By Jason Keidel
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Maybe the Mets didn’t get the golden log of the hot stove league — Giancarlo Stanton — but the signing of slugger Jay Bruce matters.
Not only for the back-page splash, but also because Bruce is a left-handed power hitter who can ease the burden from Yoenis Cespedes. Bruce was one of the 10 best free agents on the market, according to Yahoo Sports. And only Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Nelson Cruz, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista have belted more homers than Bruce (277) over the last decade.
The next question the Mets must answer: Is Bruce an appetizer or the entree? The beginning of a free agent binge or the extent of the splurge?
For Mets haters or those who just find fault with Bruce because he doesn’t address other needs, there’s no reason the Mets have to stop with the three-year, $39 million contract — a pretty small deal by modern standards — they gave Bruce.
The Mets have questions freckling the diamond, from first to second to third base and beyond. Let’s look at free agents available and whom the Mets could at least call and court, and give their fans some hope that the Yankees haven’t devoured the Big Apple (again) for the next decade.
Eric Hosmer. Like Bruce, Hosmer isn’t beloved for his glove, but rather for his bat. Front-office types also like Hosmer’s clubhouse mojo. Unlike Bruce, Hosmer is still under 30 (28 years old), batted over .300 last year (.318) and has a much better on-base percentage (.385). Are the Mets likely to sign Hosmer? Of course not. But we’re still allowed to remind them there’s endless elbow room for improvement.
Mike Moustakas. Hosmer’s teammate in Kansas City, the slugger’s next birthday (which, sadly, is on Sept. 11) will be his 30th. But the Mets would be drooling over the 2017 All-Star’s 38 homers, relatively robust .272 batting average and relatively modest 94 strikeouts. Of course, infield power hitters over 30, especially at third base, tend to be nudged toward the outfield. So if the Mets bagged the (former?) Royals third baseman, they would place him at the hot corner likely for two years.
Two years ago, the Mets seemed to have a conveyer belt of pitching arms, especially starters. Now, they have two certainties, if healthy — Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom. And there’s no shortage of marquee starting pitchers on the winter market.
Like Yu Darvish. Team execs will cringe over Darvish’s last two starts — both brutal losses in the World Series in which Darvish didn’t even make it out of the second inning. The overriding factor should be that he helps you get to the World Series. The 31-year-old righty is big (6-foot-5, 220 lbs), strong and still very good, with a career mark of 56-42 and 3.42 ERA. The four-time All-Star is too good to ignore. He won’t come cheap, though.
Or what about Jake Arrieta, the Cubs’ stalwart starter? Arrieta turns 32 before the 2018 season begins. He’s 88-56 with a career 3.57 ERA. Since his surreal, breakout season in 2015 (22-6, 1.77 ERA), Arrieta has gotten slightly worse each year. But he’s still a front-end starter who’s averaged 30 starts over the last four years. He’s also probably too pricey for the Mets. But with Arrieta or Darvish, the Mets, with good health, could have the best rotation in the National League.
Or maybe some corn on the (Alex) Cobb? Born in Boston in October 1987 — one year after the Mets beat the Red Sox in the World Series — Tampa Bay Rays’ righty is finally pitching to the back of his baseball card. Which means he seems fully recovered from his Tommy John surgery in 2015. General managers say his fastball is back, they love his curve and his change-up is making more than a cameo. The 30-year-old has a career mark of 48-35 with a 3.50 ERA. He won’t ask for ace money — a good thing because the Mets won’t offer it, if they ever even talk to Cobb.
The Mets could use some bullpen help, too. Who couldn’t, other than the Yankees and a couple other teams? But the most glittering moves are highlighted above. And it’s not like the Mets don’t have money. They’re just reluctant to spend it.
If the Mets want us — and, more importantly, you, the fan — to take them seriously in 2018, they need to crowbar open the wallet and land at least one more marquee player. It’s time to party like it’s 2015, not 2017.