Heading into 2005, Mets GM Omar Minaya made big strides toward turning the team into a true contender. Perhaps the move that signaled that more than any other was his signing of Carlos Beltran to a seven-year, $119 million contract to patrol center field. In the years since, the world learned who Bernard Madoff was, and the Mets haven’t landed the prime free agent on the market.
As the 2020 offseason stands, we know two things: one of the biggest needs for the New York Mets moving forward is center field, and the top free agent George Springer is a center fielder. With new owner Steve Cohen signaling a willingness to spend freely on a winner, the time is now for the Mets to make a splash in free agency and make a legitimate push to sign Springer.
There have been calls coming from all ends of the New York media and fans for the Mets to go after Springer this offseason, and for good reason. He has hit .273/.363/.500 and averaged 37 home runs per 162 games over the last five seasons, and is about to enter his age 31 season. While that is a touch on the older side, there is reason to believe Springer still has several productive seasons left in him. He gets on base, hits for power and plays solid defense in center, which is a combination of skills the Mets haven’t seen since Beltran.
Signing Springer, a Connecticut native, would send a message to the rest of Major League Baseball that the new Mets are not just talk, but that they mean business. Making this signing is the kind of thing a team does when it wants to win a title in the next two to three seasons, as Cohen said in his introductory news conference.
But just how much of an upgrade would Springer be for the Mets? Let’s take a look at what the past tells us.
Since Springer’s first year in the majors in 2015, Mets center fielders have hit .248/.334/.434 and have been worth 2.1 fWAR/150. Meanwhile Springer has hit .274/.363/.494 and has produced at a 5.2 fWAR/150 clip. So on average over the past three seasons, Springer would have been a 3-win improvement for the Mets in center field.
That was surprisingly open-and-close, but obviously it isn’t that simple. Springer is at the end of his prime, and that means age regression is coming. So what do the projection systems think? We’ll use ZiPS 3-year projections (which at this point only cover ‘21 and ’22) to compare Springer and incumbent center fielder Brandon Nimmo.
ZiPS sees Springer being worth 8.0 fWAR in the next two years (4.3 and 3.7, respectively), continuing his place as one of the best center fielders in baseball. A move from Minute Maid Park to Citi Field isn’t likely to make a meaningful impact on that projection.
Nimmo, however, is projected at 3.8 fWAR over the next two seasons (1.8 and 2.0). Part of that has to do with his inability to play a full season in the majors except for 2018 at the time of these projections. Of course some of it has to do with him being a subpar defender in center. As a corner outfielder, Nimmo’s outlook is probably more optimistic than that.
And that’s really the crux of the whole acquisition. Signing Springer isn’t about just sending a message, it is about improving the team, first and foremost. It doesn’t just improve the Mets in one position, it helps them out in three – center, left, and depth on the bench. Those are areas that the team has been sorely lacking in for a long time.
Bringing Springer into the fold immediately makes the Mets a better team, and one that is more capable of competing for a playoff spot. Money is only an object as it relates to the luxury tax penalties, but the Mets don’t have to worry about those for several years, and even at that point it is unknown what the new Collective Bargaining Agreement brings after the 2021 season.
By no means would that mean the Mets could rest on their laurels as a catcher and starting pitchers need to be brought in to create a well-balanced team. However, Springer would anchor the team’s outfield for years to come, and be the kind of signing that Beltran was for the Mets 15 years ago – one that signals that the team is ready to go all-in to win now.
Joe Vasile is a broadcaster for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders and Bucknell University. He is the host of the baseball history podcast Secondary Lead.