For decades, Mets fans like myself could only sit back and seethe as the other team in the Bronx brought in the best players in baseball to fulfill championship dreams.
How we envied Yankees fans during the reign of George Steinbrenner in the late 1990s and 2000s. Money was no object for The Boss — he spent what it took to win, and win immediately, simple as that. Not even the luxury tax that Major League Baseball imposed for competitive balance could deter him from building a perennial winner with the highest payroll in the game.
But George is no longer with us, and his free-spending Yankees have reigned themselves in quite a bit, to the consternation of their heretofore spoiled fan base. And for a while, the Yankees looked to have the same competitive spirit as the budget-conscious Mets during the reign of the Wilpons.
Oh, how the tables have turned since billionaire Steve Cohen acquired the Mets last year.
The richest owner in the game made his biggest splash yet this week in signing three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer away from the Los Angeles Dodgers with an obscene deal — averaging about $43 million a year over the next three seasons.
It was a Steinbrennerian coup for the Mets, a week after getting jilted by Steven Matz and his agent, as the former Met leveraged his hometown franchise to get a nice deal with the St. Louis Cardinals.
That angered Cohen, and sparked a spending spree that led to the free agency acquisitions of outfielders Starling Marte and Mark Canha, infielder Eduardo Escobar, and now Scherzer. And there’s no sign of slowing down.
Cohen gave new General Manager Billy Eppler the green light to build a winner not just for next year, but for the future. It’s the same green light George Steinbrenner gave Bob Watson and Brian Cashman in the late 90s-early 2000s to build the Yankees into a legitimate, perennial World Series contender, and leave the rest of the league in the dust.
If King George still reigned in the Bronx today, he may have very well swooped in and stolen Scherzer out of the Mets’ clutches — or he may have responded by signing two or three top quality free agents that same day to at least steal away the back page headlines.
Yet on Nov. 29, as Mets fans salivated over the reality of having both Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer in their starting rotation next year, the Yankees responded by signing a member of the 2021 Mets, Jose Peralta, to a minor league deal.
While Mets fans celebrated on Twitter, a platform normally known for venting their rage, it was the Yankees fans who took to social media to seethe over having a budget-conscious ownership, envious that the other team was spending big.
Sure, they still have to play the games next season, and stay healthy. The Mets acquisitions may go for naught. The Yankees may prevail in the end. Lord knows it’s happened before.
But this time feels… different. Like the baseball world has officially turned upside down.
The Mets have made other big deals since Cohen took control, but acquiring one of the best starting pitchers in the game, to top off a rotation with the dominant (when healthy) Jacob deGrom, sets a brand new tone for the Mets going forward.
It’s crystal clear that Steve Cohen and the Mets want to win, and win now — and will spend what it takes to do it.