Mets owner Steve Cohen considering trade deadline selloff, but Showalter, Eppler safe through season

New York Mets owner Steve Cohen speaks during a news conference before a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers Wednesday, June 28, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

NEW YORK — Mets owner Steven Cohen threatened his underperforming team with the prospect of a trade deadline selloff unless New York gets back into contention for a playoff berth, while promising job security through the season’s end to manager Buck Showalter and general manager Billy Eppler.

“All is not lost yet, but it’s getting late,” Cohen said during a news conference Wednesday with the Mets in fourth place in the NL East. “I’m preparing my management team for all possibilities. If we don’t get better, we have decisions to make at the trade deadline, and that’s not my preferred end result but I’m preparing all contingencies.

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“And we’ll see where it goes. It’s on the players, right?” Cohen continued. “They’re veterans. They’ve been there before. These are players who have done it, and we’ll see if they can get their act together and string together some wins. I can’t pitch and I can’t hit. That’s the way it goes.”

New York currently projects to a $360 million payroll and is on track for a record luxury tax of about $99 million. The Mets are shattering the previous payroll high for $291 million set by the 2015 Los Angeles Dodgers, who set a tax record that year at $43.6 million.

And yet, the Mets began Wednesday 36-43 after losing seven of their previous 10 games and 16 of 22. They were 16 1/2 games back of first-place Atlanta and 8 1/2 games out of the last NL wild-card berth. Their 4.58 ERA is 25th among the 30 teams.

In stark contrast to Yankees owner George Steinbrenner’s behavior in the 1970s and 1980s, Cohen promised stabile team management.

“I’m a patient guy, OK?” the 67-year-old hedge fund billionaire said. “Now, everybody wants a headline. Everybody says: Fire this person, fire that person. But I don’t see that as a way to operate.

“If you want to attract good people to this organization, the worst thing you can do is be impulsive, OK, and win the headline for the day. … You’re not attracting the best talent. You’re not going to want to work for somebody who has a short fuse. Listen, I know fans, they want something to happen. I get it. But sometimes, you can’t do it because you have long-term objectives.”

Cohen said the team is still pursuing a team president and a president of baseball operations.

This year’s trade deadline is Aug. 1 and an unsuccessful season could increase interest in a youth movement for a team that had the oldest average age on opening day. Cohen said he’d be willing to cover salaries in trades if it improved the prospect haul coming back.

“If it turns out we don’t improve and I’m looking at ‘24 with a similar team, one year older, for a veteran team, probably not a great place to be,” Cohen said. “We have to make honest, truthful judgments.”

FanGraphs estimated the Mets’ chances Wednesday of winning the division at 0.1%, reaching the playoffs at 13.3% and winning the World Series at 1.1%.

Showalter said players are aware they are running out of time for a turnaround.

“Their strengths, shortcomings are right up on this huge board every night for the whole world to see,” he said. “I’ve said it before, you go out there every night with the idea that something could happen, that there’s this ridicule and poking fun at them. Even our own people sometimes do it. So it’s tough, but they understand it. They understand it. They know it, and I try hard not to be Captain Obvious to them.”

Cohen compared the Mets to dogs at a track chasing a mechanical rabbit.

“It’s been incredibly frustrating. I watch every game. I see what’s going on,” Cohen said. “We have quality players. For some reason or another, they’re not jelling, When we pitch well, we don’t hit. When we hit, we don’t pitch well. It’s kind of weird. It’s actually very strange to me. And I don’t know if the players are anxious. I don’t know if they’re pressing. I assume that’s a little bit of that. We see a lot of mental errors.”

Heading into its third season under Cohen, the Mets added pitchers Justin Verlander, Kodai Senga, José Quintana and David Robertson along with catcher Omar Narváez and outfielder Tommy Pham.

They also re-signed outfielder Brandon Nimmo for $162 million over eight years and closer Edwin Díaz for $102 million over five years. Díaz injured a knee during the World Baseball Classic and is expected to miss the entire season.

“Let’s assume this turns out to be a poor season,” Cohen said. “Yeah, in retrospect you’d like to spend less. But you don’t have that luxury when you’re trying to put together a team.”

“Ultimately I think we’d like to get the payroll down because the farm system is developing players,” he added. “If we can’t, then it’s on us.”

Asked whether a fourth-place finish would result in major changes, he quipped: “It’s not fifth place.”

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