George 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.