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Where the Mets can still improve heading into the 2021 season

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The Mets didn’t sign Trevor Bauer, but there are a variety of options out there for them.

Los Angeles Dodgers v Seattle Mariners
Taijuan Walker
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

With the news yesterday afternoon that Trevor Bauer had signed with the Dodgers, the Mets have the opportunity to continue improving their roster before the 2021 season starts. And even though they tried to sign Bauer himself with an offer that was similar to the Dodgers’ offer—a very high average annual value over the course of three years—it is a relief that they did not succeed in that effort.

Bauer’s history of exploiting his position of power as a professional athlete to either directly or indirectly go after those who dared to criticize him on social media was a legitimate strike against him, especially since several of those targets have been women. And even if you were willing to completely ignore that behavior, which shouldn’t be the case, it is hard to buy that the eleven starts he made in 2020 are representative of the pitcher he will be moving forward.

But the Mets’ efforts to sign Bauer indicate that the team was willing to go over the competitive balance tax threshold, something that’s been a bit of an open question over the past couple of months. The team has had a strong offseason, spending money to retain Marcus Stroman and sign Trevor May and James McCann and making a blockbuster trade for Francisco Lindor—who they should make every effort to extend—and Carlos Carrasco. If going over the CBT threshold with a high-risk offer to Bauer was palatable, it would be hard to argue that raising salary to that same level with several smaller, shorter-term moves isn’t.

The Mets have made some good smaller moves already: trading for Joey Lucchesi and Jordan Yamamoto, signing Jose Martinez, and signing Aaron Loup. But there are still flaws on their roster that can be addressed.

Pitching

Coming off the pandemic-shortened season last year that saw all pitchers throw far fewer or literally zero innings, teams are presumably going to need to get starts from a variety of pitchers this year. The Mets’ rotation is in good shape right now with Jacob deGrom, Carlos Carrasco, Marcus Stroman, David Peterson, Joey Lucchesi, and Jordan Yamamoto available heading into spring training and Opening Day. Throw in the planned return of Noah Syndergaard from Tommy John surgery sometime during the middle of the season, and things could look even better.

But that shouldn’t stop the Mets from trying to add at least one more starter, something they were clearly trying to do over the past couple of days. Rich Hill, Jake Odorizzi, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker are among the intriguing names still available on the free agent market. All four of those pitchers have missed at least some time with injuries during the past couple of seasons, but all are expected to be healthy to start this season. And as we mentioned in highlighting Hill as a good fit for the team, the Mets are in a good position to cover missed starts with capable depth pitchers.

There’s also the matter of the bullpen, which is certainly better than it was at the start of the offseason thanks primarily to the addition of Trevor May. The moves the Mets have made for starting pitchers virtually guarantee that Seth Lugo will continue working out of the bullpen, where he’s been extremely good. And while he’s relatively unexciting, Aaron Loup is a solid left-handed major league reliever. But there’s enough uncertainty in the rest of the bullpen—Jeurys Familia, Dellin Betances, Brad Brach, and Miguel Castro—that the Mets should be looking to bring in at least another arm or two from the long list of still-available relievers.

Center field

With the odds of the National League having a designated hitter this year seeming slim, the Mets’ current starting outfield would be far from ideal when it comes to defense. While Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto, Dom Smith, and J.D. Davis can all hit, neither of the former two are center fielders, and neither of the latter two are good corner outfielders.

The Mets were in the mix for George Springer, who can play center and was the best outfielder on the market this winter, but saw the Blue Jays get him with a stronger offer. Right now, Jackie Bradley Jr. headlines the options available in free agency, or perhaps the Brewers could be looking to get out of the two years and $35 million remaining on their contract with Lorenzo Cain, whose 7.5 fWAR since the start of the 2018 season eclipses Bradley’s 5.7.

If the Mets do bring in a starting center fielder, they’d presumably be starting the year with Dom Smith on their bench. That isn’t ideal for Smith, who has been a great hitter thus far in his major league career, but there are worse things for a team than having that kind of hitter available in that role. And if the National League does get a permanent designated hitter starting with the 2022 season, the Mets could benefit greatly from having both Smith and Pete Alonso around.

Infield

The Mets are more than covered at first base, the position that Alonso, Smith, and Jose Martinez can play, and they have one of the best players in the entire sport at shortstop in Francisco Lindor. Jeff McNeil and Luis Guillorme are fully capable infielders, and either one could play second or third base on a regular basis. J.D. Davis showed some flashes of strong defense at third last year, but he’s not ideal from a defensive standpoint.

The Mets have been linked to Kris Bryant in trade rumors, and given the way trades have gone this offseason, you’d have to imagine they wouldn’t need to give up much to take Bryant’s salary off the Cubs’ hands. The Mets have also been linked to Marwin Gonzalez, who can play several positions but has struggled at the plate over the past couple of seasons. And former Mets infielder Justin Turner is still out there on the free agent market.

An addition of a player on the level of Bryant or Turner would likely put Davis and Guillorme on the bench, with McNeil starting at second. Like the possibility of Dom Smith being on the bench, that might not be ideal for the players themselves, but it would strengthen their options late in games or on days that a starter needs rest.

Catcher

While James McCann’s track record of success isn’t incredibly long, it’s reasonable to think that he will be a good starting catcher for the Mets over the course of his four-year deal with the team. But one thing McCann doesn’t have is a history of playing the vast majority of games in a 162-game season. That’s been mostly the result of his being paired with other catchers who got lots of playing time, too, but the Mets will be experimenting a bit if they plan to have him start 130-plus games.

Right now, Tomás Nido is their backup, and while he hit very well in seven games last year, well, it was just seven games. Nido is out of options and would have to be exposed to waivers if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster. The Mets have two other catchers on their 40-man roster right now in Ali Sánchez and Patrick Mazeika. Neither of those two would be ideal even as a backup on a team that is trying to contend.

The remaining options in free agency are Robinson Chirinos, Tyler Flowers, Jeff Mathis, Yadier Molina, Rene Rivera, Matt Wieters, and Tony Wolters. Of that group, Flowers leads the pack with 2.5 fWAR since the start of the 2019 season thanks to strong defense and a solid-for-a-catcher .226/.321/.400 line with 12 home runs in 390 plate appearances. Only Molina and Chirinos, at 1.7 and 1.5 fWAR, respectively, have been significantly above replacement level over the same span.