The news on Tuesday night that George Springer was signing with the Toronto Blue Jays for six years and $150 million was distressing for many Mets fans, and that’s understandable.
But when you peel away the disappointment and analyze the situation for the Mets as it relates to the 2021 season and beyond, it’s clear why Sandy Alderson and Steve Cohen held their ground and refused to outbid the Jays for Springer.
Unpacking the situation 36 hours out can also help shift the feeling from “Man, the Mets’ lineup would’ve been ridiculous with Springer in it, why didn’t they just pay him?” to “It’s easy to understand why the Mets did not go all-out for Springer.”
This is not to say that Cohen cannot afford to outbid any team for any player. He can.
And this is not to say that fans should be on the side of any team intent on treating the $210 million luxury tax as a hard salary cap. They shouldn’t.
But here’s the situation…
Most teams, the Mets included, do not want to go over the luxury tax — and they are especially opposed to exceeding it for a bunch of years in a row due to the penalties. Cohen is on record that he is willing to exceed the threshold, but has specified that it might not be this offseason.
If the Mets are intent on staying under the threshold for 2021 — and if they want to retain two of their most important players (a lot more on that below) — here are four things they can do to finish their offseason in perfect fashion:
Find a new center fielder
The Mets have close to $30 million to work with under the luxury tax, and adding Springer would’ve eaten most of that up. Now, they can spread that money around to free agents/trade targets and their own players.
While center field might not be the first item knocked off the list, it is arguably the biggest need left as it pertains to the Mets’ success or failure in 2021. And they should be operating under the assumption that the NL will again have the DH this season, allowing them to use Pete Alonso or Dominic Smith there.
This has been discussed over and over but bears repeating: Brandon Nimmo cannot be the starting center fielder. He, through no fault of his own, is simply not capable in center defensively.
Nimmo, who is an elite offensive player, should be in left field, with the Mets signing or trading for a player who is a plus defender to handle center.
Free agent Jackie Bradley, Jr. — a truly elite defensive center fielder — is one option. The Mets could also opt to sign Bradley and add a player such as Enrique Hernandez or Albert Almora (whom they have expressed interest in) to be the short end of a center field platoon.
In the case of Hernandez, he would also be able to slide all over the outfield and infield as needed.
No matter what the Mets do — and whether it’s via free agency or trade (Kevin Kiermaier?) — center field must be addressed.
Add one more high-end reliever
The Mets’ bullpen is in very good shape, with a back end that should include Edwin Diaz, Trevor May, and Seth Lugo.
Lugo’s role for 2021 (starter or reliever) should not be in doubt. And while manager Luis Rojas did not give any clarity about Lugo when he spoke earlier this offseason, Alderson has hinted numerous times that Lugo’s role will likely be in relief.
Along with Diaz, May, and Lugo, the Mets can use one more late-inning arm, and have been connected to elite lefty free agent Brad Hand.
If the Mets don’t sign Hand, other options include Keone Kela and Alex Colome.
Extend Michael Conforto
Locking up Michael Conforto long-term is something that we touched on throughout last season and again in September right after the season ended.
Per SNY’s Andy Martino, the Mets chose the possibility of a Conforto extension over signing George Springer, with Martino reporting that the intention from day one of the Steve Cohen regime has been to extend Conforto.
As noted at the beginning of this piece, it’s understandable that some fans are upset over the Mets not signing Springer.
But if the choice for the Mets was Springer or Conforto, opting for Conforto is a no-brainer.
To reiterate, just because the Mets can afford to clog up their payroll with megadeals doesn’t mean they should. Teams that aspire to have sustained success do not operate that way, like it or not.
Conforto, who is represented by Scott Boras, is on record that he’s open to signing long-term before hitting free agency after this season.
Extending Conforto will be easier said than done, but it is not unheard of for Boras clients to sign extensions early. It has happened several times, including with huge names such as Stephen Strasburg.
While the Mets are at it with Conforto, they should also be in the ear of Francisco Lindor (see below) and Noah Syndergaard about possible extensions.
Things are much trickier with Syndergaard since he’s still working his way back from Tommy John surgery, but with Marcus Stroman and Steven Matz set for free agency after the season — and with none of the Mets’ top pitching prospects close to the majors — they should be working hard to lock up Syndergaard when the time is right.
Extend Francisco Lindor
The cost the Mets paid in talent for Lindor was for one year of him, which is something Alderson went into great detail about during the news conference announcing the trade.
Had the Mets asked for an extension to sign Lindor — something that is rarely done anymore — they would’ve had to part with a lot more to nab him.
Instead, the Mets took Lindor for one year with the hope that they could extend him long-term.
And even though Alderson has been wry about the Mets’ chances to extend Lindor while discussing the trade, it will be a surprise if New York does not lock the superstar up to a megadeal that could be worth in the area of $300 million.
If they want to get it done, though, the clock is ticking.
During his introductory news conference, Lindor made it clear that he is open to signing long-term before hitting free agency, but that he does not plan to negotiate during the season.
That means the Mets have a little over two months to get a deal done with Lindor. Tick tock.