By Chris Melore
Major League Baseball’s offseason is already in full swing as all 30 teams are diving into the annual spending spree, better known as free agency. One of the winter’s biggest wheeling-and-dealing events kicks off Sunday night in San Diego with the Winter Meetings.
For the Mets, the history-making debut of Pete Alonso and a late season playoff run gave the team new hope after a dismal start to 2019. Despite 86 wins, another year outside the postseason ultimately costed manager Mickey Callaway his job.
Now, as fans adjust to new manager Carlos Beltran, an even more shocking introduction is about to be made — new billionaire owner Steve Cohen!
The following is the Mets’ version of a Christmas wish list; what they need to shop for this offseason to return to the playoffs — and what we will assume New York can afford to do now under their new chief executive:
TRADE NOAH SYNDERGAARD FOR A PREMIER CENTER FIELDER
The Mets haven’t had a game-changing player in center since their own manager was playing in Queens a decade ago!
There are teams reportedly looking to lower their massive payrolls and avoid paying the league’s luxury tax. One of those teams is the Boston Red Sox and the time is right to strike a deal for superstar Mookie Betts.
The 27-year-old is arguably baseball’s best player not named Mike Trout. A perennial MVP candidate, Betts has averaged 44 doubles, 29 home runs, and 94 RBI over the last four seasons. He’s projected to make around $28 million in 2020 — his final season of arbitration before becoming a free agent. If Boston can’t afford to sign Betts to a mega-contract, why not trade for him and then push for a long-term extension?
Could you imagine this lineup hitting at Citi Field?
- Mookie Betts
- Jeff McNeil
- Pete Alonso
- Michael Conforto
- Wilson Ramos
- Robinson Cano
Such a blockbuster trade is going to cost a lot and definitely include the often-rumored Syndergaard and the organization’s top prospects.
“Thor” is coming off his most disappointing season (4.28 ERA in 32 starts) and his ongoing issues with catcher Wilson Ramos are a headache New York can do without. He still has two years of arbitration left, which will be extremely appealing to teams trading for the flame-throwing righty.
Trading for Betts and then signing him to a $300 million-plus deal is the best option, but it’s not the only one if the team expands payroll under Cohen.
Rockies All-Star outfielder Charlie Blackmon is one of the NL’s best lead-off hitters and is under contract through at least 2021. He’s averaged 32 homers and a .315 average over the last four years.
Cubs superstar Kris Bryant could also be on the move. Chicago is reportedly looking to trade their expensive young core to clear payroll. Bryant, the 2016 MVP, could take over at third base and shift Jeff McNeil to the outfield.
DOUBLE DOWN ON FIXING THE BULLPEN THROUGH FREE AGENCY
Let’s say this as nicely as possible — the Mets’ bullpen was an absolute train wreck last season.
Despite new GM Brodie Van Wagenen signing Jeurys Familia and Justin Wilson to big free agent deals and trading for closer Edwin Diaz, the rebuilt pen almost single-handedly cost the Amazins a chance at the playoffs. They posted a dreadful 4.95 ERA and blew 27 save chances. Diaz gave up a stunning 15 homers and there are now questions if the All-Star closer can handle New York City.
With all that said, Van Wagenen has to keep adding better pieces to lock down wins. The best option remaining is Dellin Betances.
The longtime Yankees setup man enters free agency after a lost 2019. The 31-year-old faced just two batters last season due to a shoulder injury and then an Achilles tear in his return.
Before that, the four-time All-Star was one of the game’s very best at missing bats — striking out over 100 batters in five straight seasons. He’s also had issues with his control, but when Betances is on, he’s nearly unhittable.
The team has already re-signed reliever Brad Brach to add depth.
SIGN RELIABLE MID-ROTATION STARTERS
Whether New York trades Syndergaard or not, they’ll still need to replace at least one starter — that being Zack Wheeler, who signed a $118-million deal with the rival Phillies this month.
The Amazins have already been linked to one of the better options on the free agent market: Rick Porcello.
Mets are talking to Rick Porcello. Perhaps AL to NL switch would spark nice bounce back. @matthewcerrone linked Porcello/Mets
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 7, 2019
Porcello has spent the last five years with the Red Sox and, while the results were up and down, he’s a battle-tested workhorse who won the Cy Young award while pitching in the ferocious AL East.
His 4.36 career ERA is fairly average, but his durability is the key here. The 30-year-old has made at least 27 starts in every season of his 11-year career — something needed in Queens with the injury histories of Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Marcus Stroman.
If the Mets end up needing more than one starter, recently non-tendered Kevin Gausman, free agent Tanner Roark, and lefty Wade Miley would make better fifth starter options than the underwhelming fill-ins (Walker Lockett and Wilmer Font) used in 2019.
REMEMBER THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT
It’s still unclear how the announcement that the Wilpons will be selling up to 80 percent of the team to a billionaire hedge fund manager will affect this offseason’s ability to spend big. According to a team statement, Cohen will be gradually taking over the franchise for the next five years.
One thing is certain though, Steve Cohen likes to spend money and that means world-changing possibilities for Mets fans. CBS2’s Steve Overmyer reports the team’s new majority owner once paid over $140 million for the masterpiece called “Man Pointing” — that’s more than the club has ever spent on a single free agent.
Time will tell how Cohen chooses to run his baseball franchise, but fans should be optimistic that premier free agents may finally be back in the picture for the first time since the Madoff scandal.
Read more columns by Chris Melore