COVID-19 wreaked havoc on baseball this season, with the season cut by more than half and fans barred from the stadium for just about every game. A report from the Wall Street Journal showed MLB losing $3 billion this year. With the pandemic still raging worldwide—cases are surging across the US and Europe as we enter the offseason—there’s still a good chance revenues will be at least partially disrupted in 2021.
Needless to say, this isn’t good news for the players. Baseball, specifically the owners, has become more and more stingy in recent years, with player compensation failing to rise at a rate commensurate to revenues. If ownership groups are going to pinch pennies while revenue is soaring, it’s not hard to imagine what they’ll do when multiple billions in losses are staring them in the face. Free agent contracts will likely be suppressed across the board this offseason, and multiple high price stars—Kris Bryant, Francisco Lindor, Nolan Arenado—have been rumored to be on the block as their organizations look to shed payroll.
The effects aren’t just limited to the top of the market either. In just the first 48 hours after the end of the World Series, we’ve seen the Cardinals decline a very reasonable option on Kolten Wong and the Indians place Brad Hand, who had a 2.05 ERA and led the AL in saves, on waivers. These players, both solid contributors, were due $12.5 million and $10 million respectively, which would’ve been slam dunk deals in any other year. If this attitude is endemic across baseball this offseason there are going to be a plethora of good or great players available at a fraction of their normal price.
Enter Steve Cohen, the (city pending) new owner of the Mets. Set to become the richest owner in baseball, fans were already looking forward to the Mets potentially spending at the top of the market after years of penny pinching from the Wilpons. Assuming this is Cohen’s plan (fingers crossed), the Mets are positioned to have more financial flexibility this offseason than most other teams. Moreover, since Cohen didn’t own a team for the financially disastrous 2020, he’s been insulated from the losses that affected the rest of the industry, an secondary advantage on top of his already deep pockets.
In other words, the financial advantages Cohen brings to the Mets are more meaningful this offseason than in any other year because of COVID’s effect on baseball. Having an excess of money and an almost unique eagerness to add players should lead to a plethora of great value plays in an offseason where every other team is looking to save a few bucks. This could manifest as cheaper-then-expected top-end free agent contracts, expensive stars acquired for steep discounts, or simply with assets like Brad Hand, a great player who would never be available at his price point in a normal year.
Getting too excited before we actually see Cohen make some moves is probably unwise and a good way to be disappointed, but the stage is set for him to make some exciting moves. If nothing else, Met fans should feel cautiously optimistic about ownership for the first time in a long long while.