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.