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Hedge fund manager Cohen considers buying a piece of the Mets

By Svea Herbst-Bayliss

BOSTON (Reuters) - Hedge fund manager Steven A. Cohen, who is trying to buy the bankrupt Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, is considering taking a small stake in another team -- his hometown New York Mets, people familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

The billionaire trader, known for his knack in delivering strong and steady returns at his $14 billion SAC Capital Advisors, first flirted with the Mets early last year when the team tried to sell off one-third for $200 million.

The Mets eventually picked David Einhorn, another prominent hedge fund manager and life-long fan, but after that deal fell apart, the long-suffering team went shopping again.

The cash-strapped Mets lost more games than they won in 2011 and were in the news after owner Fred Wilpon fell victim to Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme. Now the team wants to sell off minority stakes for $20 million a piece.

For Cohen, who grew up in New York, has long known Wilpon and whose personal fortune is put at $8 billion, the price for a minority stake would be small.

People familiar with his thinking said that buying this stake would not take him out of the running to try to win the Dodgers. But if he were to beat out all other bidders for the Dodgers, Major League Baseball would require him to sell his stake in the Mets.

A spokesman for Cohen declined to comment.

The possible bid for a minority stake in the Mets was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Potential sales of stakes in Major League Baseball are vetted very carefully and the Los Angeles Times reported that Cohen has successfully passed the test.

Cohen is much admired in the hedge fund industry. Last year SAC delivered some of the hedge fund industry's best returns, gaining 8 percent when the average fund lost about 5 percent. The fund is said to be up about 2 percent this year, a person familiar with the numbers said.

Cohen faced the spotlight over allegations of improper trading at his Stamford, Connecticut-based fund after a technology analyst working for him was arrested and charged in January with having traded on insider information.

The arrest raises to four the number of people who have been either implicated or charged in the last two years with engaging in insider trading while working at SAC.

Neither Cohen nor his firm have been accused of any wrongdoing.

For hedge fund managers, owning a piece of major sports teams has long been an obsession. Jeffrey Vinik bought the Tampa Bay Lightning, John Henry is the principal owner of the Boston Red Sox and James Pallotta bought part of the Boston Celtics.

(Reporting By Svea Herbst-Bayliss; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)