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The Mets’ Trade Deadline Pivot Was the Exact Right Approach

Steve Cohen’s ambitious plan failed. The Mets made a quick pivot at the trade deadline, however, and other teams could learn from it.

The New York Mets are proof that you can’t buy a championship — or at least that doing so is still really damn hard.

Under billionaire hedge fund manager Steve Cohen‘s ownership, the Mets’ $336 million opening day payroll was an MLB record and $65 million more than the second-most expensive team, the crosstown rival Yankees. Cohen went on an offseason spending spree, re-signing outfielder Brandon Nimmo (8 years, $162 million), closer Edwin Diaz (5 years, $102 million), and reliever Adam Ottavino (2 years, $14.5 million), while also inking free agent starting pitchers Justin Verlander (2 years, $86.6 million), Kodai Senga (5 years, $75 million), and Jose Quintana (2 years, $26 million).

This plan failed spectacularly. The Amazins were far from it, limping into the All-Star Break with a 42-48 record and below-average numbers in every major statistical hitting and pitching category. But give Cohen credit. Unlike so many other teams in sports, including the Yankees and in many ways the Brooklyn Nets, Cohen knows when an investment isn’t panning out. As a result, the Mets used the trade deadline to pivot, even if that means some short-term embarrassment.

Sports, especially baseball, are full of teams that take indecisive, face-saving half measures. The Mets weren’t making the playoffs this year, and Cohen made his stance cold and succinctly clear.

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By dealing closer David Robertson, the Mets made it clear that they were waving the white flag at the trade deadline. But how far was Cohen willing to go in the team’s teardown? That was answered quite clearly two days later when the Mets traded a disappointing Max Scherzer to the Texas Rangers. They paid off the $35 million remaining on his gargantuan contract and obtained a better prospect, MLB.com top 100 infielder Luisangel Acuña, the speedy, skilled younger brother of Atlanta Braves superstar Ronald Acuna Jr. The question then remained whether they would complete the teardown and trade Verlander. He was the Mets’ prized winter signing that signaled Cohen wasn’t effing around, ignoring a special luxury tax written into baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement designed to curtail or prevent this exact scenario.

After leaving the Houston Astros for the Mets in the offseason, Verlander waived his no-trade clause to return to H-Town, and in return the Mets got two of the team’s top four MLB.com prospects, including top 100 outfielder Drew Gilbert. Cohen also agreed to pay off up to $52.5 million left on Verlander’s contract. Further trades of outfielders Mark Canha and Tommy Pham, and reliever Dominic Leone brought in more prospects after Scherzer indicated that the team wasn’t really looking to compete next season.

Not looking to compete next season is relative, though. Cohen said he doesn’t want a team he’d be embarrassed by, but it puts the Mets’ immediate future into question.

Is a Shohei Ohtani pursuit this offseason now out of the question? What about superstar slugger Pete Alonso, whose contract expires after the end of the 2024 season? Will he receive a contract extension in the neighborhood of $200-300 million, or will they look to trade him? What about Francisco Lindor, who’s in the second season of a 10-year, $341 million extension?

Whatever the future holds, this past week showed that Cohen isn’t afraid to admit Plan A isn’t working. It’s a refreshing change from other teams in New York City and across the sporting landscape, with too much pride or machismo to admit defeat. The 2023 Mets experiment failed, but the transition from Plan A to Plan B could be smoother than most.

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