The Mets are taking a Giant risk.
At a time when most organizations are running from age, the Mets tripled down on it. They invested $124.5 million on three players who can get any casting agent closer to a “Thirtysomething” remake.
Mark Canha, Eduardo Escobar and Starling Marte each played at 32 last year. They were among the 25 players that age or older who produced at least 2.0 Wins Above Replacement or better in 2021 (making them average or better on that metric). That number dropped to 18 for 33 and older. But four of those were Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey and Darin Ruf, and they helped the Giants win a franchise-record 107 games (and Evan Longoria and Donovan Solano were part of that age subset that performed well too for San Francisco).
The Giants didn’t run from age or spreading around at-bats with a deep positional group. And the Mets can do the same. The additions of Canha, Escobar and Marte does not mean the Mets have to trade or non-tender J.D. Davis, Jeff McNeil or Dom Smith. Fifteen Giants recorded at least 200 plate appearances. The long season and injuries provide plenty of opportunity (the Mets used a record 62 players last year). And Davis, McNeil and Smith actually all have minor league options left, too.
The Giants, of course, won for more than vintage performance from their positional group. They had power and run-prevention the Mets currently cannot match. One of their starters, Kevin Gausman, is currently on the Mets’ radar. So is Jon Gray. And though the strong likelihood is that Max Scherzer stays West, perhaps with the Dodgers or Giants, this version of the Mets should not be discounted.
After all, last offseason, the Mets made the high offer for Trevor Bauer, a three-year, $105 million offer that included $40 million in each of the first two seasons. If you are doing that, is there reason to believe the Mets wouldn’t offer $40 million per for three years (no player has ever averaged more than Gerrit Cole’s $36 million) with an opt-out after each season to a pitcher who just finished top-five in a Cy Young vote for the eighth time in nine years?
When it comes to this version of the Mets — the Steve Cohen Mets — we have to dismiss most financial restraints. The agreements reached Friday take the Mets to a $230 million-ish projection for 2022. If you were betting, take the Over from that. Cohen appears determined to try to keep the Mets contenders with his wallet while they work to fix their underlying issues, including improving a feeder system that could provide more cost-efficient pieces.
That is why the only top starter remaining in free agency I suspect they will shun is Robbie Ray. The AL Cy Young winner was made and rejected the qualifying offer, so if the Mets signed him they would lose the 14th pick in next year’s draft. And they do not want to do that. For even after being spurned by Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard, they have alternatives.
I would not be surprised, in fact, if they added three starters and went to a six-man rotation often in 2022 as a way to protect Jacob deGrom and Carlos Carrasco, and have depth for an inevitable injury. For example, could the Mets sign Gausman, Carlos Rodon and Rich Hill, begin the year with Tylor Megill and David Peterson in the minors and feel like, yes, there is a lot of age and injury volatility there, but also a lot of upside and protection?
Again, cost is something that is minimized now. Whatever the rules in a new collective bargaining agreement, Cohen appears willing to foot a bill to keep the Mets relevant. And his bank account makes tolerating the age of Canha, Escobar and Marte more tolerable.
All three struck out at well below the league average last year, which should help the contact-challenged Mets. Before Friday, the Mets only had lefty-swinging outfielders on their 40-man roster were Brandon Nimmo, Nick Plummer, Khalil Lee and Mark Payton, plus McNeil and Smith if you consider them outfield depth. Canha and Marte are righties plus — like Nimmo — can play center field, which should improve the across-the-outfield defense.
Esccobar’s defense is not great. But his reputation in the clubhouse is, and he offers versatility and needed power. The Mets still can still add a player pretty much anywhere and play chess with these pieces, even as they refocus on the rotation.
There is an overpay element on all three of the new Mets. But no one should care about Cohen’s bank account — this was supposed to be a positive from putting the Wilpons into the rearview mirror. The Mets watched the Braves add depth with Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario and Jorge Soler in-season last year, win the NL East for the fourth straight year and their first championship since 1995.
The Mets followed that path. There is a Giant risk within it — but one worth taking if the team can afford it. And this version of the Mets can.