NEW YORK — Major League Baseball owners are expected to vote Friday on Steve Cohen’s approval to take over the Mets from Fred and Jeff Wilpon and Saul Katz, according to people familiar with the situation. Cohen needs to acquire at least 22 out of 29 votes of approval. Just two owners were on the fence with one firm ‘no’ vote as of Tuesday, per sources.
The clock is ticking for New York City mayor Bill de Blasio to do his part in approving Cohen. If he waits any longer de Blasio can seriously harm Cohen’s offseason plans, including acquisitions of sought-after free agents.
The owners’ vote, which is expected to go Cohen’s way, is the final hurdle from MLB that can signal a transfer of power.
However, de Blasio still needs to sign over the Mets’ lease agreement with New York City.
The city plays a role in an ownership change because of the land Citi Field is on. The mayor commented on the transfer of the lease during his Monday morning press conference. De Blasio implied he would be moving forward very soon.
“This is something our Law Department is evaluating right now, and we obviously want to get to a resolution on this very quickly,” de Blasio said Monday. “The Law Department’s doing its due diligence right now. So, I’ll be getting a report from them soon. And it will just be based on the facts of the research they’ve done. And then we’ll speak to that again very quickly.”
The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
There is a real fear on Cohen’s side, according to a person familiar with the situation, that the Mets will be placed at a competitive disadvantage if de Blasio does not sign over the lease by the time MLB owners vote on his transfer of power.
If he waits to sign over that lease past Friday, when the owners are expected to vote and approve Cohen, then every group involved — Cohen, the Wilpons, and the Mets — will be placed in a hellish limbo.
“The worst-case scenario is if this drags on long enough, the Mets miss out on all major free agents, miss out on potential trades and they go into next season effectively in the same place they are this season,” said a person familiar with the situation. “And that would really be not good. If that happens, they’re effectively crippled for next season.”
The conclusion of the World Series between the Dodgers and Rays starts the countdown for free agency. Five days after a champion is crowned, MLB free agency begins. The World Series can wrap up with a Dodgers win on Tuesday, or a Game 7 on Wednesday. By the time hot stove season officially begins next week, Cohen is expected to be approved by MLB.
But Cohen will be in an operational standstill if de Blasio still has not signed the lease agreement by then. The hedge-fund tycoon, reported to have a $14 billion net worth according to Forbes, cannot make trades, cannot be in the race for JT Realmuto or Trevor Bauer and cannot hire new staff members or keep old ones until New York City approves the transfer of the lease.
“Steve Cohen wants to roll up his sleeves and get to work here as the next owner of the Mets,” said a person familiar with the Mets sale. “He loves this team, he’s passionate about this team and he’s passionate about winning and passionate about building. The sooner he can get to work, the better off it is for the franchise and better off it is for Mets fans. He really cares about the fans.”
It is not clear that de Blasio actually has the authority to block Cohen from owning the Mets. The Mets’ lease with New York City identifies that the mayor can interfere with the sale if the prospective owner is a “prohibited person.”
That term is defined as “any person that has been convicted in a criminal proceeding for a felony or any crime involving moral turpitude.”
Technically, Cohen has never been convicted or charged of a crime. His former hedge fund, SAC Capital, pled guilty to criminal insider-trading charges and agreed to pay a record $1.8 billion fine. Cohen was barred from managing money for clients for two years from 2016-18 as a result of a civil suit with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
As has been the case for several days, no one involved in the Mets sale process expects de Blasio to block Cohen’s approval. But the deadline for de Blasio to sign the lease, as the Daily News learned, is Friday or sooner for Cohen and the Mets to avoid being placed at a competitive disadvantage.
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