Billionaire Steve Cohen has reentered into negotiations to purchase the New York Mets, hoping to salvage a deal for the franchise after a previous agreement to buy the team fell apart, a source familiar with the organization's sale confirmed to ESPN.
The emergence of Cohen as the winning bidder over a group led by Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez came days before the process was expected to conclude. While the Rodriguez-Lopez consortium said in a statement that it had made "a fully funded offer at a record price for the team," its admission that "they are no longer pursuing the acquisition of the team" confirmed Cohen's inside track, which was first reported by CNBC on Friday night.
Cohen, 64, previously had come to terms on a deal to buy a controlling share of the Mets at a $2.6 billion valuation. The agreement fell apart amid concerns that Jeff Wilpon, the team's chief operating officer and the son of majority owner Fred Wilpon, wanted to enforce a clause in the contract that allowed him to remain in his current position for five years rather than treat it as an honorary role. Though Cohen's price is expected to be less than in his original offer, sources said, it won't be significantly lower.
Mets fans had delighted in the possibility of Cohen, a lifelong fan of the team who would become Major League Baseball's richest owner, taking control of the franchise from the Wilpons, who are widely reviled by the fan base. Any deal remains subject to the approval of at least 23 of the 30 MLB owners, though the expectation, because of Cohen's net worth -- estimated by Forbes at more than $14 billion -- is that his financial stability will rubber-stamp his candidacy.
The sale would transfer one of the league's potential jewel franchises, which has been plagued by mismanagement and a propensity for public embarrassment, into the hands of an owner in far better position to leverage the financial advantage that typically comes with being a team that calls New York City home. Since 2011, the Mets haven't carried a payroll in the game's top 10. Over that juncture, they finished with a winning record only three times and advanced past the wild-card game only once, in 2015, when they lost in the World Series to the Kansas City Royals.
Many regard the Mets as a sleeping giant, particularly with a moneyed owner. The Wilpon family has pursued a more aggressive tack under current general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, making win-now trades and sacrificing the future for the present. That hasn't translated into winning now, and the foibles that have long been part of the Mets remain consistent, whether it was star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes going AWOL before opting out of playing this season due to the coronavirus pandemic or the hot-mic incident Thursday in which Van Wagenen ripped MLB commissioner Rob Manfred's leadership, only to later apologize and get blasted himself by the Wilpons for his words. If his purchase of the team comes to fruition, Cohen could pursue a new baseball-operations team or keep Van Wagenen, who is under contract through the end of the 2022 season.
The Wilpon family has owned the Mets since 1986 and took over full control of the team in 2002. While discussions with the groups led by Rodriguez and Lopez, and a third bidder -- Philadelphia 76ers owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer -- broached the possibility of Jeff Wilpon remaining with the franchise, he is not expected to play any role if Cohen closes the deal, sources said.
Lopez posted her disappointment Friday night about the state of the sale, as well as the official statement from herself and Rodriguez, the three-time MVP and current ESPN analyst.
Alex and I are so disappointed!! We worked so hard the past 6 months with the dream of becoming the first minority couple and the first woman owner to buy her father's favorite Major League Baseball team with her own hard earned money. We still haven't given up!! #NY4ever pic.twitter.com/sBBkliUjoL— jlo (@JLo) August 29, 2020
In his time as a high-powered Wall Street hedge fund manager, Cohen amassed enormous wealth but was hit by a $1.8 billion fine by the Securities and Exchange Commission for insider trading. His current firm, Point72 Asset Management, has faced multiple discrimination claims from female employees, though none has accused Cohen of personal wrongdoing.