George Springer is now a Toronto Blue Jay, dealing a gut punch to what was supposed to be the perfect New York Mets offseason. When Steve Cohen and his infinite pockets were crowned the new protectors of Citi Field fantasies of a budget-less roster full of baseball’s highest price tags permeated fans’ dreams.
So when it was announced that the coveted free agent and former Astro would be heading north of the border instead of to Flushing, Mets fans’ hopes were demolished like Shea Stadium in the winter of 2009.
If you are a shameless consumer of sports talk radio like myself, you’ve probably concluded that fans generally interpret this development as an irreversible catastrophe. However, the truth could not be more opposite. If anything, missing out on Springer helped the Mets avoid disaster
Jackie Bradley Jr. is a cheaper and more reasonable option for the Mets in center field
George Springer is a great player. He is now also an overpaid one.
Springer’s deal with the Jays is for a reported six years, $150 million. It is also laden with performance-based incentives, and is generally front-loaded, with the highest payout of the deal in 2022.
The contract is actually not too unreasonable in length for a team like Toronto and the front-loaded structure does allow the Blue Jays flexibility as their talented young players begin to enter arbitration over the next few seasons. But for the Mets, I’m glad they passed.
No sensible person would claim that Bradley is a comparable offensive player to Springer. Still, Bradley is coming off a solid season, as he slashed .283/.364/.450 in the Covid-shortened 2020 campaign.
Bradley is also a superior outfielder, even better than Springer who is a great defender in his own right. Bradley, of course, also will not command anywhere near the price tag that Springer got in Toronto. Any deal for Bradley would likely be only two to three years, meaning the Mets will not be hampered with a long or costly contract for an aging player.
Springer is 31 years old, while Bradley is 30. Springer will not be an everyday centerfielder in the twilight years of his new contract, while Bradley will be playing a superior centerfield throughout the duration of his new deal.
I would rather have a cheaper, younger player that does not require a substantial long-term commitment. I know fans hate the term “roster flexibility” but not committing to Springer allows just that for both the short and long term.
The Mets have a lot of money they will need to dish out to players currently on the roster, not to mention additional free agents they will pursue in coming offseasons.
As much as I wanted Steve Cohen to make a big splash in his first free agency period at the helm, I am cognizant of the large sums the Mets will need to commit to players that are both currently and not yet on this roster. A large Springer contract makes doing that much more difficult.
Missing out on Springer allows Mets to shift focus to Conforto extension
Michael Conforto is a free agent after the upcoming season, and it is critical that the Mets sign him to an extension. My gut feeling is that Cohen and Alderson kept their offer to Springer somewhat modest primarily because of their intention to re-sign Conforto.
Conforto will be 28 when the 2021 season commences, three years younger than Springer. Yes, a team with both Conforto and Springer long term is attractive, but it is also unrealistic, especially for a team with a lot of other future needs and commitments.
If you surveyed Mets fans on who they would prefer between Conforto and Springer, most would choose the 28-year-old Oregon State product. In addition to being a homegrown Met, Conforto is the better long-term option because he is a comparable, and maybe even better, offensive player to Springer and still has more prime seasons left.
Springer’s biggest appeal over Conforto is his defense, but that will not be a long-lasting advantage. With the inevitable decline that comes with age, Springer will eventually have to move to a consistent corner outfield position in the latter part of his new contract.
In addition to Conforto, the Mets plan to sign newly-acquired prize Francisco Lindor long term, which could cost north of $300 million. That’s not even considering a possible Noah Syndergaard extension (or replacement if they lose him to free agency).
Had the Mets signed Springer, that’s $450 million committed to two players before we’re even talking about extending Conforto, who could command an even more lucrative deal depending on how he performs in 2021.
Steve Cohen has more money than most of the world combined, but even he has limits. There is the luxury tax to consider, a threshold that Cohen has hinted he does not want to cross this year. In retrospect, I think Cohen may have been preparing us for this moment.
When asked about surpassing the luxury tax by New York Post writer Steve Serby, Cohen noted that it was a barrier he probably was not going to cross this year:
"“I think at some point we will, but maybe not this season,” Cohen said. “I’m not afraid to go over it, but you want to have flexibility on our payroll. Long-term contracts can limit a team’s ability going forward. I’ve said we are a major-market team and we should spend like we are a major-market team, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to spend like drunken sailors.”"
This quote made the rounds the last few weeks, but most did not really connect it to the possibility of losing out on Springer. But having the benefit of retrospect, I’m actually not surprised New York didn’t match the Jays’ offer, and I’m now thankful that they didn’t.
It’s also worth speculating on how Conforto and his camp may have interpreted a Springer deal. Springer would make Conforto more expendable, which, admittedly, would have been good insurance in case Conforto did eventually sign elsewhere.
Still, it would be reasonable for Conforto to meet a Springer signing with skepticism. First, hd could have interpreted the signing as the Mets intending to move on from him, especially since signing both of them would be financially difficult.
Springer would also dilute Conforto’s overall value to the team. It would be human nature to feel a bit betrayed by your hometown team when they commit large sums to a player that may be playing your same position soon.
Conforto is a level-headed, reserved individual and there is no indication that he would meet a potential Springer deal with this kind of cynicism. But the same cannot necessarily be said for those representing him.
Conforto is repped by Scott Boras, the game’s most aggressive agent and noted Mets dissenter, although Boras has indicated that he is pleased with the new ownership regime in Flushing.
If Conforto gets to the open market, competition for his services will be plentiful, which is why it is imperative that the team re-sign him ideally before the 2021 season begins.
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I would still like the Mets’ chances even if they did have to compete with other teams but as a gesture of goodwill, and to avoid winter-long agita from fans, it behooves leadership to get a deal done while Scooter is still under team control.