NEW YORK -- At his introductory press conference in November, incoming Mets owner Steve Cohen offered a dose of reality. Cohen, a multibillionaire many times over, pledged liberal funds to the Mets’ 2021 roster. But he warned that his primary goal was to create a sustainable winner, which meant administering restraint when needed. The Mets, Cohen said, would not “spend like drunken sailors.”
The first real bit of proof arrived late Tuesday evening, when the Blue Jays, not the Mets, reportedly landed free-agent outfielder George Springer with a six-year, $150 million contract. According to a source, the Mets’ best offer for Springer was six years at around $120-125 million. In the end, they were not close.
For team officials, this was always about opportunity cost. While Springer would have been a snug fit in New York’s outfield, pushing Brandon Nimmo to left to give the Mets their best defensive mix in years, signing him might have prevented them from completing other goals on their offseason list.
Below are the ways the Mets can turn their loss of Springer into a success. Remember, with the financial flexibility they just gained, the Mets are not limited to just one of the following:
Improve the outfield
Springer was not the only outfielder on the open market. Chief among the alternatives is Jackie Bradley Jr., a 2018 Gold Glover who has produced 49 defensive runs saved in center field over the past seven seasons. As such, Bradley would represent a clear defensive improvement over Nimmo, who could still shift over as the Mets’ everyday left fielder.
“JBJ is kind of the PBJ of the Major Leagues -- he’s sweet, smooth and spreads it all over, covers it well,” said his agent, Scott Boras, utilizing one of his favored food metaphors. “When you have a world champion and someone who’s done what Jackie’s done, being as young as he is [30 years old] and being as efficient as he is and as great of a teammate as he is, he’s received a lot of attention.”
Bradley may not be the same type of offensive threat as Springer, but he’s no slouch, posting an .814 OPS over 55 games for the Red Sox last season. One issue is that the Mets’ offense skews left-handed even without Bradley, though that shouldn’t be enough to deter them from signing him.
If not Bradley, the Mets could pursue right-handed options like Kevin Pillar or Jake Marisnick, two fine defenders who might fit better platooning with Nimmo. The wild card here is the designated hitter rule; while the Mets badly want the DH to return to the National League, they could make do if it doesn’t by deploying Nimmo in center and Dominic Smith in left. That would give them a below-average defensive mix on paper, but a strong offensive outfield.
Shore up the bullpen
Even after trading for Joey Lucchesi earlier this week, the Mets could continue adding to their pitching mix. The bullpen appears to be a particular focus, with team officials recently engaging left-hander Brad Hand in talks. It would have been difficult for the Mets to acquire both Springer and Hand while staying under Major League Baseball’s $210 million luxury-tax threshold, which is their stated preference. Without Springer in the picture, Hand becomes an even likelier option.
Negotiate an extension (or two)
Similar to their situation in the bullpen, the Mets would have struggled to sign Springer while also inking Francisco Lindor to a long-term extension -- another stated goal -- and staying under the luxury-tax threshold. Signing Springer while locking up both Lindor and Michael Conforto always seemed like an unrealistic dream.
While missing out on Springer doesn’t guarantee the Mets can come to terms with both of those players, it at least gives them a chance. Lindor, who could command a contract over $300 million, appears to be the Mets’ top priority; signing him to a long-term deal would help justify the price New York paid to acquire him from the Indians. Conforto might be a tougher sign, given Boras’ long history of taking clients to free agency, but the outfielder has expressed a desire to negotiate in the past.
Without Springer, the Mets at least have the financial freedom to engage both players in serious conversations, with their offseason grade at least partially depending upon the result. How much team officials accomplish from the list above -- acquire outfield help, find a reliever, negotiate extensions -- will dictate whether letting Springer go to Toronto was the right move or not.