Five Pieces of Advice for Steve Cohen and the Mets in 2021

As Steve Cohen completes his purchase of the Mets and begins his first offseason, there is going to be considerable speculation that Cohen will use his vast resources to make a splash and try to make the Mets contenders next season. He absolutely should do that, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a plan other than drop cash out of the sky and see which players take it. There are hundreds of free agents, tons of trade options, and many internal decisions on players. While unlimited funds sounds great, Cohen and the Mets will need to target their resources to make the biggest impact for this season and beyond. With that in mind, here’s how I would plan an ideal offseason for the Mets.

Don’t Trade Away Talented Players

When Brodie Van Wagenen got the Mets job, he had an admittedly difficult task to make the Mets into more of a contender without significantly increasing payroll. That meant taking on a bad contract in Robinson Canó’s deal, but also requiring cash to cover some of the costs and sending over players with near-term bad contracts in Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak to offset current contracts. Then, top prospect Jarred Kelenic was added all so the Mets could get an elite reliever in Edwin Díaz. In short, the Mets took on huge future salary commitments and gave up future talent for immediate salary relief and a reliever. The Mets shouldn’t have to make those types of moves to acquire talented players.

That means, for this offseason, the Mets shouldn’t be going after Francisco Lindor. They shouldn’t be trading prospects for Kris Bryant or Lance Lynn. If the Rangers want to simply hand over Lynn or Joey Gallo in exchange for taking on some other contracts, like Rougned Odor or Elvis Andrus, then make that move. If the Rockies want to move Nolan Arenado, but insist on tacking on Charlie Blackmon and Ian Desmond and don’t need talent going back, then make that move. Teams might be willing to give up talented players with players who have undesirable contracts, and those are moves the Mets should look to make. They shouldn’t be giving up the talented players and prospects they have to acquire other talented players. That’s what the money is for.

J.T. Realmuto is a No-Brainer

In looking at the position-player side of the Mets’ depth chart, the team looks to be decently set up at most spots. They have a young pairing at shortstop with Andrés Giménez and Amed Rosario that is more promise than results, but it isn’t an awful situation. Their left field scenario is a little dependent on Dominic Smith continuing his breakout, but the Mets probably feel pretty good about that. It’s possible the team could use a center fielder and move Brandon Nimmo to a corner, but that isn’t completely necessary. Canó’s solid season eases some doubts about second base, though a potential decline is worrisome. Where the Mets can make the biggest impact on their team’s outlook is at the catcher position. The best free agent this offseason is J.T. Realmuto, and he plays catcher.

If we assume the Mets’ budget isn’t unlimited, it’s worth a quick look at their current payroll situation. Heading into the offseason, the payroll looks like it will be in the $140 million range. The team could spend another $60 million or so and still be below the competitive balance tax for this season, if Cohen wanted to make nice with the other owners for this season. Long-term, the Mets have about $60 million committed to Jacob deGrom and Canó through 2023, but they have no other guaranteed contracts after this season. Jeff McNeil and Pete Alonso will be arbitration-eligible in 2022 as Noah Syndergaard and Michael Conforto become free agents. Even if we see the Mets below the current competitive balance tax amount this year and the next few seasons, the team has a ton of payroll room.

Realmuto would give the team a four-win upgrade at catcher over their current options, and at $20-25 million per year over the next four-to-six seasons, the Mets can easily absorb that contract. Taking Realmuto away from division rivals in Philadelphia further helps their playoff chances. George Springer is also appealing, as he’s a right-handed bat in a lefty-dominated lineup. He can play center field, and the Mets don’t have a true center fielder at the moment. While there’s definitely a fit there, the upgrade for the Mets isn’t close to what they would get from Realmuto.

Target Depth on the Position Player Side

While Springer and Realmuto would be nice, the Mets need to raise their floor in addition to their ceiling. With Canó aging and an outfield full of lefties in addition to Canó and McNeil, the Mets could use a more diverse outlook even if all of their hitters don’t have huge platoon splits. A switch-hitter like Jurickson Profar would be an ideal fit for the Mets. Capable of playing multiple infield positions as well as the outfield, Profar presents a right-handed complement against lefties that the Mets don’t have. Enrique Hernández would also fit the bill at a lesser cost. While the team has a super-utility type in McNeil already, creating more options and adding more depth is what the Mets need to make sure injuries, age, or inconsistency don’t torpedo a season.

In the outfield, a righty-batting solid defender in center would be a good complement to their current setup, though the free agent market doesn’t provide a lot of good options. The trade or non-tender market could prove fruitful for finding depth, and the Rays could match up well. Kevin Kiermaier is a lefty and not the perfect fit, but it is a salary Tampa Bay could be looking to move. Alternatively, Manuel Margot is a righty who plays a solid center field, and he might be a non-tender candidate or available cheaply in trade. While on the Rays front, Hunter Renfroe is another non-tender candidate who bats from the right side and could be a good complement to the Mets outfield.

Add as Many Starting Pitchers as Possible

deGrom certainly gives the Mets a head start in the rotation compared to basically every team, but after him, the Mets have only question marks. Steven Matz, Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, and David Peterson aren’t enough to inspire any sort of confidence heading into next season. Syndergaard should be available at some point, but coming off Tommy John surgery, his performance is hardly a guarantee. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to think the Mets should get three more solid starters and push the rest of the options to the end of the rotation or the bullpen. The best starter available is Trevor Bauer, and he would certainly be a fit, but good depth is more important than a solid No. 2 starter. The Mets employed a light version of this strategy a year ago with Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha, but they can aim a little higher this winter.

After Bauer, Masahiro Tanaka, Marcus Stroman, James Paxton, Kevin Gausman, Mike Minor, Chris Archer, Jose Quintana, Drew Smyly, Taijuan Walker, Jake Odorizzi, Corey Kluber, Garrett Richards, Porcello, Matt Shoemaker, J.A. Happ, Robbie Ray, and Adam Wainwright are all among our Top 50 Free Agents, with Charlie Morton’s declined option also putting himself in that group. There’s a mix of stability and upside and the Mets should grab three (or more) of these options. On the trade side, a salary dump like Carlos Martinez of the Cardinals would also present an interesting option.

If You Pay for a Reliever, Make it Liam Hendriks

The Mets have plenty of other needs to address before they get to the bullpen, but if there is a little extra cash floating around after other needs are met, the bullpen presents some opportunities. With all the relievers available, targeting some mid-level options at reasonable prices will be tempting. The Mets should avoid that temptation. If they are going to sign a free agent reliever, it should be an elite one, and Liam Hendriks presents the only elite reliever in this free agent class. If the Mets miss out on Hendriks or choose not to pursue him, they should make any bullpen additions at a very low level of cost, preferring quantity over the questionable quality available.

This winter presents opportunities for teams willing to spend cash, and the Mets appear to be one of the teams with cash after Steve Cohen’s purchase of the club. The Mets also have a good amount of talent on hand, and they appear poised to jump into a more certain level of contention starting next season.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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3 years ago

Mets are going to outbid every one.

they are the only ownership group that did not take a massive hit in 2020, since they didnt own the team during the season. 29 team will be low balling