You are supposed to root for your team to win the championship. I get this. For those of us blessed to root for a great team, we want to see that greatness capped off with that sweet, sweet, very pointy championship trophy. For those of us who don’t have that opportunity, well, it’s even better to root for the underdog, is it not?
The 2023 Kansas City Royals are not going to be a good team. The 2022 version was not a good team, and the gulf between what last year’s team was and what constitutes “good” is uncomfortably big, so uncomfortably big that the right move (standing pat, evaluating the young talent you’ve got, and making moves next year) seems like waiving the white flag already.
Yeah, I’d love the Royals to win this year’s World Series trophy. But I am realistic: it ain’t gonna happen. And you know what? I don’t subscribe to the “championship or bust” mindset. Sports is entertainment, and to place all your eggs in the championship basket is to be guaranteed of disappointment.
So, who am I rooting to win the World Series this year? The New York Mets, that’s who. I would like the Mets to win the World Series because it could be the catalyst for what baseball sorely needs: a salary cap and a salary floor.
Mets owner Steve Cohen bought a controlling interest in the team in 2020 after becoming a minority owner eight years previously. The large market Mets had hovered in the middle of the pack for the 2010s, and even in 2015 had the 21st highest payroll on opening day. Cohen, the richest owner in Major League Baseball with a fortune of $17.5 billion per Forbes, immediately started spending. In 2021, the Mets’ Opening Day payroll was $195 million, about $37 million more than their 2019 payroll. In 2022, the Mets’ Opening Day payroll was $264 million, an increase of about $69 million over the previous year.
To counter Cohen’s spending spree, the owners tried to clamp down by implementing what became dubbed as the “Steve Cohen Tax” in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Said agreement institutes penalties for repeatedly spending above one of multiple thresholds. The Cohen Tax specifically refers to a new threshold, which in 2022 was $290 million. MLB teams can go above the Cohen Tax threshold, but to do so they must pay an additional 80% on every dollar—at minimum—spent over the minimum over the $230 million base luxury tax cap.
Cohen did not care. So far in 2023, even after the mega deal for Carlos Correa fell through, the Mets are looking at an Opening Day payroll of $339 million—a whopping $75 million more than last year. But that’s not all: Cohen and the Mets are over the Cohen Tax threshold and are spending an additional $88 million in competitive balance taxes. All in all, the Mets’ payroll will cost them over $427 million in 2023.
In an article for The Athletic, Evan Drellich, who covered the CBA negotiations extensively the previous offseason, quoted a rival executive on Cohen’s spending spree:
“Our sport feels broken now,” a different rival executive said Wednesday. “We’ve got somebody with three times the median payroll and has no care whatsoever for the long-term of any of these contracts, in terms of the risk associated with any of them. How exactly does this work? I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around it.”
So, why I am I rooting for the Mets? It’s simple: because the Mets winning the World Series could be a catalyst for something game-changing: a salary cap and a salary floor.
By and large, MLB owners have the money. Look into the numbers and you’ll find that even small market teams like the Royals pull in at least $215 million in revenue a year, with large market teams pulling in north of $500 million. Now, there’s no arguing that John Sherman can’t match Cohen’s spending. But that is where the salary floor and salary cap come in. Last February I looked at what an NBA-style salary floor and salary cap would look like in MLB. And with increased revenue sharing, the cap-and-floor situation would both increase the money going to the players and decrease the spending gap between the top and bottom.
With a hard cap, Cohen’s spending tactics could be curtailed, and with a hard floor, teams would be forced to spend money they wouldn’t otherwise. In the interim, I can’t really blame Cohen; he’s got the money, his business is making a lot of money, and he’s investing it right back into his business.
The Mets winning the World Series might not change much. The damage could have already been done to the rest of the owners. But somehow, watching Cohen and the team he purchased lift the World Series trophy seems like it might accomplish something that might not happen otherwise. That’s because the owners, as a group, don’t want to be shown up. In Drelich’s article, he quotes another executive who all but admits that Cohen’s rogue acting is disrupting something.
“I think it’s going to have consequences for him down the road,” said an official with another major league team who was not authorized to speak publicly. “There’s no collusion. But … there was a reason nobody for years ever went past $300 million. You still have partners, and there’s a system.”
I don’t want to see the Royals cry poor and trot out another bottom-third payroll year after year like they have for most of my adult life. Therefore, I will root for the Mets to see if they can kick off change in a system that needs it.