Mets Offseason Grades: Analyzing free agency moves and trades for 2021

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John Harper
·9 min read
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Carlos Carrasco, James McCann, Francisco Lindor and Trevor May treated image
Carlos Carrasco, James McCann, Francisco Lindor and Trevor May treated image

To recap an eventful winter: The Mets pulled off one of the great trades in franchise history, obtaining a superstar shortstop and a front-of-the-rotation starter, in addition to improving their problematic defense in key spots and rounding out the roster with a bevy of needed depth signings.

In short, there was a lot to like in going through the exercise of grading their offseason. Just not quite enough.

Let me explain in this context:

If the goal was to simply establish a foundation for long-term success in Steve Cohen’s first offseason, with the understanding the new owner will be dedicated to bulking up all areas of the organization from analytics to scouting/player development, then, yes, I’d give the Mets the highest of marks.

But to a point I’ve made repeatedly, that can’t be the only goal when you have the best pitcher in baseball in Jacob deGrom and the clock is ticking on his presumed ace status as he turns 33 in June.

It’s not as if the Mets have a stable of top pitching prospects, circa 2014, so if the ultimate goal is to win a championship, they should be trying to do it while deGrom is still at the top of his game.

But before delivering a final verdict, here are my individual grades for the key moves -- and non-moves -- of this offseason.

The Blockbuster

Turned out Sandy Alderson was head-faking everybody when he repeatedly said publicly the Mets were more likely to spend on free agents than give up prospects in a trade because he wanted to protect his thinned-out farm system.

Or maybe the price for Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco simply fell to a point that was too good to pass up, but either way the Mets got a steal thanks to their willingness to take on Lindor’s $22 million salary, knowing he can be a free agent after the ’21 season.

As a rival executive told me: “Going into the offseason I would have thought the package Cleveland wound up getting was what it would take for Lindor alone. For the Mets to get Carrasco too made the deal lopsided in their favor. And Cleveland has smart baseball guys, but they were just in a very bad position and the Mets took advantage of it.”

Yes, the Mets managed to get a superstar shortstop and a No. 2 starter without giving up any of their blue-chip prospects, surrendering pitcher Josh Wolf and outfielder Isaiah Greene, as well as their two major-league shortstops, Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez.

Of course, the Mets need to lock up Lindor long-term to cash in completely on the deal, but it’s hard to believe Cohen won’t get that done.

GRADE: A +

Settling for No. 2

In this case, No. 2 meaning the second-best catcher on the free-agent market in James McCann. He’s not J.T. Realmuto, yet the move seemed to make sense, in part because Realmuto’s asking price was going to take weeks/months to resolve, and in part because McCann seems to be trending in the right direction, vastly improved offensively the last couple of years and very solid defensively.

There was another smart angle to the signing, as the four-year, $40 million contract for McCann would allow the Mets to spend big money elsewhere, presumably on one of the other top free agents on the market. However, that didn’t happen.

They did splurge on the Lindor/Carrasco trade but more was expected.

GRADE: B

Striking Early

Many Mets’ fans may well have greeted the first free-agent signing of the Steve Cohen era by saying: “Trevor Who?”

No, Trevor May isn’t a brand-name reliever, but when Alderson moved quickly -- as baseball signings go, anyway -- to sign May for two years, $15.5 million in early December, with virtually all of the free-agent relievers still available, the move was widely endorsed by scouts and executives.

After being converted from a starter by the Twins in 2016, May quietly developed into one of the more effective set-up relievers in baseball. And after overhauling his slider in 2019, giving it much more vertical tilt, the right-hander had one of the highest swing-and-miss rates in all of baseball last year.

GRADE: A

The Big Whiff

I still don’t get it. George Springer was the perfect fit for the Mets in so many ways, yet the Mets decided to draw the line on what they thought he was worth, essentially passing on him as he signed with the Blue Jays for six years, $150 million.

Springer was the guy who finally would have ended their long-time need for an everyday center fielder while giving them a right-handed masher as the perfect complement to their lefty-leaning lineup.

And let’s not forget the Mets were a team that didn’t hit nearly enough in the clutch last year, which may or may not be significant going forward, but either way Springer’s October pedigree as a proven clutch hitter could well have been a difference-making element.

In the aftermath, many fans have insisted the price was too high, but I’d argue that value shouldn’t be the deciding factor for such an important player, especially when Cohen can afford to overpay.

With that in mind, I’ve spoken to many scouts and execs who were also puzzled by Mets’ reluctance. I could quote any of them anonymously but I thought former Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd summed up the argument nicely on MLB Network earlier this week after the Mets signed Kevin Pillar to help solve their center field problem.

“I can’t figure it out,” O’Dowd said. “Springer for me is a true center fielder for the next three years, at least. He’s a Top 20 player in all of baseball, and he’s the best big-game player in the game.

“He grew up in Connecticut and the perception was that he wanted to play for the Mets. If you’re them I don’t know how you don’t sign George Springer.”

It’s still not clear why the Mets wouldn’t go the extra mile, especially when we all learned in subsequent weeks during the Trevor Bauer negotiations that Cohen was willing to exceed the luxury-tax threshold.

Whatever the reason…

GRADE: F

He's Not Trevor Bauer But...

Taijuan Walker is still a solid signing the Mets needed to round out what should be a very good starting rotation, perhaps even one of the best in baseball if Noah Syndergaard returns at midseason from Tommy John surgery to pitch at a high level again.

Walker has never quite lived up to the early hype on him as a top prospect in Seattle, and he missed most of the 2018 and ’19 seasons because of Tommy John surgery.

However, the right-hander did finish strong last year after being traded to Toronto, pitching to a 1.37 ERA in six starts with the Blue Jays. And he’s still only 28, with some scouts seeing considerable upside ahead.

Bauer, of course, potentially would have been a difference-maker, in part because the Mets would have kept him from going to the Dodgers.

The Mets went all-in for him, offering him essentially the same huge three-year deal as the Dodgers, but there wasn’t much more they could have done if Bauer wanted to play for his hometown team, as seemed to be the case.

And missing out on him might not be the worst thing for the Mets. Bauer in New York would have been asking for trouble, given his history on social media and his sensitivity to criticism.

GRADE: B

The Front Office

Alderson surely never expected his biggest problem in coming back to the Mets to be filling out his front-office roster sheet.

First, he was surprised he couldn’t attract the candidates he wanted to take over for him as president of baseball operations, so he had to stay in that role and hire a GM, Jared Porter, who was fired after a month on the job when he admitted to having harassed a female reporter years earlier with a barrage of inappropriate texts, as reported in The Athletic.

Alderson isn’t necessarily to blame for failing to uncover the scandal before hiring Porter, but he said publicly the Mets need to put a more thorough vetting process in place, all the more so after Mickey Callaway was suspended by the Angels earlier this month for similar harassment of female reporters.

GRADE: F

Depth, depth and more depth

Yes, it seemed the Mets led the world in depth-signings/trades, from Joey Lucchesi to Jonathan Villar to Albert Almora Jr., to name just a few. Even Pillar falls into that category to some degree, depending how it all shakes out in the outfield, depending partly on whether MLB and the Players Association come to a last-minute agreement on the DH.

While they aren’t sexy names, depth is something the Mets have lacked in recent years, and if nothing else it gives them a better chance of withstanding injuries in 2021.

GRADE: A

The Bottom Line

There’s every reason to believe the Mets will be a strong contender. In fact, they’re the darlings of analytical projection models for the ’21 season, from Fangraphs to Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA rankings, for what that’s worth.

Certainly they should be a fun team to watch, with the potential for a dynamic offense and an improved defense highlighted by Lindor’s brilliance at short.

Their signing of Walker gives them added depth they needed in their starting rotation, and they should still be trying to add a reliever to fill the void while Seth Lugo is out from surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow.

But whatever else they do, unless it’s something unexpected like a trade for Kris Bryant, it feels like they’re a notch below the Dodgers and Padres at the top of the National League, and perhaps the Braves as well in the NL East.

As such I’m grading their offseason by my deGrom curve, if you will, meaning they should have done more (read: Springer) to try to win it all as soon as possible.

OVERALL GRADE: B