Did Mets Owner Steve Cohen Just Cause An Inevitable MLB Lockout?

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The New York Mets and Steve Cohen chose violence this morning when they absolutely decimated the rest of the baseball world.

With the announcement that they would be signing free agent All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa to a 12-year, $315 million contract, Cohen once again single-handedly changed the game of baseball. He’s already done so multiple times this offseason.

Oh, and he’s spent nearly $800 million in contracts since the season concluded.

But is it for the better? And how long can it last?

Let’s look at some facts:

  • The New York Mets now have an all-time MLB record $380+ million payroll this year.
  • Their luxury tax will now be an estimated $111 million.
  • That tax alone is more than the ENTIRE payrolls of 15 other MLB teams.
  • This isn’t sustainable for Major League Baseball.

I’m not really complaining about it as much as I’m just being a realist. And I’m sure as heck not feeling sorry for any multi-millionaire or billionaire owners out there.

But take the blinders off and realize what’s inevitably going to happen: another MLB lockout in a few years.

The New York Mets and owner Steve Cohen will now have a luxury tax that is more than the entire payroll of 15 other MLB teams. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

26 OF 30 OWNERS APPROVED COHEN’S BID

Major League Baseball knew exactly what they were getting into when 26 of the league’s 30 teams approved multi-billionaire Steve Cohen as the new owner of the New York Mets.

What’s striking to me is that Cohen only needed 22 approval votes (23 including his own). It wasn’t even down to the wire, 25 other teams were willingly like, “Come on in!

And soon, MLB is going to face the consequences.

DON’T BLAME COHEN, BLAME THE SYSTEM

I’m not blaming Steve Cohen. He’s not doing anything illegal, nor wrong. The system is what it is and he’s just taking advantage of it, as many billionaires do.

But what did the other owners think was going to happen once his ownership was approved?

Did they not expect Cohen to treat the Mets as his own personal toy? He’s literally been a lifelong fan of the team. Of course he was going to spend whatever and however he wanted!

How on Earth do these teams think they are going to be able to compete against a team like the Mets? The disparity is stunning and only growing.

The issue isn’t just what we’re seeing in the near term however, the issue’s also long term.

Remember when Major League Baseball had a lockout prior to last season? Guess what – their next Collective Bargaining Agreement is just 4 years away. 2026 CBA negotiations will be here sooner than later.

I believe that MLB will absolutely lockout if things continue this way. There’s no way they don’t.

WHY THIS WILL LEAD TO A LOCKOUT

Last year the Los Angeles Dodgers had a record-setting $280.8 million Opening Day payroll. The Mets have now set a new standard that if any team wants to be even remotely competitive, they will have to spend big bucks.

We aren’t in the “Moneyball” era anymore. That doesn’t work. Sure, teams have embraced the quantitative analysis part of the concept. But the actual drastic cutting of salaries while still believing you’re piecing together a team that is going to win it all is long gone.

I hear so much about how it’s now up to the cheaper teams to develop their farm systems and focus on scouting. As if every other team isn’t already going to do that? The analytical-driven world the sport finds itself in means that “having a hunch” about a player doesn’t work, or isn’t allowed to work anymore. And in order for a team to compete they are going to have to pray that most of their solid prospects or draft picks all deliver at the same time. That’s IF they are even able to keep them and not trade them away to try and have some sort of competitive team out there while the younger players develop.

In this day and age it doesn’t work. We live in a fandom world where all anyone cares about is highlights and TikTok – “Give me instant entertainment now,” these teams that have no star power are stuck.

It also leads teams to start throwing a ton of money around, grasping at straws and then finding themselves stuck. Case in point – the Los Angeles Angels signing and then regretting the unmovable and massive Albert Pujols contract for all those years.

Albert Pujols signed a 10-year, $254 million contract with the Angels back in 2012. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

“IF THE OWNERS WANTED TO WIN THEY WOULD SPEND THE MONEY”

That’s not entirely true. The fact is – they simply can’t. You can’t force an owner to lose hundreds of millions of dollars every year just to satisfy the other owners or a fanbase that probably won’t show up anyway.

I know Mets fans are on a high right now and good for them. But if people would put their fandom aside, they would be able to see the following:

The salary GAP, not cap is becoming so egregious that you gotta feel bad for the other team’s fans.

There is literally no reason to go to a Pirates game this coming season, unless you want to see the opponents.

“Well then they can just sell the team if they don’t want to compete!” Umm, yeah we aren’t going to have six different MLB teams just suddenly selling their franchises within the next few years.

Once again, be realistic. Rather than sell their own teams, these owners would be much more likely to force another lockout where they don’t have to pay the players a dime.

WHAT ABOUT A SALARY CAP?

Many fans would argue for a salary cap.

Without getting into the various reasons why that most likely won’t happen, one definitively stands out – the salary cap is based in part on the league’s national broadcast television contracts. Every week the NFL dominates weekly ratings and networks bring in a ton of money.

In 2021, NFL teams shared a total of $1.1 billion in television and sponsorship money, according to financial records released from the publicly owned Green Bay Packers.

Baseball is different. Major League Baseball predominately broadcasts its games via regional sports networks. These games are nowhere close to the NFL’s ratings. In fact, they’re not even in the same ballpark (pun intended).

The Yankees and the YES Network, the Mets and SNY, Red Sox and NESN are some of the major teams with their own regional broadcast networks. They will not want to put that into a central pot like the NFL does. So, that’s not going to happen.

Let’s look at the reverse – a salary floor. Well, the MLBPA basically considers that the same as a salary cap and are vehemently against that.

Add in things like revenue-sharing rebates and it goes on and on and on.

Mets owner Steve Cohen and Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner have the two largest payrolls in baseball. (Getty Images)

WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

Well, Mets fans are going to be relentless on social media for the foreseeable future – and rightfully so. Their former owners in the Wilpons were a damn disaster and the fanbase has been begging for something, anything! And just like that, Uncle Stevie delivered for them, no doubt.

Now don’t expect all these smaller teams to suddenly, “just sell the team.” Not gonna happen.

Will we see players turn against fellow players and say that they are taking too much money and hurting the other player’s bottom line? I highly doubt it. Whether true or not, we’ve all heard stories about the player’s code and never going against each other – especially when it comes to money.

The players will go after the owners. When the next CBA comes up and the owners complain that they can’t afford to compete because of the likes of Cohen – the players can simply say, “You did this to yourselves.” You [the owners] made the mess, try and fix it, but it’s not going to come from our bottom line.

With both the owners and players on different sides of a damn galaxy as far as any salary cap discussions go, don’t be surprised when another lockdown happens.

So enjoy Major League Baseball while you can. Because the next work stoppage could be a long one.

Written by Mike Gunzelman

Mike “Gunz” Gunzelman has been involved in the sports and media industry for over a decade. He’s also a risk taker - the first time he ever had sushi was from a Duane Reade in Penn Station in NYC.

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