The 2020 Mets were an “also-ran” footnote.  The last week was an awfully bad week, but up until then the season was just “also-ran.” The best aspect of the COVID-shortened season was a free season for Noah Syndergaard to recover from TJ surgery. Michael Conforto’s best season was a plus, as was Dominic Smith’s.  Hopefully, those 60 games count as Pete Alonso’s sophomore slump. Edwin Diaz seemed to rebound.  In a nutshell, if Cohen wants to win now, and who does not, he should go full Huizinga. Complaints about budgets and salary caps to debate what Cohen will or will not do is speculation. This is what he can do.

Let us start with improving the pitching staff.  Jacob deGrom, David Peterson, Syndergaard (after Memorial Day), and no one else. Trevor Bauer wants single-year contracts usually, and he would love to face the Braves more. If he takes a single-year contract, sign him. That is just $30M.  The Mets can give Marcus Stroman a qualifying offer and if he accepts, have a solid rotation.  The Tampa Rays have used a bullpen slot for their fifth starter and the Mets could effectively manage Seth Lugo and a few others to success, but that is a skill they must learn.

The Rays success can be instructional to the Mets coaching staff.  In the bullpen, the Mets have a closer, but not much else. A stable of harder throwers, rather than guys who do not know where the ball is going.  The best free agent the Mets can acquire could be from the Rays’ front office. Cohen should not keep anyone, in particular, from the bullpen, after Diaz.  Dellin Betances makes sense, but he is not a key piece, and if throwing him in a trade makes the deal, it should be done.

There are key existing pieces on the team, and of good players that cannot easily be replaced from the free agent pool. Alonso is going to be at first base, Conforto is going to be in the outfield. Brandon Nimmo, J.D. Davis, Jeff McNeil and Smith have options, making them attractive pieces. They are all left fielders, and thus all of them are unnecessary.  On the infield, the Mets thus have three positions up for grabs at camp.

Admittedly, Robinson Cano is going to be on the roster. He does not have to start every game, and Cohen can add DJ LeMahieu if he wants to rock the New York market. LeMahieu is a terrific defensive player and a good hitter, even accepting his MLB leading average and AL leading OPS numbers from 2020. LeMahieu brings something important to the table – turning the double play, something the Mets have struggled with for some time.

Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez both play fine at shortstop, and even hit a little bit. But with deep pockets, why stop there?  If the Mets want to win now, they have the option of bringing in players to do that. Didi Gregorius and Marcus Semien are available and tremendous upgrades. Semien may have been over-rated defensively in the past, and Gregorius’ arm seems to be fine. Either would improve the position.

Watching the World Series, it is evident that Justin Turner still has it, at least enough for a two-year contract, and that would make third base much more than a break-even position for the Mets. Even without Turner, this is where McNeil and LeMahieu can share time when Cano has to play.

Now the infield has Alonso, LeMahieu, Semien, and Turner.  That is putting together a team that can hit a ton and turn it in the middle.

The outfield is a little more settled. With Conforto playing right field and some mix of Nimmo, Smith and McNeil in left field, the hole is center field. There is a prime center fielder available, George Springer. There are not really other available center fielders to significantly outperform Nimmo. Marcell Ozuna is a mediocre fielder and could be an option to upgrade left field.

There is just one catcher – J.T. Realmuto, so Cohen does not have much to dilly-dally with. Many people consider this to be a key pick up but catchers age poorly and the number of games for him to impact is mostly smaller.

One issue with free agents is they must be a win-now strategy because in order to reach free agency you need six years in MLB and most players do not reach the majors until 23 or 24.  And even younger players get a year or two of free agency bought out, as the Mets are discussing with Conforto.  So all of these players are around 30 or higher and should be given shorter contracts like two to three years.

How much better would this make the Mets? The infield would be more than 10 wins better.  Adding Bauer and a good year from Stroman would add another handful of wins.  The addition of these free agents would make the Mets favorites or nearly favorites for the NL East and possibly the NL pennant.

If Cohen didn’t buy the Mets to do that, then why bother?

21 comments on “With Mookie Betts off the Free Agent board, Steve Cohen should go big, or go home

  • TJ

    Chris,
    I got a kick out of your “just $30 million” line for Bauer. That is many many times more than my decades long lifetime earnings, lol.

    Are you suggesting that the Mets can option McNeil, Davis, Nimmo, and/or Smith to the minors and replace them with “better” free agents? Each of these guys is clearly a major leaguer, and most if not all have proven/earned starting positions in the bigs.

  • Chris Dial

    The comment is based in: they aren’t due big raises, and they aren’t critical pieces, so upgrade them, trade them, keep them (but don’t rely on them). They aren’t expensive to any team they are traded to, so the flexibility for them is broad. These players have some value, unlike the players omitted.

    • Bob P

      I have to disagree with you on a lot of this Chris. I’m not sure how you feel McNeil, Nimmo and Smith aren’t critical pieces. They all had great offensive years this past season and are all relatively young. I understand that they have good trade value but to just cast them aside in favor of all of the older, much more expensive players you mentioned doesn’t make sense to me.

      Also you mentioned that the best free agent the Mets could acquire is someone from the Rays front office. That may be true, but the philosophy of the Rays is completely opposite from the plan you described. That’s clearly because they don’t have the deep pockets that Cohen may have but if you want to bring in some of their thinking your plan flies in the face of that.

      Last thing – Bauer is not going to take a 1 year deal regardless of what he’s said in the past. He’s coming off his best season and his value is higher than it likely ever will be, even in a down market. His agent seems has said that he will be open to all offers because it makes no sense for him to go year to year.

      • Chris Dial

        Thanks Bob! Would you rather have McNeil or Springer? Would you rather have McNeil or Turner? Every move I suggested improved on the existing players. You may have seen I put the bottom line *including* those three players- just that two of them will have reduced playing time (if the Mets are healthy). The players I’m saying to bring in isn’t “older and more expensive”, they are *better*. This is a win now plan.
        The Rays’ front office does two things – 1. operate on a budget, 2. manage the team via sabermetric measurements. 1 and 2 are not at odds. Imagine a team like the Dodgers with a big bank account *and* good sabermetrics! The Mets may be in the WS four out of five years! The Mets *do not* manage skills properly.
        You can claim what Bauer is going to do; check the last sentence of the first paragraph. Length of contract is always a concern but Bauer has the proper pitching skills to be good for a couple three more years; if you want a championship, pay for it.

        Editor’s Note – Please do not capitalize words in your post, as that is a violation of our Comment Policy.

        • Bob P

          I’d definitely take McNeil over Turner. With everything else being equal I’d probably take Springer but I’d rather have McNeil at pre-arb prices and put the money into pitching. I hear your points but have a different opinion.

          • Remember1969

            Agree with Bob 100%. This isn’t an either/or thing. McNeil over Turner for the next four years .. no question. Springer is not a replacement for McNeil.

            • Chris Dial

              So, we did this bit before the season started; I like McNeil at 3B, but if the Mets won’t play him there….I’m happy to keep McNeil, but he has to have a stable position – For goodness sake, the Mets played Todd Frazier over these guys.

  • TexasGusCC

    I am not interning this at Chris, but I see a pattern that Mets fans are mostly doing right now:
    1. They are devaluing their own assets, like controllable good round hitters are a dime a dozen.
    2. They feel Cohen is obligated to spend tons of his money at players that don’t have a history of success, or are approaching the end of their prime.
    3. They forget that Sandy Alderson will be running the show, thus, there will be constraint.
    4. Spending a ton of money without having first done your research and have built a foundation is throwing it away. We all know that nothing is guaranteed.

    • Chris Dial

      1. Our assets have to improve; Smith/Nimmo/McNeil/Davis are completely redundant. three are left handed, and Davis cannot field. the idea that Cohen will open his wallet reduces my concern about “controllable”
      2. Oh, I doubt Cohen is going to spend appropriately, so my thesis is – go big or shut it.
      3. If Cohen wants to spend the money, Alderson won’t stop him. Heck, the biggest reason for Alderson to come back is *now* he could get a big budget to run a team.

  • Seattle Steve

    New ownership should raid TB brain trusts….they are always able to do more with less…you win with pitching,defense and timely hitting…we need a #2,3,&4 starter..Peterson is our #5…get a good affordable defensive catcher and centerfielder….spending $$$$$does not mean you will have success

    Editor’s Note – Please do not capitalize words in your post as it is a violation of our Comment Policy.

    • Chris Dial

      I can’t locate the study just now, but #5 starters have an ERA+ of about 90. Peterson was much better than that.

    • TJ

      The multitude of Tampa references by Met fans is quite interesting. The Rays should be commended for their success, given limited resources, gate attendance, and small TV market. Ditto the Oakland As. But, that model is not directly applicable or transferrable to big market teams, given the cost model and competition for entertainment dollars within those markets.

      Actually, two big market teams have “raided” the Rays front office. The Dodgers with Friedman and the Red Sox with Bloom. The Mets had a chance for Bloom but the current (and hopefully soon to be previous) ownership passed. The Dodgers have been consistent winners and consistent big spenders, coming up just short of a championship but always a top team. The Red Sox were a train wreck in Bloom’s first year, but that was likely the plan as ownership was driving the need to get payroll under the cap/penalty threshold.

      Alderson has his strengths and weaknesses like all of us, but at his age I doubt highly he is coming to NY to work for the wealthiest owner in baseball to pinch pennies. However, I think they will be selective in their spending. I agree that many fans are undervaluing the Met assets, but they clearly have needs and those needs are in areas of the team where there is not an abundance of available replacements. They will need to be strategic and savvy to add via spending without falling into the trap of filling a hole and creating an anchor for the future. Regardless of Cohen’s wealth, I doubt he’ll simply pile on free agents with no regard to the cost commitment going forward. Ultimately that will even hamper teams with rich owners.

  • Mike W

    I like your thoughts, but I think that making a bunch of these moves will put us in the salary stratosphere. I also think it is only looking at the lens through 2021. They will make some moves, but I am certain that the building process will have it go out multiple years.

    I think we have valuable trade chips for the right deals. And the right deals depend on the big picture plan. Smith has value. McNeill has value. Rosario has value. Nimmo has value. And even Matz will have some value. I am even bantering around trading Conforto right now, while his value is high. He could easily be gone after next season, and that in itself is risk. We have to look at teams who have a need o fill to match up.

    • Chris Dial

      Salary is irrelevant for the purposes of this discussion as noted in the first paragraph.

  • Remember1969

    A few questions/comments come to mind as I read this.
    – Why the mention of Ozuna “as an upgrade”? Are you planning on having Nimmo, Smith, and McNeil play for Syracuse, get traded, or are they simply pinch-hitters? All three are better than Ozuna. Pass on that one.
    – Your statement “when Cano has to play”. Cano is the second highest paid player on the team (at this point). That plus the fact that he is still a very good hitter means that Cano has to play. The Mets are not keeping a $24M bench player.
    – Why think about LeMahieu when Cano is there? LeMahieu’s best position by far is 2nd base. He has played less than 10% of his MLB innings at 3rd base and he is not a very good fielder there. Pass on LeMahieu – spend the dollars elsewhere – no need to tie up >$40M at second base.
    – Shortstop. Pass on bringing in any other shortstop – either via free agent or trading for Lindor this year. If Gimenez proves to not be able to cut it, we know what we have in Rosario – he can handle it at league minimum salary for a year until there is a bumper crop of SS free agents next year. Again, spend that money elsewhere (Stroman?)
    – I am not sure what your conclusion is about catcher. You don’t mention the second best alternative behind Realmuto: James McCann.
    – I will pass on Bauer for reasons already stated – extra baggage off the field and not anywhere near as good as his 2020 numbers are on it. He will be overpaid by somebody, just hope it is not the Mets. I agree on Stroman. And there is no way they will sign both of the top two pitchers on the free agent list. Pick one or the other.
    – I think planning every 5th start to be a bullpen start is short-sighted. They need to have 5 real starters going in. Does the composition of the Mets bullpen staff support this? I don’t know that answer to that. but it does put a lot of pressure on the top guy (and the 4th guy) to throw at least into the 7th inning every start.
    – You have just signed free agents at 8 starting positions. And none of them (Bauer?) are on one year contracts. That ties up a ton of money for 2022 and beyond if/when some of them fail.
    – Lastly, I do agree with bringing in George Springer.

    • Chris Dial

      1. I don’t want Ozuna, but he’s as good a hitter and can play everyday. Dom hasn’t gotten 200 PAs in a season yet, and Nimmo may or may not stay on the field.
      2. The only reason “Cano has to play” is because the Mets (and Mets fans) don’t understand a sunk cost.
      3. I’d rather have LeMahieu than Cano, and the money is unlimited.
      4. Why wait a year to contend?
      5. Because McCann isn’t much of an improvement.
      6. Did you read the premise? We are dumping everyone who cannot perform the tasks chosen. Cohn has the money – go for it.

      • Remember1969

        1. I don’t understand the Nimmo may or may not stay on the field. Are you referring to injuries? In which case the same statement can be made for anyone, including Ozuna. Smith had bad luck with the 2019 injury and the 2020 COVID, but there is no reason to believe he could not play a full season. Ozuna did have a very nice 2020, but that will most likely not be his norm going forward.
        2. Sunk Cost? Did you look at the year Cano had? He out hit and out fielded McNeil. He was the mix with Conforto and Smith as the having the best seasons in 2020. He outplayed his salary.
        3. “I’d rather have LeMahieu than Cano, and the money is unlimited.” Difference of opinion on this one. . although all things being equal and if both were free agent and they had a second base opening, I’d agree with you. At this point Cano is there and second base is not one of the biggest concerns. Considering money being unlimited seems a little pointless to write about.
        4. “Why wait a year to contend?” Semien becomes the difference over Gimenez to put the team in contention? I don’t agree with that. There are a lot of other places on the roster that need more attention.
        5. “Because McCann isn’t much of an improvement.” Over what?
        6. “Did you read the premise? We are dumping everyone who cannot perform the tasks chosen. Cohn has the money – go for it.” How are you dumping everyone? DFA? trade everybody for prospects? Put proven hitters that have earned at-bats on the bench? Option them to the minors?

        I do agree there are areas that need to be addressed, but my approach to fixing the team is more to focus on the issues that can be for the budget that may be a reality. I am hoping they increase the payroll to an extent, but not to the point where it will tie them up for several years.

        • Chris Dial

          1. Ozuna is a RHB. Smith, McNeil and Nimmo are all LHBs. As is Conforto and Cano. That’s the only reason – as noted, he’s a minimal change. Smith/Nimmo can’t both play LF full-time
          2. Yes, “sunk cost”. He’ll be 38, and there are cliffs (like 2019).
          3. You agree LeMahieu is preferable. He’s 6 years younger, a better defender, and likely to be a better hitter going forward. For arguments sake, sign DJ, and have the infield go Alonso, Cano/McNeil/LeMahieu rotation at 2B/3B. If/when Cano goes down, you aren’t stuck with Kipnis/Dozier/Guillorme/Gimenez
          4. Yes, the difference between Semien and Gimenez is 2-4 wins, so definitely means the difference between 86 wins and the playoffs.
          5. McCann is a negligible (if any) improvement over Wilson Ramos. They are both 1-2 WAR catchers.
          6. I am dumping everyone by a combination of those factors – some get DFA, some get optioned, some get traded. It happens every winter (and we just traded someone). No one earns at bats. Baseball is (for good teams) a meritocracy – you get to play if you are better than the next best alternative. As noted Smith AND Nimmo cannot both play LF fulltime.

          I’d rather try to win a few championships while Cohen (purportedly) has the stomach for it, rather than save for the future. The future may never come – ask David Wright.

  • MattyMets

    A few things jump out at me as a Mets fan watching this World Series. 1) This is very reminiscent of 2015. A scrappy team without big stars that puts the ball in play, runs the bases aggressively, plays great defense and has a strong bullpen to lock it down is making it very hard for the more talented team to win. 2) Defense and speed both matter and I hope Alderson and whatever GM he brings in can keep that in mind. 3) When you have the resources like the Dodgers have had, you can afford to make a mistake and you can afford to keep around extra good players who don’t necessarily play every day. With Betts, Bellinger, Pederson, Pollock, Hernandez, they have five quality outfielders. OFs get hurt often. Three is never enough.

    • Chris Dial

      When you have money, you load up. Which is what the article talks about.

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