The Mets have entered a brave new world. Behind new owner Steve Cohen and his deep pockets, the team has been active both on the trade market and in free agency, spending in ways that fans have not witnessed since the pre-Madoff days. All this has happened while other clubs have been jettisoning payroll with alarming regularity in the wake of perceived (and, most likely, exaggerated) losses from the pandemic-shortened season.
The Mets have already added one of the best players in all of baseball in Francisco Lindor in a blockbuster trade that also netted a stellar starting pitcher in Carlos Carrasco. Add to that the signings of James McCann and Trevor May, and Marcus Stroman accepting a qualifying offer (Yes, this move technically came pre-completion of the sale), and Cohen has put his money where his mouth is. This time last year, the club’s biggest move was signing Dellin Betances, who was an uncertain commodity coming off an injury, to an incentive-heavy deal. The Mets addressed their subpar rotation by adding Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello. Jake Marisnick was their big trade. A brave new world, indeed.
With the increased spending, Mets fans have been confronted with three of the dirtiest words in the MLB lexicon: Competitive Balance Tax. The very idea of spending to the luxury tax threshold has been a distant dream for the organization for years now. The Wilpons didn’t dare speak its name, keeping several arms’ lengths between themselves and the magical mark. Now that the team has an owner who is not hindered by his finances—he is, in fact, empowered by them, having gained $1.6 billion last year—it’s important to remember this: The $210 million luxury tax threshold is not a hard salary cap. Teams can spend over the luxury tax whenever they want, incurring just a minimal penalty. In fact, first-time offenders are hit with a meager 20% charge on overages (so, if you run a $220 million 40-man CBT payroll, the organization would have to pay $2 million). The penalty raises to 30% on a second consecutive year, and 50% on a third, but resets if a club dips below the figure in any year. If you have the means to do it, there really is no negative to blowing past the number, especially with a new CBA in 2022 meaning the figure could increase or even disappear altogether, as Ken Rosenthal alluded to in his recent Springer-centric piece.
It is with this in mind that I state this in the strongest possible terms: The Mets should absolutely sign George Springer. The Mets have had a good offseason. Hell, they have had a great offseason. The Mets have entered the conversation of the best teams in the National League, alongside division foes the Braves, the Padres—MLB’s other offseason darling—and the defending world champion Dodgers. But the Mets still have a lot to prove, and they are far from a complete ballclub.
By adding Springer, they would send an assertive message that they are serious contenders for a World Series title, and they are willing to pay the price to compete at the top level, as we all dreamed they would be when Cohen bought the team. The Mets have been linked to Springer since early December, with Buster Olney feeling confident enough to bet his family farm that he would end up in New York. Times have changed since then with the Lindor trade, with Sandy Alderson recently claiming the team is “engaged in a loose sense” with the center fielder, but the time is right for the Mets to seal the deal on their flirtatious affair with the Connecticut native and construct their best top-to-bottom lineup since 2006.
Much of the discourse among some beat writers and some social media wannabe GMs in the wake of the team’s expensive offseason has centered around payroll flexibility. A recent article suggested the Mets will need to shed payroll in order to afford Springer following the Lindor trade. The New York Post’s Ken Davidoff talked about the Springer pursuit getting tight with recent acquisitions. Tim Healey posted a Twitter poll presenting the idea of Springer and a lesser reliever or Brad Hand and Jackie Bradley Jr. as an either-or option. On Twitter, Howie Rose openly wondered whether a Springer signing could live in harmony with extensions for Conforto and Lindor, or whether one precludes the other.
In fact, to the last point, some fans are seemingly treating the idea of signing Springer, extending Lindor, and extending Conforto as a two-out-of-three scenario and have mulled whether inking the center fielder would mean losing Conforto. This is Wilpon-era thinking at its worst, with a focus on long-term payroll flexibility infiltrating the conversation when the obvious answer is that money should not be an obstacle for doing everything that makes sense to field a winning club. And Conforto, as a Scott Boras client, isn’t even a guarantee to want to talk extension, so Springer could serve as an insurance policy of sorts just in case—to be clear, the team should still do everything in their power to lock up Scooter.
If Cohen is willing to pay—to date, there is nothing proving to the contrary—then payroll flexibility be damned. Jared Porter already said as much in a recent interview by stating there is no ‘line in the sand’ with respect to the luxury tax threshold, so why are fans worrying about it? What’s the fun in having a billionaire owner who treats money as a mere formality if you can’t exercise that fiscal muscle? Despite what many think in the wake of the continued success of teams like the A’s and the Rays, there is no honor in winning with a low payroll, and raising a payroll flexibility championship banner isn’t noble.
According to Cot’s Contracts, the Mets’ 40-man CBT payroll stands at $182,905,000. Fangraphs lists the club’s current CBT Payroll at $183,752,000. If you go to Spotrac, it has the Mets at $188,167,500. Depending on your site of choice, the Mets are anywhere between $21 and $31 million below the luxury tax threshold. Springer is likely to cost around $25 million AAV on a five-year deal, though the Mets can play around with the years on the contract to lower that. With the Mets expected to be big players on Hand—for a moment last week, it looked like he was well on his way to signing with New York—that will likely guarantee the Mets go over $210 million if they add him and Springer. To that, I say: Fine! A Mets team with Springer and Hand is better than the alternative. Sign another starting pitcher or two as well. Extend Lindor and Conforto. Go big or go home.
In the long-term, the benefit of the Cohen Mets building their analytics and scouting arms is that they can get better at drafting and developing talented young players and building a team of inexpensive homegrown talent to pair with costly free agent signings and trade acquisitions. This is what the Dodgers do, and it’s what the Mets should aim to become. In the short term, the Wilpons and failed agent-turned-GM Brodie Van Wagenen scorched much of the earth around the organization, and the only way to build a true contender in is to spend your way out of their mess. The Mets have the opportunity right in front of them, especially with many teams around the league showing a troubling aversion to spending and competing.
Springer fits this team like a perfectly-broken in glove. The Mets desperately need a center field, and he is well-versed in the position and better suited to play it than Brandon Nimmo, who will benefit from moving to the corner. He would bring perfect balance to a left-hand heavy lineup. Since the start of the 2014 season, he has the fifth-best fWAR among all outfielders in major league baseball at 26.6, trailing just Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Christian Yelich, and Bryce Harper. He is a good defender who would further solidify the team’s up-the-middle defense, and he is also a prime top-of-the-order bat with respectable power. This isn’t just signing him just to flex, this is a perfect match for all sides involved.
The Mets are approaching this the right way. As of now, only the Blue Jays have outwardly expressed interest in Springer—to be fair, they have been “in” on all free agents without landing one—and the Mets are not showing any sign of desperation. They are letting the situation play itself out so that they can get Springer at their price, which is the smart thing to do from a business perspective. However, when push comes to shove and it’s time to make the call, the Mets should swoop in and get their man.
Pairing Springer and Lindor alongside homegrown talent like Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, Jacob deGrom, Nimmo, and Conforto will give the Mets a team that can compete with any team in the NL East, and gives them as good a chance as any team in the National League to reach the World Series. That’s the goal here: To make, and win, the World Series. Oh, and not to mention that it would just be a fun team to watch on a nightly basis.
And for the last time, there is no good reason why any fan should care about a billionaire paying a miniscule fee. It’s not my money, not your money, not our money. Cohen once paid $141.3 million for an M. Giacometti sculpture and $155 million for a Picasso painting, so the man can essentially find the money to pay the luxury tax penalty in his couch cushions. The new Mets are here. We don’t have to worry about money anymore, and it is an absolutely glorious feeling. By signing Springer along with extensions for Lindor and, hopefully, Conforto, that message will be received loud and clear.