The Mets dodged a bullet with George Springer

Noah Syndergaard and Michael ConfortoGeorge Springer is a terrific player and as a playoff-tested, right-handed slugger who plays a solid centerfield, he seemed to be the most coveted free agent for Mets fans. Alas, it was not meant to be, as the Blue Jays swooped in and snagged the former Astro All-Star for six years and $150 million.

The $25 million AAV is not far off what Springer was projected to get, but that extra year is tough to swallow. As this blogger has pointed out many times, centerfielders don’t age well. Sure, he’ll probably be good for another three years, but the back end of that contract could be ugly. At best, he’ll transition to a corner outfield position and still be able to slug 30 home runs per year. At worst? Well, remember Jacoby Ellsbury? How about Dexter Fowler? AJ Pollock? Lorenzo Cain? The list is long.

Back when the Mets signed Carlos Beltran to a then whopping seven-year, $119 million contract, he was just 27 years old. Springer turned 31 in September. There’s little question he will boost the Blue Jays offense for the next few years, but after that, his contract could be a problem. However, with most of their key players still in pre-arbitration years, the Blue Jays can afford to take on this gamble. The Mets cannot.

As Sandy Alderson and Steve Cohen have made clear, they want to build a sustainable winner. You simply don’t accomplish that by stockpiling expensive free agents.

The Mets have a nice core of young talent and some, like Pete Alonso, Dominic Smith, and Jeff McNeil, are still earning well below their market value as pre-arbitration players. However, many of our other key players, like Brandon Nimmo, J.D. Davis, and Seth Lugo, are seeing steady pay increases through arbitration. The biggest concern of course is that four of the main cogs on this team will hit free agency when this coming season ends – Francisco Lindor, Michael Conforto, Noah Syndergaard, and Marcus Stroman. That list also includes Steven Matz, Jeurys Familia and Dellin Betances, but these guys are obviously less of a concern.

Now, if we were still owned by the Wilpons, we’d be bracing ourselves to lose three out of four of those players. But those cheapskates who let us wave good-bye to homegrown favorites like Jose Reyes and Zack Wheeler are thankfully out of the picture. A certain avuncular billionaire owner wants his fans to be happy. Now, realistically, we won’t be able to keep Lindor, Conforto, Syndergaard and Stroman. But in order to have a chance to bring back two or hopefully three of them and keep the band together for sustained winning, we’re going to have to keep our 2021 spending in check.

The trade for Lindor and Carlos Carrasco was our big move and it was enormous. That move alone puts us firmly in the playoff discussion. Bringing back Stroman and signing Brian McCann, Trevor May and Jose Martinez, plus trading for Joey Lucchesi, helps solidify the roster for the coming season. By most accounts, the Mets are still nearly $30 million below the soft salary cap. And, by most accounts, the Mets still have a few remaining roster holes that need plugging.

Without Springer, and hopefully not Trevor Bauer, the Mets don’t need to eat up that remaining space with one contract. Although Brad Hand is currently being courted by multiple teams, a lefty reliever who can close would give us the best bullpen we’ve had in many years. A gold glove centerfielder like Jackie Bradley Jr. would give us a really strong up-the-middle defense. And a gold glove second baseman like Kolton Wong would give us a fantastic infield with McNeil moving over to third. These three combined might make less than what Bauer is seeking.

A cheaper version of this – Justin Wilson, Kevin Pillar, and Jonathan Villar – would still round out the roster and leave wiggle room for a mid-season acquisition, not to mention the possibility of extending one or more of the walk year players. Flexibility is key, as keeping a good team intact.

Look at the Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals as cautionary tales. Yes, they won World Series, but these teams were talked about as a sustained winners, if not potential dynasties. Fans in Boston and San Francisco can more easily swallow the downturn as they have three rings to show for it.

These days, the top players are seeking $30 million AAV contracts. Even if you can support a $200 million payroll, you really can’t have more than two or three of those guys on your team and hope to fill out a roster. This isn’t the NBA where two superstars can win you a title. You could literally have the three best players in baseball on your team – say Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Jacob deGrom – and still finish in last place if the rest of your team stinks. The Nationals have $100 million spoken for by the front of their rotation and had to bid adieu to Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon in successive off-seasons. Now their team consists of the three pitchers, a few young stars, and a whole lot of marginal players.

Of course MattyMets wants to see his team win it all for the first time since he was 14, but what he really wants is for the Mets to be like the Cardinals or Dodgers, who seem to be in the playoffs every year. Locking up guys like Conforto and Syndergaard is the best way to make that happen.

Steve Cohen could top the 2008 Yankees spending spree

raining cashThe 2008 New York Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993. They were about to move into their newly renovated ballpark with more luxury suites. The Steinbrenners had money to spend and Yankee fans were eager to get right back into contention. Luckily for them, the stars aligned as the free agent class that winter was topped by three star players who could put the Yankees right back into October baseball.

While the rest of baseball was utterly shocked, Yankee fans celebrated Christmas all winter long as the Yankees committed a whopping $424 million in contracts to snatch up all three of the big off-season prizes. If that seems like a lot of money now, remember that this was 12 years ago.

In desperate need of pitching, the Yankees roped in likely future Hall of Famer CC Sabathia with a 7-year/$161 million deal. At the time, that was a monster contract. To further shore up their rotation, the Yankees also grabbed A.J. Burnett for 5-years/$83 million. However, the biggest contract that off-season went to the switch-hitting, gold-glove first baseman, Mark Teixeira. He signed for a then staggering 8-years/$180 million.

In case anyone reading this doesn’t recall how that investment turned out, the Yankees won the World Series in 2009. Meanwhile, Mets fans were less celebratory upon hearing the Braves outbid us for Derek Lowe and we settled for resigning Oliver Perez to a three-year/$36 million contract. We also signed Francisco Rodriguez to a three-year/$37 million deal.

Now the shoe is on the other foot, or, rather the coin purse is in another borough. Now, at long freakin’ last, the stars have aligned for us. All of our dreams came true as billionaire and lifelong Mets fan Steve Cohen bought the team away from the penny pinching Wilpon family. On top of Cohen’s riches, the Mets also have plenty of wiggle room with contracts coming off the books, including a surprise $20.25 million courtesy of the Robinson Cano PED suspension. And, as luck would have it, many of the top available free agents play our biggest positions of need – starting pitcher, catcher, and center field.

As if that wasn’t enough to get excited about, most teams will be hesitant to spend this off-season, as they lost millions in revenue in 2020 with Covid-19 robbing them of earnings from ticket sales, concessions, parking, merchandise, etc. Cohen lost no money last year because he didn’t own a baseball team until right now. Not only is he the richest owner in Major League Baseball, but he may also be the luckiest.

Maybe it’s so ingrained in us from the lean Wilpon years to think, oh, maybe now we can get one of the big free agents – which one should we get? Hence, there have been endless debates on this blog, and anywhere else intelligent Mets fans gather, about whether we should go after the ace pitcher, the All-Star catcher, or the playoff tested centerfielder. Why can we only have one?

We all dream of winning the lottery. If you win the small state jackpot, maybe you pay off your bills and go on an exotic vacation. But, if you win the Powerball jackpot, you take care of everyone you know, buy a giant house and a fancy car, season tickets to the Mets, and still have more left than you know what to do with. Hmm, maybe I should be shopping for a yacht or a private jet or an island! You get the point?

At the top tier of this year’s free agent class are Trevor Bauer, J.T. Realmuto, and George Springer, referenced above, as well as two-time batting champ DJ LeMahieu and slugger Marcell Ozuna. These are very good players who would look great in blue and orange, but none of them are generational talents like Mike Trout or Mookie Betts. No one above is going to command a 10-year/$300 million+ contract. Factor in the shortage of competition from so many teams in the red, and the Mets are in the catbird seat to corral three of these guys.

How much would that take? Well, the wildcard is Bauer, who has previously been committed to playing on one-year contracts. Coming off a Cy Young season, might he be convinced to finally commit to one team?  If yes, it could set off a bidding war with all of the California teams seeking starting pitching. If that is the case, Bauer could push toward something in the neighborhood of 7-years/$210 million. Is this mercurial and only recently dominant pitcher really worth that much? MattyMets doesn’t think so, but perhaps some of you do.

As for the other four players, Realmuto and Springer could command something like 5-years/$125 while Lemahieu and Ozuna a bit less at 4-years/$92 million. So, if Cohen, Alderson and our as-yet-to-be-named General Manager want to add arguably the three best available free agents to our roster, it might cost $460 million. That would indeed top the 2008-9 Yankees haul, but then, it’s 12 years later.

Cohen likely doesn’t care nearly as much about sticking it to the Yankees as he does fielding a winner in Queens, but if that is a goal of his, a cheaper way to accomplish that would be to simply outbid the Bronx Bombers for LeMahieu.

It’s hard to fathom, like with the Powerball, but we actually won. Yeah, Mets fans really won!  Let that sink in because now, it’s time to spend, baby. #LFGM

Josh Harrison fits like a glove

It’s funny how one roster move begets another. What may not have made sense a few moves prior, suddenly seems like a no-brainer. The resigning of Jay Bruce plugged a lot of holes for the Mets. In one move they provide lineup protection for Yoenis Cespedes, solidify the outfield, give themselves insurance at first base and provide some clubhouse leadership. No, Bruce is probably not a 2018 MVP front runner, but he was the right man for the job. Similarly, as the Mets consider how they might round out their infield, there’s one player available in trade who checks all the right boxes – the Pirates’ Josh Harrison.

The 30-year-old right hander is coming off an All-Star season in which he slashed .272/.339/.432 with 16 home runs and 12 steals. Again, not MVP stuff, but better than replacement level with a 2.5 WAR. And those numbers all would have been higher had Harrison’s season not been cut short by a now healed broken hand. Now factor in his defense, versatility, and team friendly contract ($10.5 million for 2018 with reasonable team options for 2019 and 2020) and you have a pretty good fit. Plus, word on the street is that the payroll cutting Pirates are interested in Brandon Nimmo. No offense to Nimmo who’s a nice kid who can get on base, but his ceiling is that of a replacement level fourth outfielder. If we could get a two-time All Star second baseman for him, that’s an easy call.

Harrison is an above average defensive second baseman (career .985 fielding percentage) who’s seen time at third base and corner outfield as well. Earlier in his career, he also played some shortstop. Harrison has made his share of errors at third, but looks smooth at the keystone where he was second among National League second baseman in range factor the past two seasons. Over the past two seasons, he’s also been among the top five in fielding percentage, assists, putouts, and double plays turned. Harrison has been described as a high motor player who makes a lot of highlight plays in the field and often aggressively takes an extra bag on the base paths.

While there are certainly other infield options out there, you could make the argument that none fit the bill as well as Harrison. Third baseman Mike Moustakas will likely be too expensive, not to mention risky coming off an outlying career year. Todd Frazier would be a nice addition but he’d push Asdrubal Cabrera over to second base and still leave a sizable hole atop the lineup as he is better suited to bat fifth or sixth than first or second. Potential trade candidates Jason Kipnis and Cesar Hernandez seem to either be off the market or else out of our reach. Former Mets Neil Walker (back issues) and Jose Reyes (better suited to a utility role) are less than ideal fits. Eduardo Nunez, an available free agent, provides similar versatility, better speed and wouldn’t require us to surrender and then replace Nimmo, however his defense is not nearly as good.

While he’s no Rickey Henderson, with a career OBP of .321 and an average of 16 steals per season, Harrison is better suited to bat leadoff than any other Met currently on the roster. And frankly, other than Lorenzo Cain, for whom there is neither the budget nor obvious open position, is there a better available option? The only downside to the potential Harrison deal is that it would require a follow-up move to replace Nimmo with a center fielder who could platoon with Juan Lagares until Michael Conforto is ready. We’d need an affordable lefty depth outfielder, ideally one with speed. As luck would have it, there’s such a player available that checks every box – Jarrod Dyson.

Would that then complete the lineup and bench? Not quite. With T.J. Rivera expected to begin the season on the disabled list and Wilmer Flores expected to get most of his at bats platooning at first base, the Mets could still use another versatile backup infielder. Preferably one who comes cheap, can play shortstop if needed, has some speed, and really wants to play for the Mets. Sound like anyone we know?

With Jay Bruce back, attention turns back to the infield

Kudos to Sandy Alderson for waiting out the market and bringing back Jay Bruce on a reasonable contract. No, he’s not a perfect player, but he clearly fills a number of needs. However, at last check, the power hitting right fielder/first baseman can’t bat lead off or play second or third base, so at least one more move is needed to round out the Mets’ lineup.

If recent reports are accurate, the cost-conscious Mets may not have much money left to spend. Alderson has reportedly been flirting with trades in hopes of not only adding an infielder, but also unloading a player or two (A.J. Ramos, Juan Lagares) to offset the salary of someone like Josh Harrison, Cesar Hernandez or Jason Kipnis. Kipnis is reportedly off the market now, and Harrison would not be the most exciting addition. Hernandez, on the other hand, could provide nice defense at the keystone and add speed to the lineup from the leadoff spot.

If a trade can’t be worked out, there are a number of options in free agency. It initially appeared that big ticket items like third basemen Mike Moustakas and Todd Frazier would be out of reach, but this winter waiting game has fueled speculation that these two hot corner bats might have to settle for fewer years and dollars. The Mets are reportedly “monitoring the situation.” Either would plug the hole at third, shifting Asdrubal Cabrera to second base, and slot in fifth or sixth in the lineup. However, this alignment would leave us with a gaping hole atop the lineup. As this blogger made the case on last week’s Mets 360 podcast, the Mets’ biggest hole is not at second or third base, but rather the leadoff spot. A better and cheaper option is Eduardo Nunez. The 30-year-old speedster who came up as a Yankees utility man has developed into a nice player. Traded midseason the last two years, Nunez put up some solid numbers. Last season for the Giants and Red Sox he put up a .313/.341/.460 slash line with 12 home runs, 33 doubles and 24 steals. The prior year for the Twins and Giants, he slashed .288/.325/.432 with 16 home runs, 24 doubles, and 40 steals, good enough to earn an invite to the 2016 All Star game.

Should these third base options not fall into place, there are some cheaper options are available at the keystone, including Brandon Phillips, Jose Reyes and Howie Kendrick. Phillips brings defense, leadership and durability. Last season, between Atlanta and Los Angeles, the 36-year-old righty hit .285 with 13 home runs, 34 doubles, 60 RBI and 11 SBs. The three time All Star and four time Gold Glove winner just completed a hefty six-year contract, but given his age, he’s not likely to receive another multi-year deal. The 34-year-old Kendrick, also brings experience and a solid right-handed bat (.291 lifetime), and also some versatility as he’s played outfield and first base as well as second. Kendrick just completed a two-year, $20 million contract and may be looking for something similar again. Neither player is an ideal leadoff hitter, but would still fit the role better than anyone we currently have on the roster.

A cheaper option still would be to bring back Jose Reyes, who still has some speed and showed he can play an adequate second base as well as third. Reyes would love to return to the Mets and could probably be had on a very reasonable one or two year deal. In-house options would be cheaper still. Wilmer Flores is not the greatest second baseman and might be needed to platoon with Dominic Smith at first. T.J. Rivera, once back from Tommy John surgery, showed some pop last year and could also see some time at second. Gavin Cecchini is still a consideration as well. Though seemingly around forever, the shortstop turned second baseman is just 23 and should be able to handle the keystone defensively. His offense is another story though as he hit just .267 in AAA Las Vegas last season followed by .208 in limited big league duty.

Having a middle order of Michael Conforto, Yoenis Cespedes and Bruce is a good start, but we need someone to set the table in front of them if we want to see some real run production. Ideally our new leadoff hitter can also play second or third base.

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