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?