George Springer and the new Mets

George Springer is a name that has been connected to the Mets since the offseason began. As of January 1st, he’s still not a Met and all reports seem to indicate that Springer and the team are pretty far apart in negotiations. Recent reporting has the Mets holding fast at four years and Springer asking for six and an excess of 150 million dollars. That seems to indicate he’s asking for at least 25 million a year, which is probably a fairly reasonable salary for the veteran considering how talented he is. The problem with the Springer situation is that it seems to have put the Mets offseason temporarily on hold. Outside of rumors that the Mets might be closing in on signing top Japanese pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano, all other rumors seem to be pending what happens with Springer, possibly even extension talks with Michael Conforto.

Why is this? It appears to be that Steve Cohen, the extremely wealthy new Mets owner, has put a bit of a salary cap on spending. The luxury tax in professional baseball kicks in after a team exceeds 210 million on player salaries. The tax rate is 20% for up to the first 20 million dollars and then increases from there. That doesn’t seem like a huge amount in the grand scheme of baseball salaries. For instance, if the Mets salaries added up to 220 million, Cohen would pay 2 million to Major League Baseball, where it would be evenly distributed to player benefits and lower salary organizations.

The issue is less about 2021 and more about future seasons. If the Mets go over the tax this year it is extremely likely that they will be over the tax next year, when you consider player additions, increased salaries to current arbitration players and first time eligible players like Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil. With each consecutive occurrence, the percentage increases, maxing out at a 50% rate after a third consecutive year. Cohen has said he would “probably go over the tax” at some point, but also wanted to maintain “payroll flexibility” for the future. That seems to indicate that Cohen isn’t ready to start paying any level of tax this year and wants to see how the team performs before crossing that threshold in the future.

This is why the Springer situation is so important. Signing Springer to an annual salary of 25 to 27 million would put the Mets at about 25 million below the tax line. If they sign Sugano, that would probably dip that figure to 12 or 13 million. That makes it difficult to sign a second starting pitcher or a high end bullpen arm like Liam Hendricks or Brad Hand. However, at least the Mets would then know how close they were to the tax line. It would also open the door for other moves, like trades. Without Springer though, the centerfield situation is still very much up in the air, with everyone agreeing that Brandon Nimmo isn’t the answer there moving forward, but is the current starter. Other options exist on both the trade market and in free agency, but they are a significant step down from Springer.

Luckily for the Mets the offseason has been exceedingly slow in developing. All of the big name free agents are still available and trade targets like Francisco Lindor could still be reachable since it seems their markets aren’t very robust. This puts the Mets in the driver’s seat for a lot of possible moves and allows them to wait out Springer. It would be nice to have some finality in this long back and forth with the centerfielder, but it also doesn’t make sense for the Mets to bid against themselves just to move forward with other moves.

Despite all of this, 2021 still appears to be a year in which Mets fans can finally feel good about the organization. It has money. It’s involved with nearly every major player that hits the market, whether via trade rumors or free agency. It has a new front office that not only is committed to modern baseball, like analytics, but is also actually built from baseball minds, as opposed to a big name or a random outsider like Brodie Van Wanegan. So yes, we are all waiting on a move. We are all sitting back and, as Mets fans, can’t help but think “same old Mets, always rumored to but never actually getting the big name”. You know, like Vladimir Guerrero, Alex Rodriguez and many others. But it’s not the same. This is what good teams in the Mets position do and goes to show what Sandy Alderson might have been able to do in his first tenure with the Mets if he wasn’t working under the frugality of the Wilpon family.

Hold tight in this new year, Mets fans. This front office is going to make this team better. It already has and will continue to do so. It will do it without sacrificing the team’s future, both in prospects and in long term salary. Hopefully, this new year will also be a beginning, not just of a new season, but also of an extended time of success and relevancy. Happy New Year all! Looking forward to it.

Spending Steve Cohen’s money

Steve Cohen is a breath of fresh air. He also has a lot of money. Since officially becoming the Mets new owner, Cohen has made statements about how he’s “doing this for the fans”, “makes my money elsewhere” and “we’ll spend like a big market team”. It’s refreshing after years and years of the Wilpon Family’s at best frugal, at worst unbearably cheap treatment of a team in the largest sports market in the world. For the Wilpons, the Mets were not a team. The Mets were a significant part of their investment portfolio, one that needed to be protected for the day that the family could sell it for top dollar and slink back with the profits to their Sterling Equities offices in Great Neck.

Replacing the Wilpons thrifty ways with Cohen’s multi-billion dollar bank account has made Mets fans into giddy children again, pulling out our baseball cards, looking at the stats on the back and putting them all on our team. We’re getting J.T. Realmuto, Brad Hand, Trevor Bauer, George Springer, Marcel Ozuna and trading for Francisco Lindor. It’s in the bank!

Look, it’s great to be excited and Mets fans deserve it. Except for a short time in the mid-eighties and that one magical season in 1969, the Mets have always been the second team in town and part of that has been about ownership. The Wilpons weren’t the first cheap owners in Mets history. M. Donald Grant, who was named chairman of the team after The Mets first owner Joan Payson’s death, didn’t want to pay Tom Seaver, leading to one of the worst trades in Mets history. He also actively opposed free agency and refused to engage in acquiring players that way, all while George Steinbrenner and the Yankees created a super team in the late 1970’s in the Bronx. This team’s inability to maintain long term viability created an environment in which a man like Cohen, who is doing this as a fan, has created a level of excitement in this team that has so rarely happened in it’s nearly 60 year history.

Yet let’s also be realistic. This is still about building a team and Cohen is a smart businessman. He might be doing this because he loves the Mets and has been a fan since the team’s inception, but if we think he’s going to spend money without regard for the resulting product, we’re letting our exuberance get the best of us.

Currently the Mets are pursuing James McCann instead of Realmuto. That’s an example of a smart decision. McCann was a backup catcher early in his career and doesn’t have Realmuto’s injury history. With less injuries and less mileage on his body, McCann, who might cost half as much as Realmuto, makes a lot more sense, from an on the field, team building and financial perspective.

On the other side of that coin is Hand. Hand is a terrific left handed reliever. The Mets need a lefty in the bullpen, but this really isn’t a viable plan. The Mets just signed Trevor May, a flame throwing righty who seems to slot perfectly into the 7th or 8th inning and could potentially put together an intimidating back end of the bullpen alongside closer Edwin Diaz and Seth Lugo. Hand is not coming to the Mets to be the eighth inning guy that gives the glory to Diaz in the 9th and Cohen’s money isn’t going to change that. Additionally, just how much money are we expecting the Mets to spend in the bullpen, a place where dollars notoriously do not always generate productivity. Jeurys Familia anyone? With May on board, the Mets really just need to resign someone like Justin Wilson, who can probably be had for something akin to the 5 million a year he’s made with the club the last two years. Such a move would again be both smart short term and long term, while allowing the Mets to maintain liquidity.

This concept also feeds into the idea of Springer and Bauer. Springer is probably going to make around 27 million a year. Bauer could make 30 million a year. The luxury tax threshold this year is 210 million and Cohen has never committed to spending money in a way that would incur penalties. That means the Mets have roughly 84 million dollars left to spend, after May’s contract and taking into account the suspension of Robinson Cano. If you assume a catcher like McCann is going to make around 10 to 12 million a year, that leaves around 70 million to spend before crossing the threshold and paying luxury tax penalties. That seems to point to the fact that the Mets should probably only sign one of these players. Remember, Noah Syndergaard is going to be a free agent next year. So is Michael Conforto. Conforto deserves a significant extension and if Syndergaard returns to form after his return from Tommy John surgery, he’ll need one too. Let’s not forget that Cano will come back, and be owed 20 million in 2022 and 2023. Committing 57 million annually to Springer and Bauer, both over 30, could preclude the Mets from extending two key, homegrown, much younger stars.

Also, the Mets need more than just one starting pitcher since they can’t rely on Steven Matz and David Peterson, despite plenty of promise, has only thrown 49.2 innings in the major leagues. How would Mets fans feel if they committed less dollars and years to Jackie Bradley Jr., a plus fielder in center who is going to cost half of what Springer does and would allow Brandon Nimmo to move to leftfield, his best defensive position. Or how about Ozuna, a plus defender in leftfield that would help make up for Nimmo’s lack of range in centerfield. Either would allow the Mets to sign Bauer and a bounce back starting pitching candidate like Jake Odorizzi, Chris Archer, or Anthony DeScaflani on a shorter term deal. All together, that kind of combination makes more sense for the future of the roster, leaving money available to sign the Mets own players and manage the return of Cano’s contract.

The ultimate frenzied fan response involves a trade with the Indians for Lindor. Lindor is a generational talent, but there are a lot of factors that make this move extremely unlikely. Money is a big part. If you trade for Lindor, you have to extend Lindor. That’s going to be a 30 million a year deal. He’s worth the money, but it means gutting an already weak farm system and limiting moves at other positions. The thing is, the Mets have two major league shortstops right now in Andres Gimenez and Amed Rosario, as well as top prospect Ronny Mauricio, who is probably two years away. Lindor is just a luxury. He’s a terrific one, but he’s not one the Mets need.

Look Mets fans should be excited, but we still need to be realistic in our elation. As much as we all want this to be the old school strat-o-matic board game, where we could make whatever super team we wanted, Cohen’s money isn’t going to create that. Used wisely and with expediency, the Mets could use that money to create a team that could win a division and march to the World Series. It’s something that is very real and exciting, even if a super team is not.

Dominic Smith has arrived

On September 17th, the Mets were in a dire position. The game with the Phillies had been a back and forth affair. The Mets had jumped out to a three to nothing lead in the top of the first inning, but had not only lost the lead, but were down six to three after the Phillies finished batting in the bottom of the second inning. The Mets had battled back to tie the game at six in the top of the sixth inning and the bullpen had kept things tied through the next two innings. Then came the bottom of the eighth inning. With the game still tied and two out, Luis Rojas put Justin Wilson into the game to pitch to Bryce Harper. Wilson was erratic immediately and became visibly frustrated on the mound. He walked Harper and then walked the batter after Harper to load the bases. With Didi Gregorius at the plate, Wilson immediately fell behind two balls to no strikes. It was a moment where someone needed to step up, to talk to Wilson, to do something to stem the tide. That person was Dominic Smith. The young first baseman walked over to Wilson, said a few words and walked back. On the next pitch, Wilson threw a ball that had just enough plate to get the aggressive Gregorius to swing, resulting in an easy fly ball to center field. The Mets got out of the inning and took the lead ten to six in the bottom of the frame. Smith also went three for five in the game with two runs scored and two RBI, falling a home run short of the cycle.

Dominic Smith came into his own in 2020. His bat and place amongst his teammates are part of that emergence, as is a social conscience that lead to a personal protest of social injustice on August 26th followed by a team supported protest on August 27th. At 25, Mets fans can’t ask much more from this young man.

Dominic Smith was supposed to be a star. That’s what the draft pundits said when the Mets selected him 11th overall in the 2013 draft. Great glove, smooth stroke, best pure hitter in the high school ranks, were all statements thrown around by the likes of Keith Law, Jonathan Mayo, and other top draft evaluators of Major League Baseball talent. His minor league career showed promise immediately, with an .837 OPS in his first 206 plate appearances after signing his contract in 2013. His progress seemed to stall a bit over the next two years though. He showed very little power, only hitting seven home runs in over 1000 plate appearances combined in 2014 and 2015. It was a case in which evaluators began to wonder if he would hit enough and for enough power to become a major league first baseman or whether he was on his way towards first round bust status. There were also questions about his motivation and physical fitness. In 2016 and 2017 though, he seemed to finally build on his promising debut with an .824 OPS in 2016 and .905 OPS in 2017 before being called up to the major leagues.

His major league debut was mixed. He showed more power than he had in the minors, hitting nine home runs in his first 180 plate appearances but also struck out more than expected. He was 22 years old though and the hope was that Smith would continue to show progress in 2018.

He had competition though.  In 2016 the Mets had drafted another first baseman, Pete Alonso, in the 2nd round. Alonso came on with a bang, posting a .969 OPS after being drafted, followed up by an .889 OPS and 18 homeruns in 393 plate appearances in 2017. It was clear that these two players were closing in on each other. They were the same age (Smith is 6 months older) and would most likely play at the same level in 2018. How would that work? What would both players do?

2018 seemed to answer that question and not to the benefit of Smith. Alonso played at both Double-A and Triple-A and posted a .975 OPS with 36 home runs while Smith floundered at both the major and minor league level. Due to Alonso’s emergence, the Mets had Smith play games at both the major league and minor league level in left field, a position he had played in high school but didn’t appear to have the body type to play successfully. Smith’s strike out rate at the major league level in 2018 went up alarmingly as his walk rate decreased significantly, creating questions about his plate discipline. Five years into his professional baseball career, Smith was now being labelled a bust.

When spring training commenced prior to the 2019 season, the Mets first round pick from 2013 didn’t appear to have a place on the team. Alonso was the rising star now and Smith was just viewed as one more failure of the Mets minor league system. It appeared that Smith had faltered with the competition from Alonso and the lingering questions about his motivation appeared to have been proven correct.

However, that was just the perception of the fans and media following the team. What we all didn’t know was that Smith didn’t feel intimidated by Alonso’s rise. He instead focused on his physical fitness and spent time in the offseason working on playing left field. Instead of feeling slighted by a second-round pick who had been with the Mets for three fewer years than he had been, Smith supported Alonso and they became friends. Smith became well liked in the clubhouse for his fun personality and intelligence. He engaged in appropriate after hours bonding with his teammates, like dinners and playing video games in hotel rooms. He worked hard and made the team out of spring training as mostly a bench bat with Alonso penciled in as the starter at first base. Smith played sparingly as the season commenced, but he didn’t gripe. He continued to be a good clubhouse presence and the same fun and energetic person that he had been during the spring. He focused on maximizing his time when in the lineup. Smith became an adept pinch hitter, posting a 1.031 OPS and hitting two home runs in 37 such plate appearances and hit when given time to start, whether that was at first base or in left field. Despite Alonso having an historic rookie season, Smith forced his way into the lineup, posting a .939 OPS prior to the all-star break before injuries effected his play in the second half of the year.

In 2020, Smith walked into this Covid-19 shortened season with the same issue. He had to play his way into the lineup and did so in spectacular fashion. By season’s end, Smith lead the team in Doubles, OPS, SLG and RBI. He finished the season tied for sixth in the National League in RBI, second in Doubles, seventh in Batting Average, third in SLG, and third in OPS. In fact, if you look at his statistics, his season compares very favorably with Freddie Freeman, the star first baseman of the Atlanta Braves for the past decade and a significant MVP candidate for 2020. That’s a pretty high comparison.

His stats and locker room presence are just part of it though. In 2016, Smith founded Baseball Generations, a nonprofit organization that helps inner city children. It’s a program that offers free daily practices for kids, as well as assistance with youth who want to join a travel team yet can’t afford the cost. It also runs large camps during the offseason where Smith and other major leaguers come to run drills and spend time with the children. Yes, it’s all focused on baseball, but Smith see’s it as more than that. As he said once when discussing his foundation, Smith said, referencing the kids he works with, “They’re not worth anything less than any other kid”.

These feelings and his observations of what was going on in the world around him lead to his own form of personal protest. On August 26th, Smith took a knee during the national anthem. He explained in his post-game press conference that it was related to both the Jacob Blake situation in Wisconsin and his own experiences as a black man in the United States, including being refused service at a dining establishment in March after he and J.D. Davis left spring training to get some food. Smith cried during these statements and expressed how difficult the day leading up to the game on 8/26 had been for him. His feelings can be summarized in two quotes he made during the presser, “the most difficult part is to see people still don’t care” and “kneeling just isn’t enough.”

On August 27th, his teammates backed him up. With the support of the Marlins, the team they were playing, Smith, his teammates and the Marlins entered the field. They stood quietly for 42 seconds with Lewis Brinson, the only black player on the Marlins, standing in the batter’s box. The two teams then walked off the field, with Smith laying a Black Lives Matter tee-shirt over home plate. Smith and three of his teammates, Michael Conforto, Robinson Cano and Dellin Betances then did a video conference together, showing solidarity in the situation. Considering the political and social climate at the time, the fact that this happened just showed how much Smith mattered in the eyes of his teammates.

Smith might get traded this offseason. His fit on the team is awkward, especially if the designated hitter is not a part of that National League moving forward as it was in 2020. Smith has worked hard at becoming a left fielder, but as the season progressed in 2020, he inevitably ended up at his natural position of first base while Alonso became the teams primary designated hitter. If Smith were to play left field for the Mets in the future, an upgrade in center field would be necessary. He’s also young, has shown that he wants to be a part of the organization in any way possible and is under team control until 2025. His trade value is exceptionally high right now and the Mets do need to make a lot of tough choices regarding roster construction this offseason if the organization is finally to get back to being a consistently successful franchise.

A winning organization is built on talent, character and leadership and Smith has all three of those attributes. Whatever people feel about Black Lives Matter, Covid-19, the divisions in this country and the politics of the moment, having a young man on this team who is confident enough to lead both on the field with his play and off the field with his charisma and character is of vital importance. Dominic Smith has arrived, and Mets fans should hope he is a part of the future.

Dominic Smith has arrived

On September 17th, the Mets were in a dire position. The game with the Phillies had been a back and forth affair. The Mets had jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning, but had not only lost the lead, but were down 6-3 after the Phillies finished batting in the bottom of the second. The Mets had battled back to tie the game 6-6 in the top of the sixth and the bullpen had kept things tied through the next two innings. Then came the bottom of the eighth. With the game still tied and two out, Luis Rojas put Justin Wilson into the game to pitch to Bryce Harper. Wilson was erratic immediately and became visibly frustrated on the mound. He walked Harper and then walked the batter after Harper to load the bases. With Didi Gregorius at the plate, Wilson immediately fell behind two balls to no strikes. It was a moment where someone needed to step up, to talk to Wilson, to do something to stem the tide. That person was Dominic Smith. The young first baseman walked over to Wilson, said a few words and walked back. On the next pitch, Wilson threw a ball that had just enough plate to get the aggressive Gregorius to swing, resulting in an easy fly ball to center field. The Mets got out of the inning and took the lead 10-6 in the bottom of the frame. Smith also went three for five in the game with two runs scored and two RBI, falling a home run short of the cycle.

Smith came into his own in 2020. His bat and place amongst his teammates are part of that emergence, as is a social conscience that lead to a personal protest of social injustice on August 26th followed by a team supported protest on August 27th. At 25, Mets fans can’t ask much more from this young man.

Smith was supposed to be a star. That’s what the draft pundits said when the Mets selected him 11th overall in the 2013 draft. Great glove, smooth stroke, best pure hitter in the high school ranks, were all statements thrown around by the likes of Keith Law, Jonathan Mayo, and other top draft evaluators of Major League Baseball talent. His minor league career showed promise immediately, with an .837 OPS in his first 206 plate appearances after signing his contract in 2013. His progress seemed to stall a bit over the next two years though. He showed very little power, only hitting seven home runs in over 1,000 plate appearances combined in 2014 and 2015. It was a case in which evaluators began to wonder if he would hit enough and for enough power to become a major league first baseman or whether he was on his way towards first round bust status. There were also questions about his motivation and physical fitness. In 2016 and 2017 though, he seemed to finally build on his promising debut with an .824 OPS in 2016 and .905 OPS in 2017 before being called up to the major leagues.

His major league debut was mixed. He showed more power than he had in the minors, hitting nine home runs in his first 180 plate appearances but also struck out more than expected. He was 22 years old though and the hope was that Smith would continue to show progress in 2018.

He had competition though. In 2016 the Mets had drafted another first baseman, Pete Alonso, in the 2nd round. Alonso came on with a bang, posting a .969 OPS after being drafted, followed up by an .889 OPS and 18 homeruns in 393 plate appearances in 2017. It was clear that these two players were closing in on each other. They were the same age (Smith is six months older) and would most likely play at the same level in 2018. How would that work? What would both players do?

That year seemed to answer that question and not to the benefit of Smith. Alonso played at both Double-A and Triple-A and posted a .975 OPS with 36 home runs while Smith floundered at both the major and minor league level. Due to Alonso’s emergence, the Mets had Smith play games at both the major league and minor league level in left field, a position he had played in high school but didn’t appear to have the body type to play successfully. Smith’s strike out rate at the major league level in 2018 went up alarmingly as his walk rate decreased significantly, creating questions about his plate discipline. Five years into his professional baseball career, Smith was now being labelled a bust.

When spring training commenced prior to the 2019 season, the Mets first-round pick from 2013 didn’t appear to have a place on the team. Alonso was the rising star now and Smith was just viewed as one more failure of the Mets minor league system. It appeared that Smith had faltered with the competition from Alonso and the lingering questions about his motivation appeared to have been proven correct.

However, that was just the perception of the fans and media following the team. What we all didn’t know was that Smith didn’t feel intimidated by Alonso’s rise. He instead focused on his physical fitness and spent time in the offseason working on playing left field. Instead of feeling slighted by a second-round pick who had been with the Mets for three fewer years than he had been, Smith supported Alonso and they became friends. Smith became well liked in the clubhouse for his fun personality and intelligence. He engaged in appropriate after hours bonding with his teammates, like dinners and playing video games in hotel rooms. He worked hard and made the team out of spring training as mostly a bench bat with Alonso penciled in as the starter at first base. Smith played sparingly as the season commenced, but he didn’t gripe. He continued to be a good clubhouse presence and the same fun and energetic person that he had been during the spring. He focused on maximizing his time when in the lineup. Smith became an adept pinch hitter, posting a 1.031 OPS and hitting two home runs in 37 such plate appearances and hit when given time to start, whether that was at first base or in left field. Despite Alonso having an historic rookie season, Smith forced his way into the lineup, posting a .939 OPS prior to the all-star break before injuries effected his play in the second half of the year.

In 2020, Smith walked into this Covid-19 shortened season with the same issue. He had to play his way into the lineup and did so in spectacular fashion. By season’s end, Smith lead the team in Doubles, OPS, SLG and RBI. He finished the season tied for sixth in the National League in RBI, second in Doubles, seventh in Batting Average, third in SLG, and third in OPS. In fact, if you look at his statistics, his season compares very favorably with Freddie Freeman, the star first baseman of the Atlanta Braves for the past decade and a significant MVP candidate for 2020. That’s a pretty high comparison.

His stats and locker room presence are just part of it though. In 2016, Smith founded Baseball Generations, a nonprofit organization that helps inner city children. It’s a program that offers free daily practices for kids, as well as assistance with youth who want to join a travel team yet can’t afford the cost. It also runs large camps during the offseason where Smith and other major leaguers come to run drills and spend time with the children. Yes, it’s all focused on baseball, but Smith see’s it as more than that. As he said once when discussing his foundation, Smith said, referencing the kids he works with, “They’re not worth anything less than any other kid.”

These feelings and his observations of what was going on in the world around him lead to his own form of personal protest. On August 26th, Smith took a knee during the national anthem. He explained in his post-game press conference that it was related to both the Jacob Blake situation in Wisconsin and his own experiences as a black man in the United States, including being refused service at a dining establishment in March after he and J.D. Davis left spring training to get some food. Smith cried during these statements and expressed how difficult the day leading up to the game on 8/26 had been for him. His feelings can be summarized in two quotes he made during the presser, “the most difficult part is to see people still don’t care” and “kneeling just isn’t enough.”

On August 27th, his teammates backed him up. With the support of the Marlins, the team they were playing, Smith, his teammates and the Marlins entered the field. They stood quietly for 42 seconds with Lewis Brinson, the only black player on the Marlins, standing in the batter’s box. The two teams then walked off the field, with Smith laying a Black Lives Matter tee-shirt over home plate. Smith and three of his teammates, Michael Conforto, Robinson Cano and Dellin Betances then did a video conference together, showing solidarity in the situation. Considering the political and social climate at the time, the fact that this happened just showed how much Smith mattered in the eyes of his teammates.

Smith might get traded this offseason. His fit on the team is awkward, especially if the designated hitter is not a part of that National League moving forward as it was in 2020. Smith has worked hard at becoming a left fielder, but as the season progressed in 2020, he inevitably ended up at his natural position of first base while Alonso became the teams primary designated hitter. If Smith were to play left field for the Mets in the future, an upgrade in center field would be necessary. He’s also young, has shown that he wants to be a part of the organization in any way possible and is under team control until 2025. His trade value is exceptionally high right now and the Mets do need to make a lot of tough choices regarding roster construction this offseason if the organization is finally to get back to being a consistently successful franchise.

A winning organization is built on talent, character and leadership and Smith has all three of those attributes. Whatever people feel about Black Lives Matter, Covid-19, the divisions in this country and the politics of the moment, having a young man on this team who is confident enough to lead both on the field with his play and off the field with his charisma and character is of vital importance. Smith has arrived, and Mets fans should hope he is a part of the future.

Building a team to win around Jacob deGrom: A 2021 roster construction

The New York Mets are entering a new era. Steve Cohen is going to buy the team and should spend money. All signs point to Brodie Van Wagenen being removed from his post as general manager. The team has a lot of excellent young position players and has arguably the best pitcher in baseball in Jacob deGrom.

But as we’ve seen in the last 15 years, such concepts are fleeting with this organization. The 2006 Mets were the best team in baseball and if not for Yadier Molina, would have won the organization’s third World Series title that year behind the talents of two young stars in David Wright and Jose Reyes and a superstar veteran in Carlos Beltran. Three years later the Mets won 70 games. In 2015 the team made it to the World Series behind a young pitching staff that was arguably the best in baseball. Five years later, only deGrom remains at that level as all of the others have fallen off, are not on the team or are injured.

Even with the losing year in the Covid-19 shortened season of 2020, the Mets appear to be on the threshold of success. Dominic Smith and Michael Conforto came into their own as leaders and baseball players this year. Jeff McNeil is an intense player who maximizes every ounce of his ability, all while growing into the perfect super utility player, able to play everyday because he can fill in at second base, third base or a corner outfield spot. Despite not having as monumental a year as his rookie season, Pete Alonso showed that he is still a force by posting an .817 OPS and 16 home runs in only 239 plate appearances. Then there is deGrom, who will not win a third straight Cy Young award, but still lead the National League in strikeouts and posted his third consecutive ERA under 2.50.

That is what we call a foundation to build on, and the most promising one since probably that 2006 season. The difference though is that 2006 was built on a lot of veterans, which doesn’t always mean for long term success. The core of this team, outside of deGrom, are all in their young to mid-20’s. However, deGrom is the lynchpin to a championship. The Mets don’t have a stud pitcher like him in the system right now. The best pitching prospects the organization has are lower in the system and no one is currently projecting those players to be as good as deGrom. deGrom is a once in a lifetime player and is arguably the second-best pitcher in Mets history behind Tom Seaver.

2021 is such an unknown. Will Covid-19 impact the sport the way it did this year? Will baseball have to radically change to have a 162 game season again? Will the designated hitter really remain in the National League? How will Cohen use his money? Who will be the Mets general manager? Will Sandy Alderson really be team president again? The list goes on. Saying all of that, there is a road to greater success that could lead to a championship if it’s done right.

What needs to change?

The Mets have a major hole at catcher and in its pitching staff. Edwin Diaz seemed to find himself again this year, but the bullpen is still a bit of a mess and the starting rotation has at least two holes that need to be filled. On top of that, the team still needs a real center fielder.

So how do we build a roster to meet these needs and still retain the important pieces that the Mets have today?

The first step was what team options to pick up and what players would most likely pick up their options. The only option that was picked up was Robinson Chirinos, for several reasons. One reason is that he is only one year removed from being really good. Another is that he’s a plus defender with some power. He’s also only making 6.5 million dollars, which when coupled with not picking up Wilson Ramos’ option, saves the Mets some money to use elsewhere. Todd Frazier was an easy cut as well as why he was on the team in the first place is a bit of a mystery and he just doesn’t fit with what’s on the roster.

It should be expected that Dellin Betances and Brad Brach will pick up their perspective options. Both underperformed and probably won’t get the money on their contracts with the Mets that they would elsewhere. The Mets can walk away from Betances, but that would cost half of his salary, so it’s a better call for the Mets to hold on to him and hope he rebounds in his second year back from injuries.

These Mets also will give work out arbitration deals with most of their eligible players, except Paul Sewald. Sewald will probably make it through waivers and hopefully will accept a minor league deal, but he has proven to be a borderline major league pitcher and the Mets should move on. At this point a small trade would also be made regarding another arbitration eligible player when these Mets trade Robert Gsellman to the Indians for catcher Austin Hedges.

This is a classic new scenery trade for both players. Gsellman really struggled this year, but would be able to join a great pitching staff on which he could carve out a role as a bank end starter, swing man or middle reliever. Since he’s also pretty dirt cheap arbitration wise, it makes sense for the Indians. Hedges has been awful this year and has never live dup to his prospect billing, but he is a good defensive catcher that’s cheap and has power.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because this teams concept at catcher was to focus on defense and monetary value. These Mets could have signed J.T. Realmuto or James McCann, the top two catchers on the market, but both are over thirty and would require a legitimate investment. Realmuto will probably be 23 to 27 million a year and McCann will probably earn somewhere between 11 and 15 million a year. Both will also require long term contracts, which are very dangerous for catchers past thirty. These Mets will pass and will hope that Chirinos has something left in the tank and Hedges finds his way towards the stardom that had been predicted for him. At worst, the combo should hit 20 plus home runs and play excellent defense behind the plate, all for what will probably be approximately 10 million dollars, less than McCann would make and over half of what Realmuto will make.

Why does the money matter so much with our billionaire new owner? Because the money we need will be spent on two of the best free agents on the market, Trevor Bauer and George Springer.

Bauer seems to be ideal. A pitcher who wants short term deals to maximize his value. He could probably be had for a 1 year, 21 million dollar deal with a player option at that rate. He would be a classic number two starter and would create a stunningly good rotation if Noah Syndergaard returns healthy from Tommy John surgery during the season.

Springer is a ridiculously good player and the Mets will have to pay for him. In researching Springer and trying to get an accurate feel for his contract, it became apparent that the only really comparable players were Mookie Betts and Christian Yelich. That’s high praise and not hyperbole. Springer is an elite center fielder with a legitimate bat that plays at home and away. Despite playing in a hitters haven in Houston, his OPS is actually bad on the road for his career. He has hit over 30 leadoff home runs and is arguably the best leadoff hitter in baseball. He’s so good that he made 21 million in arbitration this year. He’s also from Connecticut and has expressed interest in playing in New York or Boston, so the interest is there. Again though, the Mets will have to pay. Best guess would be 5 years, 130 million with a player option for year 6. That figure comes from a comparison with Betts and Yelich. That makes his annually salary fall in between both players and ends his contract in the same age year as both, while also offering a player option. That’s a lot of money, but Springer is the type of talent that really fills needs on this team.

The pursuit of Springer was coupled with a different pursuit, the active desire to trade Brandon Nimmo. Nimmo is a really good offensive player and would have a spot on the team if not for Conforto, Smith and Alonso. Nimmo is a corner outfielder and has proven that he’s not a center fielder. His presence makes the team worse defensively and moving him to left or right would, by domino effect, take away at bat’s in some shape or form from those three young stars. In looking for a trade partner, the Padres seemed to make the most sense as he would be a cheap controllable piece who could slide into left field and give the team the leadoff hitter it needs. What would the Mets get back? It’s hard to tell, but the following trade seemed fair: Nimmo to the Padres for Adrian Morejon, Emilio Pagan and Greg Allen.

Pagan would immediately slide into the setup man role for Diaz and could close if Diaz falters. He also allows the Mets to keep Seth Lugo in the starting rotation. Morejon is a 21 year old flame throwing left hander who has good control. He had some success in the majors this year and could be a future part of the team that would probably start in Triple-A this year. Allen is a journeyman, under control, outfielder who can play all three spots and will be a nice reserve coming off of the bench as a defensive replacement, sport starter and pinch runner.

The Mets would also work to re-sign Justin Wilson, who pitched well for the Mets these past two years and take a shot on Taijuan Walker, who had a nice bounce back year, but will probably come cheap as he has had a very injury plagued career. This will also allow Steven Matz to move back into the bullpen or rotation, depending on his performance and not place such an onus on him, as was done when he pitched second in the rotation, lost his confidence quickly and had trouble regaining it.

All of that leaves us with the following 26 man roster:

Catcher
Robinson Chirinos – 6.5 million
Austin Hedges – 3.5 million

First Base
Pete Alonso – league minimum
Dominic Smith – 3 million

Second Base
Robinson Cano 24 million

Shortstop
Amed Rosario 2 million

Third Base
J.D. Davis 2.5 Million

Utility
Jeff McNeil – league minimum
Luis Guillorme – league minimum

Outfield
Michael Conforto Right Field – 15 million
George Springer Center Field – 26 million
Greg Allen Reserve – league minimum

Starting Pitcher
Jacob deGrom – 35.5 million
Trevor Bauer – 21 million
Seth Lugo – 4 million
David Peterson – league minimum
Steven Matz – 5 million
Taijuan Walker – 6.5 million

Bullpen
Edwin Diaz – 10 million
Justin Wilson – 6 million
Emilio Pagan – league minimum
Jeurys Familia – 11.67 million
Dellin Betances – 6 million
Chasen Shreve – 2.5 million
Miguel Castro – 1.5 million
Brad Brach – 1.25 million

Miscellaneous
Noah Syndergaard – Injured reserve – 11 million
Buyouts totaling 3 million dollars for Frazier and Ramos
$3.5 million from the Seattle Mariners.

All of these moves put the Mets right up on the threshold of the 210 million dollar luxury tax, and until the new owner shows that he is willing to pay that luxury tax, 210 million should be used as a reasonable cap.

Is this team better? Yes. The starting staff is better and the bullpen is too with Pagan and a hopefully rejuvenated Betances. It’s also a defensively better team that will score more runs than they did last year. This team could compete for a league title or championship. Let’s just hope that Cohen proves that he can spend this way. deGrom deserves the chance at another postseason.

Ron Hunt and the 1962 to 1967 Mets

Could we put together a division made up of the different Mets eras? Who would be victorious? What team would finish in last? How competitive would the different eras be?

Let’s start with developing the 25-man roster for the Mets teams prior to the Gil Hodges era that began in 1968.

The New York Mets from 1962 to 1967 were notorious for how bad they were, losing over 100 games in five of those first six years.  They only missed losing 100 games all six years by losing 95 in in 1966. There are many reasons for this, including lack of talent. However, if you look at the teams of that era, it wasn’t that there was no talent, but more that the Mets’ management couldn’t build a roster in a way that made sense based on the talent they did locate. Such players were scattered on incomplete or in transitional rosters, which seemed to be the modus operandi of Mets management prior to Hodges taking over in 1968.

In building this roster, the concept was to build a team, not just the best 25 players. It was also to try to avoid having players on the roster that were traded for each other in an effort to show what a 1960’s Mets roster could have been. No players who had a major impact in the Hodges-managed Mets were included either and that will be noted when discussing the specific positions.

Catcher:

Jesse Gonder 1964

Chris Cannizzaro 1964

Choo-Choo Coleman 1962

Catcher was a bit of a black hole for the Mets before Jerry Grote took over in 1966, but of those early Mets teams, the 1964 group was the best. Gonder was mostly an offensive catcher and led the league in passed balls in 1963, but he posted a nearly .700 OPS and threw out 43% of would be runners, higher than the league average of 40%. Cannizzaro had one of the best years of his career in 1964, posting a .739 OPS, throwing out 59% of would be baserunners and providing solid defense behind the plate. Coleman is one of those Mets that is famous for being a part of that hapless 1962 team, but he was actually pretty good that year. Coleman posted a .744 OPS in 1962 and was at least league average behind the plate. This group, by rotating, would have not only limited each players faults but provided a pretty solid backstop for the team. Why three catchers? In the 1960’s, with smaller pitching staffs, having extra players that had limited positional versatility, like catchers, was pretty common, especially considering the toll the position took on the body.

First Base:

Frank Thomas 1962

Tim Harkness 1963

This is where a minor stretch had to be made to the 25 man roster, for several reasons. One was that Ed Kranepool wasn’t eligible due to his participation in the Hodges era Mets. That severally limited options at first base since Kranepool was the everyday first baseman for the team starting in 1965 and was a regular in 1964. The other issue was Thomas. Thomas had to be on the roster as he had what was arguably the best Mets offensive season of the pre-Hodges era. Thomas hit 34 home runs in 1962, which was the Mets high water mark until Dave Kingman was on the roster in the mid-seventies. He also had an .824 OPS, one of the highest marks until the 1969 team. Thomas was awful in the field though and was tried at multiple positions in 1962, including a smattering of games at first base. He spent more time at that position in an injury plagued 1963 and in 1964 before being traded to the Phillies, where he was the starting first baseman in their playoff run down the stretch. Thomas wasn’t a good first baseman, but that was part of the reason for the inclusion of Harkness, who was an extremely good defensive first baseman with a minimal bat.

Second Base:

Ron Hunt 1964

Hunt was one of the best players on those early Mets teams, making the all-star team twice in the four years he was with the club. In 1964, one of those all-star seasons, Hunt posted a .763 OPS, batted .303 and posted a 3.2 bWAR. Hunt wasn’t a great defender, but he was solid and played hard every moment of every game.

Shortstop:

Roy McMillan 1965

Shortstop was a position that went throughout a lot of different players before Bud Harrelson took control in 1967, but the best of that early group was the veteran McMillan. McMillan had lost a step in the field but was still solid and wasn’t a total loss at the plate in 1965. McMillan wasn’t really a full-time player any more at age 35, but he was an intelligent veteran and future coach and manager. His experience and demeanor would have been valuable on this team and with the utility players that were picked for the roster, he may have gotten the necessary time off to enhance his value even more.

Third Base:

Charley Smith 1965

Smith is a forgotten player in early Mets lore. He’s a classic example of the type of player the Mets looked for in that time period. Smith was a player just entering his prime when the Mets acquired him in 1964 from the White Sox, who had never reached the potential he was thought to have while playing in the Dodgers system prior to his debut in 1960. Smith was acquired for some flotsam and jetsam from the Mets 40-man roster in 1964 and proceeded to hit 20 home runs for the club while splitting time between shortstop and third base. After officially taking over the third base position in 1965, Smith hit 16 home runs in just 499 at bat’s and was terrific defensively. He should have been the team’s third baseman of the future entering 1966, his age 28 season, but instead was traded for an aging Ken Boyer, a common move by Mets management in those early years. Did Smith go on to have a spectacular career? No, but he was never given the same opportunity he had with the Mets in 1964 and 1965, so who knows how good he could have been.

Outfielders:

Richie Ashburn 1962

Joe Christopher 1964

Jim Hickman 1962

Johnny Lewis 1965

The Mets actually had very solid outfielders in the early days, but just couldn’t put them all together on a single roster. Hickman was one of the players that had a ton of potential and didn’t realize it until joining the Cubs later in the decade. 1962 was his best season as a Met though, where he looked like a building block player. He posted a .729 OPS and showed solid power, hitting 13 home runs in 392 at bats. He also played solid outfield defense, including over 80 games in center field where he was a positive defender according to baseball runs saved. Ashburn was terrific in limited time in 1962, hitting .306 with a massive .424 OBP and .817 OPS. He was also fantastic as a pinch hitter that year, hitting .419 in those situations with a .514 OBP. He really couldn’t man center field any longer but handled right field well and would probably be used on this roster in a corner outfield position as a part time starter and regular pinch hitter. Christopher was another expansion draftee, like Hickman, who had never really gotten an opportunity on his home club, the Pirates. Christopher had a lot of talent, especially on the offensive end, and put that all together in 1964 when given an everyday spot in the lineup. Christopher hit .300 that year, with an 826 OPS, the highest mark a Met regular would post until Cleon Jones topped the 900 mark in his terrific 1969 season. Christopher was not a very disciplined outfielder usually relying on skill rather than any knowledge of positioning, but his best position was left field, where he probably would have been stationed on this roster. Lewis is another forgotten Met and a player the Mets had high hopes for when they traded one of the teams best pitchers, Tracy Stallard, for him prior to the beginning of the 1965 season. Lewis responded to the playing time in 1965, hitting 15 home runs, posting a .715 OPS and playing solid outfield defense, including being a plus defender in center field. On our roster, as a left-handed hitter, Lewis would have formed a nice platoon with Hickman in center field. This unit would have been strong offensively and pretty solid defensively as the positive defensive metrics of the other three players would have been able to hide Christopher and probably Thomas as well, when he spent a little time patrolling left field.

Utility

Felix Mantilla 1962

Bob Johnson 1967

Rod Kanehl 1962

Johnson had one of the greatest Mets seasons ever off the bench in 1967. He hit .348 with an .851 OPS a figure that didn’t make it in the Mets record books due to the fact it was done in in only 246 plate appearances. He was a tremendous pinch hitter, hitting .387 in those situations, and would have formed a dynamic left right pinch-hitting duo with Ashburn on our roster. He was also acquired for cash and spun into a trade for Art Shamsky, a key member of the Hodges era teams, so his inclusion was a must on this roster. Mantilla was a player who got regular time on the 1962 Mets, something he had never really gotten while playing several years for the Braves before being taken in the expansion draft by the Mets. That time was spent all over the diamond defensively with a bat that produced a .729 OPS. He would be traded to the Red Sox after 1962 and have two more terrific offensive seasons in 1964 and 1965. On our roster, he would have been all over the field, probably primarily filling in at second base and short. Kanehl makes the roster as an extra player, pinch runner and jack of all trades defensively. He’s also a legendary Met from those times and was actually pretty good as a fill in player in 1962. He was totally exposed when given a regular gig in the second half of 1962, but on this roster, he would have been able to sit right in as the guy who, functioning mostly as a pinch runner and defensive replacement, hit .259 before the all-star break in 1962.

Starting Pitchers:

Jack Fisher 1966

Al Jackson 1965

Dennis Ribant 1966

Carl Willey 1963

Starting pitching became what made the Mets contenders in the late 1960’s and early seventies, but the team couldn’t put together a cohesive starting staff in the era before that unit first came together with Hodges in 1968. The Mets did have solid seasons from several pitchers scattered throughout the first 6 years of the team’s existence and the four seasons above were the best (obviously excluding Tom Seaver, who’s tremendous rookie season in 1967 is omitted due to his importance on the Hodges-era teams). Fisher was an early workhorse for the team and posted a 3.68 ERA in 1966 while throwing 230 innings. Ribant was one of many young pitchers that had one good season for those early Mets and either flamed out or was traded away. In 1966, Ribant posted a 3.20 ERA and a 1.189 WHIP, all on his way to a terrific 3.2 bWAR in 188 innings of work. Jackson was arguably the Mets best starting pitcher of this era, throwing 205 innings in 1965 with a 3.43 FIP. Jackson, a ground ball pitcher, was notoriously undermined by the team’s bad defense, and would have had a more solid unit to work with on this roster. The 32 year-old Willey posted arguably the Mets best pitching season of the early era in 1963, posting a 3.10 ERA and 4.3 bWAR that year in 183 innings of work, including four shutouts.

Swing Men:

Roger Craig 1963

Galen Cisco 1963

Both of these pitchers were classic examples of players put into roles that didn’t totally suit them with those early Mets teams. Craig was a terrific pitcher, but one that was ideally suited for a swing man role. This is proven by terrific seasons he had in such a role with the Dodgers and Cardinals around his Mets tenure. With the Mets, he was a workhorse, throwing 469 innings over two seasons and 64 starts. On our roster, he would have been allowed to start less and been slotted into the role he played for the Dodgers in 1959 and the Cardinals in 1964. Cisco was another player that was a much better reliever than starter, as evidenced in 1963, when he posted a 3.10 ERA as a reliever and a 5.13 ERA as a starter.

Relief Pitchers:

Larry Bearnarth 1963

Jack Hamilton 1966

Dick Selma 1967

Don Shaw 1967

Relievers were much less of a prominent part of a roster in the 1960’s, which is part of the reason this unit seems so minimal. However, all four of these guys brought something valuable as extra arms in a pitching staff that wasn’t made of the Bob Gibson’s of the world. Bearnarth was one of the longest tenured bullpen arms of the early Mets, throwing 319 innings in that role from 1963 to 1966. His best year was 1963 where he posted a 3.42 ERA over 126 innings of work, mostly in relief. Shaw was the classic lefty bullpen guy, posting a 2.98 ERA in 1967 over 51 innings. Hamilton, a flame throwing wild man, was the first Met to crack double digit saves, posting 13 such in 1967, a year he split between starting and relieving. Selma was another hard thrower and a relative bullpen ace in 1967, posting a 1.96 ERA in that role over 64 innings that year.

How would this team have fared? Better than one would think. It would have been pretty good offensively, with power, bench bats and really good hitters at most positions. It would have been about average defensively, but that is a far cry better than the bumbling reputation the Mets had in those years. The pitching staff is where it would lose out to other Mets eras and that’s why it probably would still be at the bottom of the Mets barrel, but still much more competitive than what most people would probably think.