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Steve Cohen’s Deal to Buy the Mets Unlikely, M.L.B. Commissioner Says

The potential sale of the New York Mets to Steve Cohen, a billionaire hedge fund manager, is all but dead, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday.

“My belief is there’s not going to be a transaction,” Manfred told reporters at an owners meeting in Orlando, Fla., though he held out hope that the deal could be resurrected. “My soothsaying isn’t great. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Cohen had been negotiating with the Wilpon family, which controls the Mets, since the middle of last year. The Mets and Cohen announced in December that they were negotiating a deal in which Cohen would become the team’s majority owner. He has owned a small share of the team since 2011.

Spokesmen for Cohen Private Ventures and Sterling Partners, the Wilpon family entity that owns the Mets, both declined to comment on Manfred’s remarks.

The two sides reached an impasse over an unusual provision of the deal that would let Fred Wilpon, the managing owner of the Mets, and his son Jeff, the team’s chief operating officer, remain in their roles for five years after the completion of the sale, according to two people who were familiar with the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly. There was also a dispute over the schedule of payments Cohen would make.

Reacting to multiple reports that blamed the Wilpons for the negotiations failing, Manfred pushed back. “Based on conversations with the buyer and seller on an ongoing basis,” Manfred said, “the assertion that the transaction fell apart because of something that the Wilpons did is completely and utterly unfair.”

The Wilpon family first became co-owners of the Mets in 1986, and became controlling owners during the 2002 season. While the team has reached the World Series twice under their ownership, they have largely been unsuccessful, qualifying for the playoffs just six times in the past 33 seasons.

Mets fans have clamored for the Wilpons to sell for years, frustrated that the team plays in the country’s largest market yet often has a payroll more befitting a mid-market club. As spring training approaches, the Mets have the league’s eighth highest payroll.

This is not the first time a sale for a stake in the Mets has fallen apart late during negotiations. In 2011, the team announced a pending sale for a large, but not majority, share to David Einhorn, who like Cohen is a wealthy hedge fund manager. But four months later, the deal had fallen apart, with the two sides blaming each other for its collapse.

Whether in negotiations with their own partners, local officials or players they want to come to the Mets, the Wilpons have attained a reputation for making last-minute demands that have the potential to torpedo agreements.

David Waldstein contributed reporting.

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