For the first time in the history of the New York Mets, they are in the catbird seat. The top free-agents want to talk to General Manager Sandy Alderson. Steve Cohen is the new owner of the Mets and is the richest owner in all of baseball. Additionally, Cohen just bought the Mets so he is not feeling the financial loss that every other MLB team is feeling due to the coronavirus. But he did pay 2.4 billion dollars to buy the Mets and all of their debt as was reported. I guess that is considered by some fans as chump change to a man who has a net worth of over 14 billion dollars.
The Mets fanbase are like kids making out their Christmas lists when they find out mom or dad just won the lottery. And who could blame them? For years the Mets were saddled with the Wilpon family as owners who would always seem to do just enough to maybe stay competitive and not enough to go for it all. Maybe you can blame part of it on the Bernie Madoff scandal. But when you play in the same city as the New York Yankees, who seem to spend the money when they need to, that is a tough pill to swallow. Keep in mind the Yankees have not won the World Series since 2009. So spending the most money doesn’t always work.
Built To Last
When Steve Cohen had his first official press conference as the owner of the Mets he said his goal was to win a World Series in three to five years. That’s not what Met fans wanted to hear. This Mets fanbase wants to win the World Series in 2021. Who could blame them? It has been 34 long years since the Mets last won a World Series. In those 34 years, there has been so much heartbreak. The Mets had late-season collapses. Several of them in fact. There was a Fall Classic loss to the Yankees in 2000. The 2006 NLCS Game 7 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals still stings Met fans. The more recent 2015 World Series collapse when closer Jeurys Familia blew three saves. Also, who can forget the Mike Scioscia game in the 1988 NLCS? I can go on and on.
Sandy Alderson and Cohen both said they want to build a strong farm system. Cohen has said the Mets are not going to spend like drunken sailors. This fanbase does not seem to care about any of that. They want to win the 2021 World Series by all means necessary. The age-old theory that money cures all problems seems to be what Mets fans expect. Cohen can buy anyone he wants and should not be outbid by any team. Cohen has said that money is not an issue. Having money to spend is nice. But can the Mets spend it wisely?
Signing Free Agents
The Mets have several holes to fill before they can win the World Series. It just so happens that the top free agents will fill most of those holes. J.T. Realmuto is the top catcher on the free-agent market by a wide margin. He will fill the Mets hole at catcher but the reported price tag is five years and 150 million. George Springer is the top centerfielder on the market. The Mets have not had a star player in center since Carlos Beltran.
The Mets starting rotation has some openings right now. Only three pitchers are penciled in for the rotation. Jacob deGrom is the best pitcher in the National League and the Mets anchor. He is joined by Marcus Stroman and David Peterson. At some point, Noah Syndergaard will join the rotation when he is healthy enough. But it is not known when that will be. The other candidates all are flawed such as Seth Lugo and Steven Matz. Trevor Bauer is available and he would give the Mets the best 1-2 punch in all of baseball. Not to mention the Mets would have the last three NL Cy Young winners in their rotation.
The last big fish would fire a shot directly at their cross-town rivals. DJ LeMahieu is coming off back to back MVP caliber seasons and would be the kind offensive player who could bring the Mets lineup to elite status. Just imagine LeMahieu and Jeff McNeil hitting back to back at the top of the Mets batting order. All four of these players are head and shoulders above the next best free-agent alternative but won’t come cheap. It’s hard to imagine signing any of these players for less than four years and 100 million dollars or more. Especially since all four players rejected the qualifying offers of 18.9 million dollars.
Big Player Impact
All four of these big free agents not only helps the team with their baseball skills and presence, but they also elevate the players around them and opens the door to some options for the Mets. Signing George Springer will allow the Mets to slide Brandon Nimmo over to left field. This will give the Mets a legitimate outfielder in left instead of using players who can’t field the position. Dominic Smith, J.D. Davis and Jeff McNeil all have played left field in the last two seasons and all three of them have not played the position well. Nimmo will change that despite being a lesser offensive player.
Realmuto would give the Mets the best all-around catcher they have had since Gary Carter. He won’t hit like Mike Piazza but he will play much better defense. Realmuto would improve the Mets pitching staff by the way he calls games, blocks balls in the dirt, and with his throwing arm. Trevor Bauer would be the best # 2 starter in baseball and would push every other starter down one spot. This would create an incredible five-man rotation once Syndergaard returns.
DJ Lemahieu would bring a great deal of professionalism to a young Mets team. Plus the hidden value of signing LeMahieu would mean Davis and Smith could be used as major trade chips along with either Amed Rosario or Andres Gimenez. Imagine the possibilities in a potential trade for the Mets. They could add Nimmo into a package and trade for a big upgrade in left field or shortstop. Or maybe the Mets could trade for a big pitcher. It’s not every day that you could have three young and inexpensive major league players as trade chips.
Since the Mets want to build a team to last we have to look beyond the 2021 season. By signing two or more of the top four free agents it does come at a cost. Aside from the money and years, it will cost for these players, all are at least 30 years old. Bauer is 30, Lemahieu is 32, Springer is 31, and Realmuto is 30 which is considered old for a catcher with seven years experience coming off a hip injury.
Now are these old and aging players? No. But by the end of their contracts, they will be in their mid-thirties. Should this stop the Mets from signing any of these players? Of course not. But it is worth mentioning. The one other factor that is not often discussed is the forfeiture of draft picks. Under MLB rules if a team signs a player who refused a qualifying offer they would forfeit a draft pick. If more than one such player is signed it would be multiple picks. Sandy Alderson has stated that the Mets want to build a strong farm system. By signing any of the big four free agents the Mets would be losing top draft picks. The Mets first-round pick would be safe but other draft picks would be lost.
I know Met fans are not looking at 2022 but maybe they should. There will be several issues for the 2022 season that need to be addressed. Michael Conforto will be a free agent at the end of the season. Surely the Mets want to keep Conforto in Queens. What could the price tag be for an outfielder who would be 29 years old when the 2022 season starts who is blossoming into a star player on the big stage of New York? This is potentially a 20 million dollar player or more, Additionally Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard will both be free agents at the end of the 2021 season too. That is potentially two-fifths of the Mets starting rotation.
Next up we have the players who are still under contract and entering their arbitration years. Pete Alonso could get a massive raise if he has another big season in 2020. The same goes for Jeff McNeil. The Mets could definitely sign both players to long-term contracts effectively buying out their arbitration years but that will cost them money. Other players heading into arbitration are Dominic Smith, Amed Rosario, Brandon Nimmo, J.D. Davis, Edwin Diaz, and Seth Lugo. That’s if none of these players are traded.
One more factor for the 2022 season is Robinson Cano and his 20 million dollars. Cano, assuming he passes a drug test, will be back with the Mets for the 2022 season. While Met fans don’t want to see him in Queens again it does not change the fact that his money comes back on the books. Steve Cohen just can’t wave a magic wand and make Cano disappear. The MLBPA won’t allow Cano’s contract to be bought out at a lower price. So either Cohen completely buys out Cano or eats a big chunk of his salary in a trade, his money does count.
The real hidden gem with this Mets team is the number of core players with very inexpensive contracts. This is something worth noting especially if Cohen decides to look at his major league roster on a year to year basis. The Mets could afford to sign more than one of the top free-agents and possibly stay under the luxury tax. Cohen could take the approach to go all out this offseason and sign two or more top players. But would it make sense to take a potential 30 million dollars from what it would cost to sign Trevor Bauer or J.T. Realmuto and use it differently?
James McCann is available and according to reports he can be signed for four years at 40 million. This would potentially save the Mets over 100 million by not signing Realmuto. No doubt Realmuto is the better player, but McCann is serviceable. Would the Mets be better by signing two bullpen arms like Brad Hand and Liam Hendriks and a starter such as Jake Odorizzi with the 30 million not spent on Bauer? Even if the Mets had to add a little more cash to sign the trio? It’s not about spending the money it’s about spending the money the right way.
The thought among Met fans is that Steve Cohen does not care about the luxury tax and whatever penalty the Mets would have to pay is just peanuts. But this is still a business. Yes, Cohen’s goal is to bring championships to Queens. But at what cost? Should Cohen take financial losses every year just to bring a championship to the Mets? It is still not known if fans will be allowed into the stadiums for the 2021 season. This means that every MLB team including Cohen’s Mets will be taking a financial hit once again. The Wilpons were terrible owners. But that should not mean that Cohen has to pay for all of their mistakes.
The truth is no matter what Cohen does in the next couple of months, he won’t win with his fan base. It is never going to be enough for some fans. As for the rest, they will say he didn’t bring in the players I wanted. The expectations are set so high. This is really unchartered territory for the Mets. They are the center of the baseball world with an owner who is going to spend money. But will it ever be enough?
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