McCann, Bauer and the Toronto Blue Jays: How the Mets fumbled free agency
As the 2021 regular season continues, it’s tough to look back at the 2020 offseason and say the Mets did a good job. You can’t be completely out, however. The Francisco Lindor trade was beautiful and netted them a top-tier shortstop and a solid rotation starter in Carlos Carrasco.
Taijuan Walker, currently pitching like a number five starter, pitched like a number three starter, en route to an All-Star appearance. And though most of it is injured, the Mets did a good job restocking their pipeline with pitching options, adding Walker, Trevor May, Aaron Loup, Joey Luchessi, Jordan Yamamoto, Sean Reid-Foley, and Yennsy Díaz. Arms of various levels for a team that has failed to develop many bullpen arms over the last decade.
However, you start to see the very large cracks in the failure of the offseason.
The biggest miss on the hitting side was George Springer. Springer has dealt with injuries, but he has mashed with the Toronto Blue Jays, batting .269/.362/.610 with 14 home runs in 49 games. His bat slots right into the middle of the order and moving him to centerfield, Brandon Nimmo to leftfield, and Michael Conforto to right would’ve fixed a porous Mets defense. The same goes for Marcus Semien, also with Toronto, who would’ve done the same thing for New York at third base.
The Mets also missed on an elite closer – Liam Hendriks. Yes, Edwin Diaz had a great 2020 season, but Hendriks is not only better but fits a rare occurrence on the free-agent market – a clear elite talent without a qualifying offer. Adding Diaz to New York’s bullpen not only pushes Diaz into a set-up role but eases the burden of the likes of Seth Lugo, Aaron Loup, and Trevor May. Instead, Hendriks is a part of an elite bullpen in Chicago.
I also think the Mets weren’t aggressive enough in the trade market. With Noah Syndergaard returning from Tommy John surgery, there was a need for another top of the rotation arm. Yu Darvish, who had an elite season with the Chicago Cubs last season, is continuing his solid run with the San Diego Padres, who acquired him and Victor Caratini for four high upside prospects.
In retrospect, the combination of Jacob deGrom, Yu Darvish, and Marcus Stroman gives the Mets one of the better rotations in the National League and takes some of the pressure off of other starters. Suddenly, Taijuan Walker’s decline doesn’t matter as much, Carlos Carrasco isn’t rushed back and Tylor Megill’s rise is a good story, but he’s more of a sixth starter than a relied upon starter.
Where the Mets did fail is the addition of James McCann and the heavy pursuit of Trevor Bauer. Now on administrative leave, Bauer instead signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers and would’ve brought his own collection of issues on and off the field. Let’s say the Mets dodged a bullet on that one, even though they banked their entire offseason on signing him.
McCann was a mistake. The Mets banked on McCann’s bat from 2019 (149wRC+, .289/.360/.536) instead of his previous five seasons where he failed to eclipse a 100 wRC+ in four of the five years and didn’t sport an on-base percentage above .340 in any season and it burned them. Now, the Mets not only have to find a valuable backup, but they’ll have to do it while McCann sits on the roster for the next three seasons.
It’s fair to view this as hindsight, but the Mets needed talent. The farm system was always shallow and the Mets, due to poor development, had weak upper minor depth. New York should’ve leveraged their finances into better players and more importantly, need to be aggressive with good players without qualifying offers, like Semien and Hendriks.
The Mets have a ton of talent and should once again be one of the big players in free agency, even as Robinson Cano and his bloated contract returns on the books. With several needs and several important players on the roster reaching free agency, the Mets will have to balance bringing back their own talent with an infusion of new free agents who can help turn the tide in Queens.