With Steve Cohen, there is no Wilponian uncertainty about the willingness to spend. Only on the wisdom to do so.
The person asking Steve Cohen this question for the past few days is Steve Cohen. He’s had a trade proposal on his desk for much of the past week in which the Mets would absorb about half of Eric Hosmer’s remaining four years at $59 million to gain access to much-needed pitching depth now. and in the near future with starter Chris Paddack. and reliever Emilio Pagan.
Cohen was considering the trade before it became known that Jacob deGrom had a shoulder injury that is expected to cost him at least two months and Max Scherzer a hamstring problem that could prevent him from taking his first round. This only accentuates the need for more pitching.
But are they the right pitchers to ship Dom Smith to San Diego and accept a contract the Mets don’t need tied to a player they don’t want? Paddack hasn’t been as effective since a strong rookie surge in 2019 (which included a verbal skirmish with Pete Alonso). The right-hander is a high-end hitter with a terrific shift. But his fastball is straight and he needs to develop a feel for a third pitch breakout ball. Pagan has been durable with a high number of strikeouts, but is likely to have dropped 45 in the past four years, six more than any other reliever.
There is also optics. Part of recent labor negotiations was not just management against players, but other owners against Cohen and his spending sprees. The recently signed CBA has a new, $290 million fourth tier luxury tax dubbed the Steve Cohen tax that was designed to try to hold it back. The Dodgers are now projecting above that barrier after Friday’s trade of AJ Pollock for Craig Kimbrel.
This trade would clearly move the Mets’ projection above $290 million and touch on the symbolism of the first-ever $300 million payroll. Even Cohen has a break to cross that line so soon after the CBA deal.
With the Padres eating $34 million on a single proposal, Hosmer would cost the Mets between $6.25 million on their payroll for tax purposes not just this year, but the next three seasons as well. Paddack ($2.25 million) and Pagan ($2.3 million) are said to be on a pay wash in 2022 with Smith ($3.95 million).
The record luxury tax payroll was $297.5 million for the Dodgers in 2015.
Cohen tried to emulate these Dodgers, who were still in the early years of new ownership, using his money to try to speed relevance and divisiveness while providing cover to upgrade a power system of minor league.
This system isn’t poised to help with pitching depth, which was the biggest concern for the Mets even before deGrom’s loss and Scherzer’s setback. The post-lockdown swap for Chris Bassitt looks even more valuable now that he’s joining forces with Carlos Carrasco and Taijuan Walker in the rotation.
Paddack would join Tylor Megill, David Peterson and – at some point in the year – Joey Lucchesi (Tommy John surgery) to provide rotation options. Additionally, Bassitt, Carrasco, deGrom and Walker can all be free agents after the 2022 season. Having Paddack in control until at least 2024 also makes him more appealing. Because he was brought up to start the 2019 season, Paddack has exactly three years of service. So if the Mets sent him to the minors for more than three weeks, they could delay his free agency until after the 2025 season. Pagan still has two years in control.
Paddack, 26, was 9-7 with a 3.33 ERA as a rookie in 2019. But he had a 4.73 ERA in 12 starts during the COVID-shortened 2020 season. He was 5.07 in 23 appearances (22 starts) last season for the disappointing Padres. Paddack, who had underage Tommy John surgery, was arrested last September with what the team said was a slight sprain in his right elbow. He came to this camp in a battle for the fifth-place rotation with recently signed Nick Martinez.
Paddack and Alonso both made the 2019 Opening Day rosters and had exceptional Aprils. Alonso was named NL Rookie of the Month. Paddack reacted by saying, “I’m coming for him” and noting that the target was Rookie of the Year (which Alonso won), not Rookie of the Month. The two faced off on May 6. Alonso went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts against Paddack, who punctuated the strikeouts emphatically.
Afterwards, Alonso sprinkled some gas on the matter, telling reporters: “If he was mad about (not winning NL Rookie of the Month) another five months ago. … Also, he said something about winning Rookie of the Year. It would be nice, but I’m trying to win a World Series.
For the Mets, Hosmer, 32, would be a more expensive, more limited Smith — a left-handed swinger who can move Alonso to the designated hitter with some regularity. Unlike Smith, who also played in the corner outfield, Hosmer has gone 25 career innings in the outfield, none since 2015. That was the year the Royals beat the Mets in the World Series during which the signature play was Hosmer’s dash to tie Game 5 as first baseman Lucas Duda threw wildly at the plate.
Hosmer signed an eight-year, $144 million free agent deal with San Diego after the 2017 season and his performance has been par for the course as Padre — perhaps most surprisingly, scouts cite how his defense has takes a significant step backwards. The team has been trying to trade him for at least a year to cut his salary to pursue other areas of need — namely an outfield bat — and Hosmer was upset at how public his availability had become.
It would be difficult for the Mets to trade Hosmer elsewhere. Because his contract gives him full trade protection after being traded once. So you have to wonder if the Mets could just release Hosmer and eat what they owe him for the next four years.
That’s a hefty price for two pitchers that are potentially useful, but don’t make a difference. That’s why Cohen wonders if he would spend or spend wisely.