(New York Daily News) – Steve Cohen’s decade-long pursuit of the Mets is over. He’s liberated the team from the Wilpons.
“I am excited to have reached an agreement with the Wilpon and Katz families to purchase the New York Mets,” Cohen said in a statement.
The hedge fund billionaire, soon to be MLB’s richest owner, will reportedly own 95% of the team, with the Wilpon and Katz families owning the remaining 5%.
The deal values the Mets around $2.4 billion. Cohen still needs to get approval from 23 of the 30 MLB owners in order to take over the team; that could happen as soon as November. He’s expected to get those votes.
Cohen currently owns 8% of the team, and the deal does not include SNY.
This is the second time that a Cohen-Mets sale has been officially announced, and the third time that Cohen has tried to buy the team. In December 2019, the Mets said that Cohen would be “increasing his investment” over a five-year period, with the Wilpons still in control until 2025. That deal fell through in February of this year after Cohen walked away from the Wilpons’ desire to control the team and its regional sports network. At the time, it was reported that octogenarians Saul Katz and Fred Wilpon wanted out, while Fred’s son Jeff wanted to keep control of the team.
The Wilpon-Katz group first bought into the Mets in 1980, when they bought 5% of the team and Nelson Doubleday took over at an 80% share. Fred Wilpon then bumped up his share to 50% in 1986, sharing the team with the Doubledays until 2002, when he bought them out for $135 million. The Mets were then valued at around $400 million.
Incredibly, the coronavirus pandemic only put a tiny dent in what Cohen was willing to pay for the Mets. The 2019 deal valued the Mets at $2.6 billion, just a hair more than the new deal.
Cohen defeated a group fronted by Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez at an open auction, despite a full-court political and media press by Rodriguez. Politicians pushed for the A-Rod group, and the former Yankee practically begged the other MLB owners to favor him in exchange for his support for a salary cap.
Steve Cohen instantly brings heavyweight financial muscle to the Mets.
Steve Cohen instantly brings heavyweight financial muscle to the Mets. (Anthony Behar/Getty Images)
There are serious concerns about Cohen, and the allies of the Rodriguez/Lopez group highlighted them at every turn. Cohen made his net worth of over $10 billion running SAC Capital, a firm that he wholly owned. The firm pleaded guilty to insider trading in 2013. While the government tried to get Cohen a lifetime ban from money management, the firm only ended up paying a $1.8 billion fine. Cohen personally settled with the government in 2016.
“It seems that wherever Cohen goes and whatever he touches, controversy and corruption follow in short order,” Queens state senator Jessica Ramos wrote in the Daily News this summer.
But despite A-Rod’s best attempts to sway MLB owners to pick him, this is a group that let Jim Crane buy the Astros amid multiple allegations of war profiteering and discrimination. Money was always going to win, and Cohen simply had the most of it. As Bill Madden wrote over and over in this newspaper: A-Rod did not have enough cash to buy and run the team. Cohen did.
Cashflow has been a Mets problem over the last decade of the Wilpon era, which was a cash-strapped embarrassment right up to the end. The Mets have been deep in debt since at least their ill-fated investments with Bernie Madoff. The team loses money and is hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, with the exact amount depending on the report.
Their tight budget has hurt them this year, with Zack Wheeler pitching like a Cy Young contender for the Phillies after the Mets let him go in free agency. The Mets’ biggest problem this season has been starting pitching.
The Wilpons’ uniquely meddlesome ways made headlines as recently as last month. When the Mets and Marlins were set to skip a game after the Jacob Blake shooting by police, a hot mic caught Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen savaging a PR stunt that he thought was suggested by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. When the hot mic video leaked, Van Wagenen scrambled to throw his own boss under the bus, saying that the idiotic stunt was actually dreamed up by Mets owner Jeff Wilpon. Jeff and his father Fred then put out separate statements ripping Van Wagenen and misspelling his name.
Cohen has been attempting to buy a baseball team for years. He bought 4% of the Mets for $20 million in 2012, meaning the value of the Mets has somehow increased fivefold in the eight years since. In 2011, the Long Island native tried to buy 49% of the Mets and then tried to buy the Dodgers and Padres the next year.
The Mets have mostly struggled this decade, only making it past the wild-card round in the 2015 World Series run.