Steve Cohen has moved the spotlight not only to the Mets in New York.
An industry has turned its attention to who is going to run baseball operations and how the now richest owner in the sport will spend his money this offseason. Such is the power of the purse, especially in the time of COVID-19.
Though both issues preoccupy the sport and have long-term ramifications, they are part of a mosaic of other near-term issues that the Mets have to consider in conjunction. Let’s take one heading into 2021 (who is playing shortstop), one heading into the 2021-22 offseason (Michael Conforto’s free agency) and one heading into the 2022-23 offseason (Jacob deGrom’s opt out) to see the current and future impact:
Do the Mets have a shortstop past (Amed Rosario), present (Andres Gimenez) and future (Ronny Mauricio)? Do they have lots of trade chips?
The 2020 season ended with Gimenez as the shortstop. The transition from Brodie Van Wagenen to Sandy Alderson does not help Rosario’s case to regain the spot. Alderson had Rosario in his first Mets stint, and Alderson is obsessed with hitters controlling the strike zone to draw walks and know which pitches they can handle better to do damage. So Rosario was a frustration in that realm, and in 2020 his zone judgement regressed (of the 223 players with at least 140 plate appearances last year, Rosario had the fourth-worst walk rate).
His agent, Ulises Cabrera, noted that after 46 games played in 2019 that Rosario’s numbers (four homers, .687 OPS) looked much like the 46 games he played in 2020 (four homers, .643 OPS). In 2019 Rosario took off after 46 games (11 homers, .783 OPS). Additionally, Van Wagenen met with Cabrera during the 2019 campaign to show how his lateral range was lacking, and Rosario worked with infield coach Gary DiSarcina to improve. From Aug. 1, 2019, through the 2020 season, Rosario is tied for eighth among shortstops with defensive stalwarts Nick Ahmed and Andrelton Simmons in Outs Above Average (thanks to the great Sarah Langs of MLB.com for the help with that).
Add in that Rosario turned just 25 on Friday, and Cabrera said, “As far as we are concerned, Amed Rosario is the starting shortstop of the New York Mets, and he’s working out and preparing as such.”
Last year, another Cabrera client, Miguel Andujar, began prepping at different positions on his own, sensing that he had lost his third base job to Gio Urshela. Cabrera said Rosario will not be playing Winter Ball to work on different positions or working on different positions such as center field on his own. A Mets official, though, said that playing different positions is “likely in the cards” for Rosario.
That would suggest Gimenez — who has a precocious feel for the strike zone and better all-around instincts than Rosario — is the starter. So does Rosario actually become more a jack-of-all trades or a trade chip? Cabrera said, “I’m sure a number of teams would want Amed Rosario as their shortstop for a number of years to come.”
The Mets could try to trade for Francisco Lindor. But the current most likely path is to play Gimenez to gauge his growth (he’s just 22), so that by next offseason they have more information on Gimenez, Mauricio (assuming some form of a 2021 minor league season) and a free-agent shortstop class that currently includes Lindor, Javier Baez, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager and Trevor Story.
Van Wagenen’s trade for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz looked even worse last week when Cano was suspended for the 2021 season after failing a second test for a banned substance. It grows worse for the Mets after that in dealing with Conforto because: 1) Cano’s two years at $40.5 million returns to the payroll, and 2) Jarred Kelenic (the key piece that went to Seattle) is not around as a right field Plan B if Conforto exits as a free agent.
Conforto used the whole field better in the abbreviated 2020, hitting .322 with a .927 OPS. Perhaps that would not have been sustainable over the full season, since his .412 batting average on balls in play was 16 points higher than any other qualifier, suggesting an element of luck in the results.
Expect that Conforto’s representative, Scott Boras, will not present it as luck. Among others, Boras got outfielders Jayson Werth seven years at $126 million 10 years ago, and Shin-Soo Choo (seven years at $130 million) and Jacoby Ellsbury (seven years at $153 million) seven years ago. He will have a book that shows those contracts are outdated and that Conforto is better than all three.
Do the Mets use Cohen’s money to keep a homegrown product drafted in the first Alderson administration? That could influence, for example, how much they want to spend in this free agency on another outfielder such as George Springer.
The Mets ace has not spoken publicly about why he fired his long-time agents (CAA) and hired VC Sports Group. The industry belief is dissatisfaction with the five-year, $137.5 million extension signed amid the strange situation in which his old agent (Van Wagenen) had become the Mets GM (though under rules to recuse himself from this negotiation).
That contract has an escape hatch after the 2022 campaign to walk away from $30.5 million in 2023 and a $32.5 million club option in 2024.
DeGrom would be entering his age-35 season after the 2022 season, but if he remains among the majors’ best pitchers, this should be an easy decision to opt out — especially assuming the sport and world is beyond the pandemic and MLB has a new collective bargaining agreement.
The Mets could try to be proactive by tacking on a few years. Would both sides agree to tearing up the three years and an option that remains for a new four-year, $148 million pact that at $37 million on average annually would top Gerrit Cole’s current $36 million MLB record? Or do the Mets feel more compelled to hedge on deGrom’s near future by signing free agent Trevor Bauer, though the expectation is he would want outs in any multi-year deal as well? Or do they try for Charlie Morton for one year (word is the Braves are the front-runners) and a multi-year guy with Lance Lynn-ish upside such as Jake Odorizzi, who current Mets pitching coach Jeremy Hefner knows well from their Twins days? Or two multi-year deals like Odorizzi and Masahiro Tanaka?
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