The New York Mets should begin the Steve Cohen era with a bang by signing the 2020 National League Cy Young Award winner, Trevor Bauer.
Yes, Cohen has already taken over and basically fired everyone who had a desk in Citi Field. Inking Bauer should be the next bold and highly impactful move.
The thought of the Mets spending money on a top-tier pitcher that wasn’t their own would’ve sounded outlandish in the summer of 2019. They had Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz, and the recently acquired Marcus Stroman. Then their strong suit imploded.
Wheeler left the Mets for the rival Philadelphia Phillies in free agency; Syndergaard missed 2020 due to an elbow injury; Stroman hurt his calf and later opted out of the 2020 season; Matz struggled mightily this past season, finishing with a 9.68 ERA.
Outside of deGrom and David Peterson, manager Luis Rojas‘ rotation was a mess.
The Mets have a lot of hefty contracts coming off the books after next season including Stroman ($18.9 million), Michael Conforto ($11 million), Jeurys Familia ($10 million), Syndergaard ($9.7 million), and Dellin Betances ($6 million). Meanwhile, Robinson Cano getting suspended for the 2021 season due to the use of a performance enhancing drug takes $20.3 million off the 2021 payroll.
The Mets have the money to get Bauer.
The deceiving right-hander has the makeup of an ace. He has a consistent five-pitch arsenal (four seamer, cutter, slider, curveball, and sinker), gets hitters to bite at pitches on the corners, and doesn’t give into counts, therefore logging strikeouts at a high rate.
Bauer has found success in both the American and National League, as he made 180 appearances with the Cleveland Indians (2013-19) and a combined 25 appearances with the Cincinnati Reds (2019-20) and Arizona Diamondbacks (2012). Speaking of the Reds, Bauer is coming off a monster season pitching in the NL Central.
Across 11 starts (73.0 innings), he recorded a 1.73 ERA, an 0.80 WHIP, a 276 ERA+, and 100 strikeouts. He was the best starting pitcher in Major League Baseball. In Game 1 of the Reds’ NL Divisional Series matchup with the Atlanta Braves, Bauer tossed 7.2 shutout innings while surrendering just two baserunners and totaling 12 strikeouts.
Picture a one-two pitching punch of deGrom and Bauer: the Mets could argue that they’d have the best pitching duo in the sport.
Syndergaard has struggled to stay healthy, Matz has been hit hard over the last two seasons (he has surrendered 41 home runs since the beginning of the 2019 season), and Stroman has been inconsistently stellar over his big-league career.
The Mets need a rotation arm.
There’s a viable alternative to signing Bauer for the Mets, as they could go the short-term, stopgap route and sign a veteran starter on the cheap — especially given that Stroman signed his qualifying offer, filling a rotation spot. Their options include Jake Odorizzi, Corey Kluber, Jake Arrieta, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, and Chris Archer.
With that said, what are any of those starters with the exception of a resurgent Kluber going to do for the Mets? They’d provide adequate length and blend into the crowd of young starters who are struggling to get on track. Bauer is the lone standout option on the open market.
The Mets have been mentioned as a free agent possibility for DJ LeMahieu and a landing spot for a Francisco Lindor trade. Are the pair of All-Star infielders offensive mainstays? You bet. But is an offensive depth chart that features Jeff McNeil, Pete Alonso, Dominic Smith, J.D. Davis, and Conforto in desperate need of a prominent bat? Does getting a premier infielder loom larger than having a fully operable pitching staff for the Mets?
The bullpen was a bit better in 2020, as Edwin Diaz was money in the late innings and veterans Chasen Shreve and Justin Wilson were steady forces. That progression needs to continue. Bigger than that, they need a lesser workload which derives from rotation length from individuals whose last names aren’t “deGrom.”
Let’s also take into account the Mets division, the NL East.
The Braves have won the division in three consecutive seasons, sport a loaded positional core, and tout a budding pitching staff; the Miami Marlins have a deep-rooted pitching pipeline and are coming off a playoff appearance; while they’ve been unable to get over the hump, the Philadelphia Phillies are still a competitive foe; the Washington Nationals are a year removed from a World Series title and still have a deep core.
Where do the Mets fall in that five-team cluster? Well, they’re more like the Phillies and what the Nationals were last season than the Braves, and the Marlins have a more balanced foundation. One way or the other, the Mets have to make an impactful move to climb the ladder.
Has Bauer’s career been a bit of a rollercoaster? Sure, he posted a 6.39 ERA in the 10 starts he made with the Reds after coming over at the 2019 MLB trade deadline. At the same time, the upside of Bauer performing to the tune of his 2020 and 2018 (a 2.21 ERA and 221 strikeouts across 28 appearances) ways makes him a worthwhile investment. There’s also the possibility that he comes at a lower price than initially thought.
To date, MLB revenue and team payrolls is a fluid situation. Given that uncertainty, players may have to settle for smaller contracts in both years and overall money. Maybe the Mets can get Bauer for fewer years and/or money per year if the situation doesn’t improve over the next four months.
Bauer takes New York to the next level.