Bauer dilemma for Mets: Win now, pay later?

January 29th, 2021

is still out there, for the Mets and Dodgers and everybody else, as we move up on the first of February. He still makes as much sense for the Mets as he did at the start of the offseason, even as Jon Heyman is reporting that the Mets are offering Bauer three or four years. It would mean that he’s not going to come close to getting the nine years that Gerrit Cole got from the Yankees, or the $324 million.

But that deal was made before the current economy, in baseball and in the country, and before COVID-19. Three months after the World Series ended, Bauer still needs a team. Maybe the Dodgers or somebody else will still give Bauer more years and money than the Mets have on the table. We’ll find out. But I’ve thought since the start of the offseason that Bauer was the best fit for the Mets and they were the best thing for him. It’s clear by now from social media he thinks he knows everything about everything. He’d be perfect for New York City, right?

The Mets have a good pitching staff without Bauer on it, even after trading Steven Matz to the Blue Jays. But Bauer would give them a great staff, even if the Mets aren’t expected to get Noah Syndergaard (recovering from Tommy John surgery) back until the summer.

So now the Mets are at the point that a lot of win-now, big-spending teams (the Mets are one of those) reach when there is a possible game changer like Bauer available:

Are they willing to make a good, short-term baseball decision that they know could turn out to be a questionable, long-term business decision?

And will the player they’re after accept that type of offer?

Long contracts -- even for star starting pitchers -- so often turn out to be really bad business decisions. Even Gerrit Cole, as good as he is, might fall into that category in a few years. There are exceptions, of course. Two with the Yankees come to mind. They signed Mike Mussina to a six-year, $89 million contract before the 2001 season, a lot of money for a starter in those days. And Mussina was still such a good pitcher that at the end of the deal, the Yankees gave him two more years. And in the second year of that contract, Mussina won 20 games (a career best) and then retired.

The Yankees wanted CC Sabathia back to finish his career in pinstripes after the original, seven-year and $162 million deal he signed in December of 2008 expired. Sabathia had enough stuff left that when the Yankees got to a Game 7 of the AL Championship Series against the Astros in 2017, he got the nod.

Max Scherzer was great when the Nationals signed him from the Tigers to a seven-year deal and is still great six years into that contract. His old teammate in Detroit, Justin Verlander, who still had $78 million left on his Tigers contract when the Astros got him, ended up with a rich extension after landing in Houston. Then he underwent Tommy John surgery. Two years after acquiring Chris Sale from the White Sox, the Red Sox gave him a huge extension. Now he’s recovering from Tommy John surgery. As you can see, these types of contracts have worked to varying degrees.

By the way? Sabathia pitched the Yankees to a World Series title in the short-term, so did Verlander in Houston, so did Scherzer in his fifth year in Washington. Sale helped pitch the Red Sox to a World Series title in 2018. Were these all good baseball decisions by the teams? Their teams won it all, didn’t they? But now we will see how much arm Sale has left, how much arm Verlander has left. Sabathia, even with that Game 7 start, was a shell of himself by the end.

Max Scherzer was 30 when he left the Tigers. Bauer just turned 30. He is coming off the season of his life, winning a Cy Young for the Reds, with an ERA of 1.73. He also did that with a 5-4 record in a short season.

So how much does a team like the Mets -- or the Dodgers -- pay Bauer in the year when he does turn 30, and how many years do they give him? It’s complicated. It always is with starting pitchers. Maybe that is why Bauer is still out there.

“If you tell me I can get him on a four-year deal,” Buck Showalter said on Thursday, “I’d sign him yesterday.”

Then Buck was recalling something Gene “Stick” Michael, one of the truly great baseball men of his time (and once Buck’s boss with the Yankees when the two of them were rebuilding the Yankees in the 90s) told him.

“We were talking about a player, and I was thinking too much like a general manager and not enough like a manager,” Buck said. “And finally Stick said, ‘It’s not our [freaking] money. If [George Steinbrenner] wants to spend it, let him.”

It’s understood that Mets owner Steve Cohen has money to spend, though he appears to want to stay below the Competitive Balance Tax threshold of $210 million. Based on various estimates, the team is roughly $30-35 million below that number, perhaps just enough to squeeze Bauer in. Mets team president, Sandy Alderson, has already swung a trade for the best available player this winter, Francisco Lindor. Now we ask the same question we’ve been asking for months:

How far do Cohen and Alderson go to sign the best pitcher out there, and try to deliver the Mets their first World Series championship in 35 years?

Short-term baseball decision? Or long-term business decision on Trevor Bauer? We’re about to find out, in the post-Gerrit Cole world for starting pitchers.