Sandy Alderson insisted the Mets were very interested in signing George Springer. They had a stopping point, though, at five years. The slugger eventually received a six-year, $150 million guarantee from the Blue Jays.
The Mets also considered Jackie Bradley Jr., with their key decision-makers teleconferencing with him. The front office weighed offering a package similar to what the center fielder signed for last week with the Brewers — two years at $24 million.
What they couldn’t shake when considering Bradley was that enlisting him in a DH-less National League would mean robbing too many at-bats from Pete Alonso, Brandon Nimmo and, probably most of all, Dom Smith. So they pivoted to Albert Almora Jr. and Kevin Pillar, both signed last month, as righty-hitting options and defensive complements behind Nimmo.
When the offseason began, the Mets were perceived as favorites to secure Springer, a Connecticut native, in part because they wanted to problem-solve without touching their farm system. They felt it had been used too much, especially at the upper levels, by former general manager Brodie Van Wagenen’s administration, leaving them thinner in prospects and — more worrisome — alternatives that could be summoned for in-season depth.
There is a sliding-door aspect to this. What if Steve Cohen had used his first offseason when most teams were not big-game hunting to secure both Springer and Lindor? Or just Springer?
I love Lindor’s game and persona. Having him makes the Mets better. Yet, if it were just one or the other — Lindor or Springer — would Springer have been the better short- and long-term play overall? I cannot shake how much I like Andres Gimenez, who went to Cleveland in the Lindor deal, as a player. He is not Lindor. But I would bet on his skills and precocious savvy to be an above-average shortstop with cost-friendliness for six years.
Could the Mets have sent a package similar to the one that netted Lindor (minus Gimenez) to the Cubs for Yu Darvish? Would an offseason highlighted by Springer and Darvish have been better than what the Mets did? Because even if I am wrong about Gimenez, then next offseason the Mets could have jumped into a shortstop free agency that is currently projected to have Lindor, Javier Baez, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager and Trevor Story.
Bradley, if he opts out after the 2021 season, projects to the best center fielder, by far. Plus, are the Mets now under significant pressure to sign Lindor long term, and maybe Michael Conforto too, before they hit free agency after this year, giving both greater leverage?
When it comes to center field, the Mets have spent much of the last decade hoping that Juan Lagares’ offense would play up, or that the defensive issues of Nimmo, Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes in center would not undermine them.
Springer or Bradley would have given the Mets a center fielder and one too many outfielders in 2021. Both the Blue Jays and Brewers took on similar issues and feel that the long season with ups, downs and injuries will afford at-bats for all. Springer joins Randal Grichuk, Lourdes Gurriel and Teoscar Hernandez — though Gurriel can play some third and the DH is available in tandem with Rowdy Tellez. The Brewers signed Bradley to join Lorenzo Cain, Avisail Garcia and Christian Yelich in a non-DH league.
Again, it is sliding doors, and the way the Mets slid brought Lindor and a much better overall roster and depth than in recent years. Only time will tell if they win, keep Lindor and perhaps Conforto, and are thankful to have stayed out of the long-term center field market, which generally has been a bad place to shop.
The largest center field contracts generally fall into two buckets: 1) busts, and 2) those who had to move (sometimes quite quickly) away from playing center, with the positives being those who retained enough athleticism and bat to justify the move.
Mike Trout has by far the largest center field deal ever (12 years, $426.5 million), which took over for one of the other largest, his six-year, $144.5 million initial extension. He is among the greatest players ever and we will see how that pact and Trout age.
The biggest center field deals, aside from Trout’s and Springer’s, belong to Matt Kemp, Jacoby Ellsbury and Vernon Wells. All were disasters, as was the next-highest, to Josh Hamilton, who immediately shifted away from center with the Angels, who already had Trout.
The next four all moved out of center field at some point during long deals with varying-levels of health and success. The best of the group was the deal the Mets did with Carlos Beltran. Ken Griffey Jr., Charlie Blackmon and Torii Hunter also fall into this realm.
Bernie Williams — perhaps the player with the most similar profile to Springer upon reaching free agency — was superb for the first four seasons of his seven-year deal, above-average for two, then struggled in the last year.
Of the multi-year center field deals that paid the most per annum and were not yet mentioned, Andruw Jones, Dexter Fowler and Melvin Upton all provided dismal results for the signing clubs.
The Mets ultimately decided to stay out of the multi-year center field market. For most of the time while pursuing Bradley, they perceived his asking price to be more — perhaps in the four-year, $48 million range once signed by Michael Bourn (another team disaster, by the way).
Bradley can opt out after this season, and if he does, the lefty-swinger currently projects as the best 2021-22 free agent at the position. So it is possible — unless Nimmo proves a reliable two-way player — that the Mets will have a familiar front and center positional issue to address again.