Cohen committed to winning, 'wouldn’t be surprised' if Mets reach top CBT tier

March 13th, 2022

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Major League Baseball’s richest owner is fond of saying that no one -- not even he -- has unlimited money. To reiterate the idea on Sunday, Steve Cohen jokingly suggested that at some point, he may need to ask a nearby sportswriter for a loan.

But Cohen, whom Forbes estimates to be worth approximately $17.4 billion, probably won’t be calling in that favor anytime soon. To the contrary, during a brief press conference at Clover Park, Cohen said that the Mets “probably will” exceed MLB’s new fourth tier of the Competitive Balance Tax, which was just negotiated to a record $290 million. 

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Cohen added.

Currently, the payroll tracking web site Spotrac calculates the Mets’ expenditures at a shade north of $278 million (including their recent acquisitions of Chris Bassitt and Adam Ottavino), putting them above the first three tiers of MLB’s tax system. If the Mets do nothing else, they will need to pay around $15 million in CBT penalties. If they rise to a $300 million payroll, their tax figure would more than double to around $31 million. 

It’s a penalty Cohen is willing to pay, even while acknowledging that he isn’t likely to blow past the fourth tier.

“Listen, $290 million is a lot of money to spend overall,” Cohen said. “Like I said before, I’m OK with it, and I’m willing to live with it. And we’ll leave it at that.” 

MLB’s first three CBT thresholds were recently ratified in the new CBA at $230 million, $250 million and $270 million -- all of them increased from the previous agreement between the league’s owners and players. During these negotiations, the sides agreed to a fourth threshold of $290 million with an 80 percent tax on any overages, which was designed to discourage big-market teams from amassing payrolls significantly larger than those of their rivals. Some around the game have taken to calling it the “Cohen Tax,” given the Mets owner’s deep pockets.

Asked about the nomenclature, Cohen did not seem particularly perturbed. 

“The way I’ve described it, it’s better than a bridge being named after you,” Cohen said. “It’s still a lot of money to spend on the payroll, so I don’t think it’s something, by any means, that I can’t live with.” 

It’s spending with a purpose; more than anything, Cohen has expressed a desire to win a World Series. Upon buying the Mets in 2020, the hedge-fund manager said that he hoped to earn a championship within 3-5 years. That’s a goal he still possesses, even while acknowledging the difficulty and luck involved in doing so. 

“There’s only one team that wins,” Cohen said. “There’s a lot of good teams out there. I think we’re going to be really competitive, and who knows? We’ll see what happens.”