New York Mets owner on ‘Cohen Tax’ nickname

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Steve Cohen heard that baseball’s new luxury tax level was being nicknamed “the Cohen Tax.”

“It’s better than a bridge being named after you,” the New York Mets owner said Sunday as spring training camp opened after a 25-day delay caused by Major League Baseball’s lockout.

New York boosted its luxury tax payroll from $193 million in 2020 to $208 million last year in Cohen’s first season after buying the Mets from the Wilpon and Katz families.

The Mets are on track to lead the majors this year, now at about $250 million, after committing $254.5 million to multiyear contracts for Max Scherzer, Starling Marte, Mark Canha and Eduardo Escobar.

MLB and the players’ association raised the luxury tax threshold from $210 million to $230 million this year. A first-time offender such as the Mets would pay a 20% tax on the amount above the threshold, 32% on the amount above $250 million and 62.5% on the amount above $270 million.

A new fourth tier some negotiators said was aimed at Cohen starts at $290 million with a rate of 80% for first-time offenders, 90% for second and 110% for third.

“I’m still new to baseball. I know there’s a name for it,” Cohen said. “They call it the Cohen Tax or whatever. You know, that’s what [Brandon] Nimmo called it. The way I describe it is that it’s better than a bridge being named after you or something like that. It’s still a lot of money to spend on a payroll. I don’t feel like it’s so confining that I can’t live with it.”

Asked whether the Mets will boost their payroll above $290 million, Cohen responded: “We probably will.”

The 2015 Los Angeles Dodgers had the highest luxury tax payroll at just under $298 million.

New York isn’t done with its roster and could make more moves during the 24 days of training camp before the April 7 opener at Washington.

A day before formal workouts began, the Mets acquired All-Star right-hander Chris Bassitt from Oakland for minor league right-handers JT Ginn and Adam Oller. Bassitt is eligible for arbitration and projects to get a salary of $8 million to $9 million.

Each team is charged $1.67 million for the new pre-arbitration bonus pool.

“I’m OK with it,” Cohen said of the tax level aimed at him. “I’m willing to live with it. My view was, we’ve got to look at that agreement in its entirety — $290 million is a lot to spend. It’s a pretty big limit. I’ve got to live within the confined baseball.”

“It’s still a lot of money to spend on a payroll. I don’t feel that it’s so confining … but we’re going to be careful at this point.”

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