The most obvious demonstration of how Steve Cohen's wealth impacts New York’s roster occurred this winter, when the team issued nearly half a billion dollars in free-agent contracts. The Mets did not just set a Major League Baseball payroll record; they shattered it.
But that is not the only way Cohen is using money to improve his club’s player pool. Consider the last two trades the Mets have made. First, there was this one:
In making that trade, the Mets paid down every penny left on Escobar’s contract, save for the league minimum. It transformed the deal from a classic salary dump into something quite different. Essentially, New York purchased two viable prospects from the Angels by giving them Escobar -- a useful veteran bat -- for free.
Two weeks later, the Mets completed this trade:
The Mets then immediately designated Flexen for assignment, which might strike some as more than a bit curious. Why would the team acquire a player just to cut him minutes later? Simple. By doing so, New York absorbed the remainder of Flexen’s $8 million salary, taking about $4.5 million in total off Seattle's books. That incentivized the Mariners to give the Mets a big league bullpen piece in Gott, who has been effective against righty batters this season.
Relatively speaking, these types of deals don’t affect the bottom line much for the Mets, who long ago rocketed past MLB's highest Competitive Balance Tax threshold -- and whose owner can afford the expense. But those extra millions can make a significant difference for other franchises.
In this fashion, the Mets hope to accomplish two things. The first deal demonstrated their willingness to use money as a vehicle for acquiring prospects. This used to be the domain of all big-market teams that would use riches to woo prospects in both the Draft and international arenas. Over the past two decades, MLB has introduced limits to curtail such spending, prompting the Mets to get creative in their pursuit of young talent.
The second deal shows how the Mets can use money to improve their roster right now. The team has no interest in ceding prospects in trades, unless such transactions help them beyond 2023. So instead of acquiring a big league reliever such as Gott for a prospect, New York leveraged Cohen's riches in turning Muckenhirn -- a player they had already designated for assignment -- into a potentially useful short-term piece.
Both Cohen and general manager Billy Eppler have expressed a desire to continue spending in this manner as the Trade Deadline approaches, improving at the margins where they can. These deals won’t look as splashy as the nine-figure signings of last offseason, but they can still impact both the present and the future.