Phillips called the Mets the toughest team to own in all of professional sports, because fans expect the same level of success as the Yankees, but the teams operate with different budgets. Like many teams, he said, the Mets’ owners projected to break even and based their payroll on expected revenue.
“Most owners have a lot of money from another business, but they don’t just say, ‘Well, I’m going to run everything else like a business, but I’m just going to spend like crazy on the baseball team,’” Phillips said. “Most people who made money in business run all of their businesses like a business. They go to a certain level and they say no.”
That could be a challenge for Cohen. Agents will surely try to leverage his extraordinary wealth into lavish contracts for their clients. Nearly every free agent seems like a cure-all in the moment, and fans and the news media will be critical whenever the Mets lose the bidding on a talented player.
Whether or not Cohen retains General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen, his baseball operations department will have to be cunning. The No. 1 teams in the two biggest markets — the Yankees and the Dodgers — had the most victories in the 2010s, yet it has not been spending alone that has made them successful.
In his previous job, with the innovative but poorly funded Tampa Bay Rays, Andrew Friedman watched Brian Cashman, the general manager of the division-rival Yankees, create a nimbler operation that could spend big when needed. Friedman applied those lessons to the Dodgers, whose baseball operations he has run for six seasons.
“I think a lot of times he doesn’t get the credit that he should, because of their resources,” Friedman said of Cashman this spring. “They’ve been so effective at finding diamonds in the rough and undervalued players, and they’ve been aggressive mining all different avenues of player procurement. He’s not just sitting back and writing a big check — but, obviously, he has the ability to do that and generally picks very wisely.