It’s easy enough for any of us to be lunkheads about a team’s pursuit or non-pursuit of a particular player in the offseason. What else is there to do in January but obsess over whether the Mets are going to sign George Springer or Trevor Bauer?
But this mentality results in reductive reactions from some fans and media members every time the team fails to acquire a free agent. Be honest: Are you one of those people capable of spending half a day in an angry cloud because the Mets didn’t get Trevor Rosenthal?
Fortunately for the team, Steve Cohen pays Sandy Alderson and Zack Scott to think differently. And now, just a week into the baseball season, the Mets’ focus on risk mitigation is already casting their offseason in a more favorable light. Several of the players they were engaged with, but set limits on, have already proven to be questionable investments.
Cohen built his fortune in large part by assessing risk. Alderson is an executive who has almost always preferred to avoid long-term contracts and the unpredictability they bring. That common philosophy drove the duo’s first winter together.
As people involved in the process describe it, when Alderson and Scott are putting together an offer for any player, they use a combination of analytics, medical information and the marketplace to assign a value to that player. That allows them to decide how much risk, in years and dollars, they are willing to tolerate with a given player.
In coming up with the actual offer, they do have to read the marketplace at that moment and look at comparable players. But they often end up on the low end of that spectrum, frustrating agents and some fans. Agents complain about what they perceive as Alderson’s deliberate pace in negotiations; literally, he sometimes tortures them by not calling for days at a time.
But he rarely sees the point in dickering too much over a price tag. He knows what he wants to pay and rarely exceeds it by much.
The Francisco Lindor extension talks were a perfect example. Although the team assumed more risk that it is typically comfortable with by offering a 10-year, $325 million contract, both Alderson and Cohen made clear that they were not comfortable with much more than that, no matter what Lindor wanted.
It’s my strong suspicion that if Lindor insisted on more than the $341 million that he ended up with, the Mets would have walked away from talks and pursued another star next winter.
Here are a few other instructive examples of what happened with players that either the Mets or their fans wanted in recent months. All of this information is, of course, gathered from sources.
The team was in earnest pursuit of Springer, but totally unwilling to match the $150 million that the Toronto Blue Jays offered. That exceeded their risk tolerance for his upside. They did not know that oblique and quad injuries would delay Springer’s Jays debut, but that’s the sort of risk for which they didn’t want to overpay.
The Mets made clear to Paxton’s agent, Scott Boras, that they wanted to sign him. Depending on who you ask, they either offered about $6 million or indicated that they would pay that much for Paxton. Given Paxton’s age and medical history, they were unwilling to match the $8.5 million plus incentives that he received from the Mariners. Unfortunately, Paxton now needs Tommy John surgery and will miss the entire season.
Many fans clamored for the Mets to sign Rosenthal, but the team never tried. Rosenthal received $11 from Oakland. He recently underwent thoracic outlet surgery and will miss at least several months.
The Mets don’t get credit for this one, because they were the highest bidder for Bauer and wanted him badly. Given the pitcher’s history of tweets that at least flirted with birtherism, transphobia and more, this is one where the risk assessment for makeup could have been better. Bauer is now reportedly under investigation by MLB for potentially using foreign substances on baseballs.
The Mets understood that Realmuto was a better player than James McCann or any other catcher in the league. They simply did not believe that the risk of giving a 30-year-old catcher the $150 million-plus that he was seeking in November was smart business.
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It should also be noted that when a team emphasizes restraint, it will sometimes lose out on players who will help. Perhaps they should have been more aggressive on, say, Charlie Morton, Brad Hand or DJ LeMahieu. We will see. But events have already validated much of their restraint.