year with a lot of underperforming going on and at times a who’s who of nobodies. A lot may come down to whether we can get 6 innings from our starters. So I’m with Cohen and Stearns and showing a little fiscal restraint but still want to compete. Nice piece Brian.

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