All eyes are on the Mets in this free-agency season. Yes, with Steve Cohen bringing his billions to the party while other teams in baseball claim to be reeling from revenue lost to the Covid-season, it should be a fascinating few months ahead in Queens.
For while putting money into the Mets’ scouting/development and analytics is vital to building a sustainable winner, I’ve made the point repeatedly that with Jacob deGrom at age 32, it makes sense for Cohen to flex his financial might immediately while the Mets’ ace is still pitching at such a high level.
Meanwhile, there’s some thought that Sandy Alderson, who will take over as team president when the Cohen deal is official, will proceed with patience, waiting for opportunities that may develop this winter because teams will be cutting payroll, as we’ve seen already with the Rays and Indians declining to pick up contract options on Charlie Morton and Brad Hand.
Alderson is expected to hire two people to handle the day-to-day operations, likely replacing Brodie Van Wagenen, but he is sure to have plenty of say in what moves the Mets make in the coming months, no doubt in consultation with Cohen.
And while Alderson projected a distaste for overspending during his first go-round as Mets’ GM, I spoke with two people who have worked for him in the past who believe he’ll operate with a different mindset with Cohen.
“Sandy won’t rush into anything, but I can tell you he felt he didn’t get the chance to finish the job there,” one person said. “So if he has the new owner’s blessing, I’m sure he’ll look for opportunities to be aggressive. I’m sure he sees there’s a nucleus there to win with.”
So how will it play out?
Here are my seven bold predictions for the Mets’ winter of intrigue:
1. Marcus Stroman Accepts Qualifying Offer
The New York Post is reporting Stroman is leaning toward rejecting the qualifying offer, but I still believe there's a solid chance that by the Wednesday deadline he'll wind up taking that $18.9 million salary for 2020.
The reason? I'm counting on Stroman – who will be 30 in May -- getting good and mad when his market isn't as strong as he was expecting, which is the consensus among scouts and executives I spoke to this week.
In a Covid depressed market with a draft pick attached to him, while coming off a season in which the right-hander didn’t pitch, that might equate to offers in range of three years, $42-45 million.
That's a lot more than $18.9 million, but such an offer won't make Stroman happy. He believes he’s one of the top starters in baseball, often talking about his "dominance" when describing his ability, and we've seen how ticked off he got on Twitter after Yankees GM Brian Cashman rejected the idea of trading for him in 2019.
So I can see him accepting the qualifying offer, pitching with a chip on his shoulder in 2021 with the intent of proving he deserves a mega-deal while knowing the teams should have more money to spend next winter as well.
If that happens, it seems less likely the Mets would spend big on Trevor Bauer, the top free-agent pitcher, and more likely they’d sign a big-ticket position player.
2. Mets Sign George Springer
This could come down to a preference between Springer and J.T. Realmuto, and obviously either one would fit perfectly with the Mets. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Alderson is wary about signing a 30-year old catcher to a long-term deal, while seeing more value in getting Springer.
There’s some question how long Springer will be able to stay in center, but the consensus among scouts is that he should be OK there for at least a couple of more seasons before moving to a corner spot.
For the immediate future, then, he’d fill that long-standing need for a center fielder after Brandon Nimmo’s defense hurt them in 2020. No less significant, the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal aside, Springer has proven he can hit when it counts most, putting up an OPS of .895 in 63 postseason games with 19 home runs.
3. Mets Trade for Francisco Lindor
As much as I love the way Andres Gimenez plays, I’ve come around on this idea after seeing the impact Mookie Betts had on the Dodgers in his first season there, and also because I believe the Mets could get Lindor at a reasonable cost.
The small-market Indians have made it clear they’re going to trade their star shortstop going into his walk year, but in this Covid climate, very few teams are going to be willing to take on his $20 million salary in addition to giving up top talent in return, especially if they’re not sure they can sign him long-term.
So I don’t think the Mets would have to give up Pete Alonso or Dom Smith, as SNY’s Andy Martino reported other teams are saying likely would be necessary.
Instead their trio of young shortstops, Gimenez, Amed Rosario, and top prospect Ronny Mauricio offers a lot of value, and if the Indians want two of them, with the idea of moving one to another position, that should go a long way toward getting it done.
The Indians needed offense last year, so the Mets could throw in J.D. Davis, and perhaps another position-player prospect like Mark Vientos, depending whether Cleveland wants one or two of the shortstops.
No doubt the Indians are going to ask for Smith or Alonso, but I’m not convinced other teams would be willing to give up those types of players in any package, so if it proves to be a deal-breaker the Mets should walk away, knowing they could always sign Lindor as a free agent in a year.
However, it’s clear the Indians very much want out from under that $20 million-plus Lindor is going to be awarded in arbitration, so if the if the Mets are patient -- a quality Alderson has exhibited in spades -- I think they could wind up getting the star shortstop on their terms.
4. Alderson Retains Manager Luis Rojas
As I wrote a few weeks ago, there’s a strong sentiment in the Mets’ organization toward keeping Rojas, who showed promise as a strong communicator and poised decision-maker in his first season as manager despite the ballclub underachieving.
Some in the organization feel Alderson will have a similar view, as sources say he was impressed with the job Rojas did under him for years managing in the minors. And Alderson is not one to hire a manager just because of name-value.
5. Mets Sign James McCann
Here’s the next best thing to signing Realmuto. McCann, 30, has always been considered an above-average defensive catcher, and his offense has improved in recent years to the point where he was an All-Star with the White Sox in 2019, then hit well (.896 OPS) in a part-time role last year, splitting time with Yasmani Grandal.
He’ll cost a lot less than Realmuto, which matters even for Cohen if the Mets do indeed sign and Springer and trade for Lindor.
6. Mets Sign Brad Hand
The Mets again need bullpen help. How much depends at least partly whether they keep Seth Lugo in the starting rotation or return him to his role as a late-inning reliever, where he was so successful in 2019.
Hand had a strong season as a closer in Cleveland, and the fact the Indians weren’t willing to pick up his $10 million option is more about the financial state many teams are in after a season in which they lost all ballpark-related revenue.
By adding a lefty who has been a closer, the Mets would protect themselves in case Edwin Diaz reverts back to 2019 form after showing signs last season of re-discovering the dominance that made him great for the Mariners.
7. Mets Sign Jake Odorizzi
Everything changes, of course, if Stroman rejects the qualifying offer, because then the Mets would need more high-end starting pitching, and maybe Bauer becomes more of a priority. But even if Stroman is back the Mets need depth in the rotation, especially if they decide they’re stronger with Lugo back in the bullpen.
In that case Odorizzi makes sense. He’s a No. 3-type starter whose price shouldn’t be too high coming off a lost season in which injuries (not pitching arm-related) limited him to only 13 2/3 innings over four starts with the Twins.
As a 30-year old right-hander who relies more on precision than power, Odorizzi has had enough solid seasons with the Rays and Twins over the years to make a bounce-back season likely.