It was not all that long ago that we here at Amazin’ Avenue would follow up any significant Mets transaction by writing about its effects on the team’s payroll, a necessity in a decade-long era of suppressed budgets imposed by its then-owners. It was part of writing about a team that spent a decade chasing payroll flexibility rather than putting the best possible team on the field.
It’s been just a little over two years since Steve Cohen was approved as the new owner of the Mets, having paid about $2.5 billion for a 95 percent stake in the team. And while it was fair to approach the billionaire’s term as owner with a mix of cautious optimism and skepticism, it could not be clearer that things have changed for the better.
The first sign of a monumental shift in philosophy came just a few months into the team’s new ownership era, as it traded for Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco, a move that seemed like it would pretty obviously result in the team signing Lindor to a long-term deal. Just before the 2021 season got underway, that contract extension came to fruition, the finalization of a series of events that weren’t even entertained as possible during the decade of Wilpon-led ownership that followed the collapse of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.
The Mets entered the 2021 season with a $195 million payroll, a number that wasn’t quite a massive increase on the 2019 Opening Day payroll of $158 million, the most recent full-season figure to which it could be compared since the 2020 season was shortened and players’ salaries truncated in conjunction with the changes made necessary by the pandemic.
That first offseason under Cohen was far from perfect, of course, both in terms of the moves it made for its roster—one of which was the ill-fated signing of James McCann to a four-year contract—and more importantly, the people who were hired to run baseball operations. The same month that saw Lindor and Carrasco join the organization also saw the team firing Jared Porter, its new general manager at the time, for having sexually harassed a female reporter. And Zack Scott, the person who stepped into the GM role following the firing of Porter, was arrested on accusations of driving under the influence later that year. Scott was ultimately acquitted, but the Mets fired him a couple of months after his arrest.
On the baseball side of things, the offseason that followed the 2021 season further clarified that when it came to building a roster, there was money available to pay players. The signing of Max Scherzer was the biggest indicator, though the signings of Starling Marte, Mark Canha, and Eduardo Escobar were equally important when it came to building out a competitive roster. The Mets entered the 2022 season with a $264 million payroll, and those investments paid off, as they wound up winning 101 games in the regular season. Even with the division narrowly slipping away and a loss to the Padres in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, it was a massive step forward.
Just in case all of that wasn’t a strong enough sign that things are completely different for the team and its fans, though, the events of the past week left no doubt. In the wake of Jacob deGrom’s departure, the Mets responded quickly and effectively by signing Justin Verlander to a two-year deal at $43.33 million per year and a potential option for a third season, Brandon Nimmo to an eight-year, $162 million deal, David Robertson to a one-year, $10 million deal, and José Quintana to a two-year, $26 million deal.
Add it all up, and the Mets’ payroll commitment for 2023 is already over $300 million. It was just ten years ago that the team slashed payroll so drastically that it was under $100 million, and it wasn’t until 2015 that it rose back above $100 million. In hindsight, it’s remarkable that the team was able to win the National League pennant that year and make it to the postseason in back-to-back years with its Wild Card appearance in 2016.
No longer is it necessary to sweat every detail of the Mets’ payroll. As was reported by Joel Sherman this week, Cohen told his baseball operations staff last winter that he is fully willing to put money into the team, especially while he waits for the farm system to more regularly churn out good players to join the major league ranks of a contending team. There’s still plenty for the Mets to accomplish, but things are undoubtedly better now than they were before.