Springer, Bauer ... both? Who will Mets sign?

December 19th, 2020

The Mets, as expected, have been active so far this offseason, signing catcher James McCann to a four-year contract and inking right-handed reliever Trevor May to a two-year deal. But Mets fans are still waiting for an even bigger splash, possibly in the form of a commitment to one, or both, of the top free agents available -- outfielder and reigning National League Cy Young Award winner .

Will the Mets sign one? Both? Who is more likely to be playing in Queens in 2021? A group of MLB.com reporters gathered to examine this in the latest roundtable discussion.

Alyson Footer (@alysonfooter, moderator): Springer and Bauer are, the best we can tell, drawing heavy interest from the Mets. In your estimation, who are they more interested in?

Jon Paul Morosi (@jonmorosi, reporter, MLB.com and MLB Network): Springer. Center field is the more pressing need.

Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo, Mets beat reporter): I really think it's Springer, for the simple reason that there is no other player like him on the market. People talk about the dropoff at catcher from J.T. Realmuto to McCann and that the Mets weren't afraid of that. Well, you could easily argue that the dropoff from Springer to Jackie Bradley Jr. is even greater. Now, center field isn't as big a need for the Mets as starting pitching, but you can miss on Bauer and still fill out your rotation nicely with any number of second-tier arms. So, I do see Springer as that "wow" piece that really excites this franchise.

Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports, MLB.com reporter/editor): Springer definitely seems like more of a long-term game-changer for this team -- and the fact that he plays every day, unlike a pitcher, adds to the "impact move" idea, which has certainly been circulating with everyone expecting the Mets to make a splash.

Morosi: To Anthony's point, there's something very compelling about signing a position player with: a proven history of dictating the day-to-day energy of a franchise; roots in the region where the team plays; and a track record of winning in the regular season and postseason. Springer satisfies every category. Springer to the 2021 Mets reminds me of the impact that Russell Martin had with the 2015 Blue Jays.

DiComo: J.P., I don't agree that center field is a more pressing need than starting pitching for this Mets team, especially if there's no designated hitter and you can deploy Dominic Smith in left field. (No, he's not a good defender out there, but he is a great bat.) You can be at least somewhat comfortable standing pat in the outfield, whereas the rotation still is quite clearly incomplete. That being said, I agree fully with the points Sarah and J.P. are making on Springer's impact. He does more than any remaining player in free agency to boost this team's ceiling.

Footer: Interesting takes. I came into this thinking Springer is the player the Mets want, but Bauer is the pitcher the Mets need, which to me gives the edge to Bauer. I'm outnumbered!

Langs: I like the way you phrased that. I think that’s part of what’s going on here -- Springer feels like a bigger move, but the rotation, even with Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard coming back, probably does need more help. This is also such a unique offseason, with the Mets being the main/primary bidders for most big free agents.

Morosi: I'm a believer that culture comes from your position players, and Springer has a known impact in that area. He's not going to be surprised by any of the pressure/expectations of being a New York Met.

DiComo: I just think there are more questions surrounding Bauer's track record than there are with Springer, and there are way more acceptable replacements for Bauer on the market for teams that don't land him.

Morosi: To be clear, I love Bauer as a fit for the Mets, too. (And I agree with Anthony that the rotation is a clear need.)

Footer: The defensive upgrade Springer brings can't be underestimated, either

DiComo: Right. Defense matters, and the Mets have largely ignored defense for a long time. They've been one of the worst defensive teams in baseball for a decade-plus now. Signing Springer not only upgrades center field, but it shifts Brandon Nimmo to left, where he's statistically a far better defender.

Langs: The Mets had minus-9 outs above average in the outfield last year, ranking 28th in the Majors, ahead of only the Angels and Blue Jays.

Morosi: Look no further than the Mets' most recent trip to the World Series in 2015. The Royals don't win it all that year without their elite outfield defense. (The gap between the Royals and Mets in that regard was so obvious, but I do not wish to irritate Mets fans and will say nothing more on the subject.)

Footer: How much do you think the Mets are weighing what kind of player Springer might be in another couple of years? We know the natural decline once a player gets to that "other" side of 30. Is that a concern? Or with new owner Steve Cohen's deep pockets, is he going to be a little bit of a throwback to how owners reasoned long-term deals -- "Yes, we know it might not serve us well in the last year or two, but we think we can get a World Series out of this in Years 1-3."

DiComo: I think Springer fits into the classic category of just about every long-term deal. You pay for premium production on the front end, knowing there will be some tail-off, and maybe even some ugly seasons, at the back. That being said, the odds of both Nimmo and Michael Conforto still being here several years into a Springer contract are infinitesimal. There is a path for Springer to shift to a corner if and when he needs it.

Langs: The "other side of 30" is absolutely a thing, but there’s nothing to Springer’s game that seems uniquely set to decline rapidly. His game, and underlying numbers, are very solid -- no extremes. I think that helps in projecting what he might be like four years from now. He might need to move to a corner-outfield spot, but beyond that, I can see him doing what he’s doing down the line, too.

Morosi: What we don't know -- and probably won't until Bauer signs -- is whether Bauer is going to insist on the one-year deal he's talked about in the past.

Footer: I was wondering about that. Long term for Springer and a one-year deal for Bauer, and the Mets get both in '21? Does that break the internet?

DiComo: I'll be skeptical of that until the day it happens. But if Bauer is willing to sign a one-year deal, that would make him really intriguing to the Mets, in my mind, because Robinson Cano's salary is off the books for 2021, but not '22 or '23.

"There is no such thing as a bad one-year deal" is a quote that you could probably attribute to 100 baseball executives, Mets president Sandy Alderson among them.

Morosi: I think it's absolutely in play for the Mets to get both Springer and Bauer.

Langs: A one-year deal would be so intriguing and seems to give the Mets the flexibility to sign both. I know what Bauer has said in the past, but it’s so hard to see a reigning Cy Young winner doing that, and I know his agent has said a few things this offseason trying to indicate that he might no longer be thinking that way, though of course we won’t actually know until he signs. There have only been three reigning Cy Young winners to change teams in free agency immediately following their award-winning season. They were all very different situations, but none signed one-year deals.

Morosi: We always talk about market inefficiencies, right? Well, spending big in this offseason might be the new inefficiency. Maybe the Mets look at this winter and say, "OK, not a lot of teams are comfortable making massive investments right now. We are. So let's make a number of moves and view it as shopping for this winter and next winter."

DiComo: If someone offers me $40 million guaranteed, and someone offers me $150 million guaranteed, I wonder which I'm taking?

Footer: Bauer's desire for one-year deals seems to stem from wanting to play for a contender every year, not just in select years of a long-term deal. In that respect, $40 million might outweigh $150 million, which I know sounds a little hard to fathom.

DiComo: That's still a lot of guaranteed money to give up for a pitcher (pitchers break!) with as spotty a track record as Bauer (people forget, he's only had two seasons in his career with a sub-4.00 ERA).

What are the odds of Bauer signing essentially four straight one-year megadeals to overcome the value of just inking a long-term contract now? Seems slim that he would be able to do that.

Morosi: Let’s also not forget the conversation surrounding the shortstop position, and why it is so fascinating -- for the Mets and everyone else.

Do you trade for Francisco Lindor? Sign Andrelton Simmons, Didi Gregorius or Marcus Semien on a short-term deal? Or just go with Andres Giménez and Amed Rosario to begin 2021, reevaluate at midseason with a (likely) talent-rich trade market, and then delve into the intriguing free-agent market a year from now? Because there are so many shortstop options coming to the free-agent market in a year, there's some risk in locking up a long-term shortstop right now.

In other words, I'd rather spend resources on Bauer than a shortstop right now.

DiComo: I think the Mets are actually more comfortable with shortstop right now than they are with third base. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but when I asked Alderson about third base earlier this week, he responded with a heavy sigh and then immediately said that the Mets have a defensive deficiency there. That doesn't mean a Nolan Arenado trade is coming down the chute, but I do think they believe Arenado would be easier to acquire without giving up premium prospects. Plus, Giménez is the real deal.

Morosi: If you forget the contractual implications for a moment, Arenado is a better fit for the Mets than Lindor. What that means in the practical world is unclear.

Langs: With the way the Mets are now viewed, spending-wise, you have to imagine they’re going to be a heavy contender in that 2021-22 shortstop market. There’s always the possibility of a trade and extension, but it’s hard to see them doing a short-term deal with a shortstop, especially with Giménez showing a lot of promise last year. If he does that again, maybe they aren’t a part of those free-agent discussions after 2021 at all.

DiComo: Great point about reexamining shortstop in a year, when Lindor would cost nothing more than money. That also gives you more time to evaluate Giménez, and especially Rosario, who is still so young (just 25!). Rosario could develop into a starter in 2021, and then the whole conversation seems silly. Or he could continue sliding backward, and then he becomes a non-tender candidate and you start thinking more seriously about your future at the position.

Langs: The free-agent market for pitchers next year isn’t exactly projected to be stellar. There does seem to be an urgency to get a bigger-deal pitcher move done now, but again, this comes back to whether it’d be a one-year deal or not.

Footer: Prediction time: Who do the Mets sign, and for how many years?

Morosi: Springer. Five years.

DiComo: Springer. Five years feels about right.

Langs: Feels like a five-year deal for Springer, agreed.

Morosi: And I still think there's a universe in which the Mets acquire both Springer and Bauer. Springer and Arenado is possible, but somewhat less likely. Springer, Bauer, and Arenado? Well, I'm not going that far. Patience, Mets fans. Not all of your dreams at once.