NEW YORK — Steve Cohen’s New York Mets are on track to shatter spending records in his third season as owner, boosting payroll to about $350 million for purposes of the luxury tax and poised to pay a penalty of about $80 million.
New York added veteran starters Justin Verlander and Jose Quintana plus reliever David Robertson and Japanese pitcher Kodai Senga while re-signing center fielder Brandon Nimmo.
“Everybody’s talking about us and that’s fine,” Quintana said during a Zoom news conference.
Coming off his third Cy Young Award, the 39-year-old Verlander became the second $43.33 million pitcher in New York’s rotation, joining for a two-year deal that matched the average salary of 38-year-old Max Scherzer.
Quintana, a 33-year-old lefty, got a two-year, $26 million contract and Robertson, 37, a one-year, $10 million deal to serve as a setup man for All-Star closer Edwin Diaz, who stayed for a five-year, $102 million commitment. In addition, Nimmo received a eight-year, $162 million contract, the Mets acquired lefty reliever Brooks Raley in a trade with Tampa Bay and reached a five-year, $75 million deal with Senga, pending a successful physical. In all, the team committed $461.7 million to six free agents, including five pitchers.
“We have done a lot of lifting and we’ve had a very fortunate investment from Steve and Alex Cohen in this club,” general manager Billy Eppler said, referring to the owner and his wife. “The commitment is very evident here and the goals are very evident.”
New York already was on track to set a luxury tax payroll record for 2022, at $298.8 million, according to Aug. 31 projections by Major League Baseball, with final figures still being compiled. Mets spending for the tax payroll rose from $186 million during the last fully played season of the Wilpon and Katz family ownership in 2019 to $208 million in 2021, the first season after the pandemic. They will pay the tax for the first time this year.
MLB and the players’ association agreed last March to a new fourth threshold dubbed the Cohen Tax – “It’s better than a bridge being named after you,” the owner quipped. The fourth threshold starts at $293 million next year and the Mets will pay a 90% rate as a second offender – a projected $50 million tab as of now.
They are set to blow by the threshold, including about $32 million still to be spent on arbitration-eligible players such as slugging first baseman Pete Alonso, $24 million owed to released second baseman Robinson Cano, $1.67 million for the new pre-arbitration bonus pool and about $18 million for benefits.
New York entered the offseason with dozen players becoming free agents. Ace Jacob deGrom and starter Taijuan Walker are among those who left.
“My perception of the Mets is really good right now,” Robertson said. “Going into this offseason, you see all the moves they’re making. I mean, they want to win. I want to win. I’m not getting any younger. I want to be on a team that wants to win. I want to be in a competitive city, in a good market, and that’s what the New York Mets have to offer. And I’ve always enjoyed playing at Citi Field, and it’s been a blast.”
The Los Angeles Dodgers paid a record tax of $43.6 million in 2015, when they had a $298 million payroll.
“It just shows that ownership wants to win,”‘ Robertson said. “Sometimes you have to put out a little bit more money to get the players that you want that you think are going to fit in. … I think it just shows a lot about our owner, that he’s committed to it.”
New York finished with 101 wins, second-most in team history, and led the NL East for all but six days before finishing second to Atlanta. San Diego then knocked out the Mets in the new wild card round.
Eppler sprung to action last week with moves because he perceived “the market seemed to be really maturing.”
“Just getting into the dance, having the starting pitching and the bullpen is going to be critical for us to be able to kind of silence some of the other teams and the offenses that you face in the postseason,” Eppler said. “It’s like you’re trying to manage for two different seasons, right? We’re going to go play 162 games in 183 days or 4 or whatever. And if we do well there, you get an opportunity to get into the postseason, where you’re managing and utilizing personnel in a little different way.”