Thursday, October 15, 2020

Free Agent Questions

It's a pretty good bet that catcher J.T. Realmuto is a likely free agent target for the Mets this winter. We don't know exactly what the Mets priorities will be once Steve Cohen is officially approved to be the new owner, but putting a better club on the field next season would almost certainly be a priority. As a catcher and a right-handed bat, Realmuto would be a significant upgrade for this team. He'll be 30 next season, so it's likely he begins his next contract at the tail end of his prime years and he'll be more than a bit past that prime by the end. Of course, that's the reality with most free agents due to the length of time it takes them to achieve free agency. Except for the ones that come up to the majors very young, most players will be somewhere around 30 by the time they get to test the market.

It's been a long time since the Mets were real players for the top free agents, but it's likely that they'll be competing for those that fill specific needs going forward. They will weigh the value of what the free agent is likely to provide against the likelihood that the back end of the contract will provide much less value to the cub. Unless a team lucks into the situation that the Mariners found themselves, where Brodie Van Wagenen bailed them out of the back end of Robinson Cano's contract and included excellent prospects in the deal, you can pretty much count on paying for production that you are no longer receiving from the player during the final years of his contract.

So, with a player like Realmuto, there will be some very important questions to be asked while the Mets figure out what they're willing to offer:

  1. How much longer is it reasonable to expect premium production from Realmuto?
  2. How much longer after that can they expect solid production?
  3. Will the DH rule continue in the NL in 2021 and thereafter?
  4. Can he play any other position other than catcher?
Catchers historically don't age well. Realmuto, however, is an excellent athlete for whom it would be reasonable to expect that he'll hold onto his skills longer than the average catcher. Even if he stops producing at an elite level 3 years into the contract, if he stays solid and his defense holds up pretty well, there's still a lot of value there - particularly for a catcher. 

I think that DH question weighs heavily here. Everyone seems to expect the DH rule to stick around, but there are no absolute guarantees. Having the DH slot available for Realmuto gives a club a chance to keep him in the lineup and give him days off behind the plate. This isn't only important down the road, it would likely prolong his longevity as an elite offensive performer if he had plenty of days off early in the contract. Because the answer to question 4 seems to be not really. According to his Baseball Reference page, besides catching he has 32 career games at 1B. That's it. So, if he stays in the lineup on days he doesn't catch, it's as a DH.

One other thing to keep in mind as far as DHing Realmuto later on in his career is how much production will he still be providing at the end of his contract? We have no idea right now what other teams will be offering as far as length of a potential deal. If he gets 7 or 8 years, will he still be providing enough offense in his late 30s to justify DHing him? If not, the only value he can provide is directly tied into how many games he can still play behind the plate.

Having put forth all of the caveats, I still absolutely think the Mets should be in on Realmuto. They need to upgrade their catching position both offensively and defensively. There's no one else available that can solve both problems as well as Realmuto. Plus he would add a middle of the order right-handed bat to a team that skews a little too left-handed. Some pundits have already generously ceded Realmuto to the Mets, citing Steve Cohen's personal wealth as some sort of proof that he will pay whatever he has to in order to sign the All-Star catcher. I'm not so sure of that.

It's exciting to read about the Mets becoming a lot smarter once Cohen takes over, not afraid to utilize cutting-edge analytics to make the best decisions regarding how they spend their money. Smarter spending = a better team. A function of that will be making the best estimation about what a player like Realmuto is worth and tailoring your offer based on that analysis. That's all well and good, but the Phillies really want to keep Realmuto, so they're going to be making an offer, too. Because Realmuto is far and away the best catcher available as a free agent, and likely the top position player, period, there will be other teams weighing in with their own offers. Sure, teams are looking to cut spending, but that doesn't mean the Mets will be making offers to free agents in a vacuum.

I made a living a few years back selling electronics on eBay for a dealer who didn't want to sell under his company name in that marketplace. Sony, Panasonic and the other brands he carried frowned on that. We always sold at auction rather than fixed price. Sometimes that would cost us, selling an item for not much of a profit, but other times we enjoyed huge scores on sales - getting for more for an item than our typical sale price. This inevitably happened when two or more bidders got caught up in the spirit of winning an item and spent more than what the item should have been worth.

Whenever I wanted something from eBay, I would do my research and always make a maximum bid for the low end of the range in which that item typically sold. Then I wouldn't even look at it again until after the auction ended. I never let myself be tempted to outbid someone else, and I never wound up not getting a great deal on what I bought. It required patience, as I would often lose out several times in a row, but eventually I always got what I wanted at my price.

The MLB free agent marketplace isn't eBay, of course, but the principals aren't all that different. You have to have a plan going in if you want to make smart deals. I'm not someone who hopes the Mets sign J.T. Realmuto or any other free agent AT ANY COST. I want anything the Mets do to be smart and part of an overall plan. Throwing around money is not a smart way to run a team. While we hear that Cohen is prepared to lose around $400 million on the team in the first 2 years he owns the Mets, I think he plans money spent to be for smart investments in the future, not dumb pissing contests to land a particular player just to earn a week of positive press.

Everything that the Mets do going forward has to be carefully weighed and part of an overall plan. This is particularly true at the beginning because the club hasn't been run well for years. For instance, while the Mets have drafted well for the last two seasons under Brodie Van Wagenen, they've also given up some really good prospects in ill-advised deals. The overall result is a system that's pretty thin and especially lacking in close to major league ready prospects. So, whether they're looking to make a deal or taking into account the draft picks they'll forfeit when signing free agents, the overall impact on their prospect pool has to be offset by aggressive strategies in other areas to start building that talent pool back where it needs to be for a smart, well-run big market team.

I've talked about Realmuto in this post, but the same could be said for other potential targets like Trevor Bauer, Marcus Stroman or George Springer. Part of me just wants to allow myself to get drunk with greed and scream out, "sign all of them!" I'm dying to see the Mets contend for something again. 2015 seems a long, long time ago. But I'm also tired of returns to contention that fall apart after a season or two. There are going to be many decisions made over Steve Cohen's first offseason signing the checks. Besides the free agent marketplace and potential trade decisions, Michael Conforto and Noah Syndergaard are entering their last season before free agency. If the Mets hope to try to extend them before they hit the market, most likely that has to happen before the season starts. 

I've said this before, this will be one of the most consequential offseasons in Mets history. Decisions made over the next few months will have implications that will go way beyond the team that the Mets field in 2021. It's a really cool time to be a Mets fan. I can't even remember the last time I really felt that way.

Okay, that's it for me today. I will continue to post all during the offseason. Please stay safe, be well and take care. Hope to see you back here soon.


 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos

3 comments:

  1. The biggest mistake the Mets can make right now is to try to fix everything in one year. The priorities should be in my opinion:

    1. Extend Conforto as he is the best position player on the Mets.
    2. Sign another ace. It will cost more than had they kept Wheeler.
    3. See what value players like Nimmo, Matz, Cano, Alonso and others have in trade.
    4. Build the Mets properly this time which means multiple years at least.
    5. DO NOT trade blue chip prospects like Mauricio, Alvarez, Baty, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The biggest mistake the Mets can make right now is to try to fix everything in one year. The priorities should be in my opinion:

    1. Extend Conforto as he is the best position player on the Mets.
    2. Sign another ace. It will cost more than had they kept Wheeler.
    3. See what value players like Nimmo, Matz, Cano, Alonso and others have in trade.
    4. Build the Mets properly this time which means multiple years at least.
    5. DO NOT trade blue chip prospects like Mauricio, Alvarez, Baty, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I agree with just about everything you said here.

    ReplyDelete

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