LOS ANGELES — Steve Cohen owns a first-place team that is dominating the NL East, but for now he is trying to stay grounded.
Even so, part of him will concede his Mets look pretty darn good.
“Forget about the 9 ½-game lead, it’s the way they are playing,” Cohen said before the Mets lost another game on that lead after their 6-1 loss on Friday night at Dodger Stadium, in his first comments to reporters since spring training. “We had a big lead last year, but it was different. This looks different. It’s still early. I am not going to get excited, because we know things can change. I will get excited in August.”
Cohen arrived in town Thursday night and was up at 4:30 a.m. Pacific time Friday for his “day job,” running his hedge fund, Point72. He then worked on his golf swing at Riviera Country Club before coming to the ballpark to watch his team.
Last season, Cohen became so frustrated with the Mets’ offense he issued an “infamous” tweet in August questioning how professional hitters can be so unproductive. This season he has no such gripes: the Mets entered play second in MLB with 271 runs scored.
“Professional hitters,” Cohen said. “I think it’s infectious. It’s like night and day.”
Cohen has said he wants the Mets to become the East Coast version of the Dodgers. He was asked if that goal is coming to fruition.
“I said at the beginning it’s going to take a while and we still have a ways to go,” Cohen said. “We are building up our infrastructure and I think that continues, we are making progress, but that is not a one- or two-year phenomenon. That’s going to take a while because there’s so many different parts.
“I know we’re making progress but I will never feel satisfied. That is not who I am. I am always trying to figure out where else we can go next and I am always in a state of constant improvement and that’s the way I want this organization to run.”
The Mets lead MLB with a $289 million payroll, as Cohen has looked to stay under the ostentatious number of $300 million. But that fiscal approach might not be set in stone.
“It’s only a number, right?” Cohen said. “There are lots of ways to figure it out. Either I will or I won’t. Maybe 299.9 or 300.1. Maybe I will do the 300.1 just for fun.”
He also said it’s too early to say if the Mets will look to make a splash before the trade deadline.
But Cohen admitted it has been surprising the team has withstood the loss of aces Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer to the injured list. Both pitchers are likely to return in July.
“If you asked me that question in spring training I would have said, ‘Boy that is going to be a problem.’ ” Cohen said, referring to losing his aces. “But we didn’t really know what we had. A lot of times you are hoping for the best, but it’s really been a team effort and it’s been across the board. I think it’s infectious.”
Cohen said he attends about 40 percent of the Mets’ home games and watches the rest on TV.
“The games are exciting,” Cohen said. “They are never out of it and it’s fun to watch. Just watching them come back, how fun is that? They are never out of it. The real problem is I don’t turn the TV off, because I have to stay up and watch. Before, you could turn the TV off and say they are not going to come back. Now you have got to leave the TV on.”
With the Mets and Yankees leading their respective divisions, Cohen was asked which team is better.
“I’m not going there,” Cohen said. “I am excited for New York. It’s great to have two great teams going at it.”