Mets the team to watch for Japanese star
Mets fans find themselves in a fun position: for the first time since Mike Piazza had a splintered bat thrown his way, it feels like their favorite baseball team is ready to be the aggressor against their subway counterparts in the Bronx.
With Jon Heyman reporting the Mets have “recently contacted” free agent DJ LaMahieu, it means either a crosstown bidding war is underway, or an agent is doing their job to make it seem like there’s a bidding war.
When was the last time the Mets were used as leverage against the Yankees?
Putting aside the local narrative, it is interesting to think about LaMahieu as a free agent option for the Mets, especially after Sandy Alderson hinted that improving the third base position is an area of focus.
“If you’re talking about defensively, our third-base situation is probably a little bit up in the air,” Alderson recently answered when asked about the potential of making a trade (via NY Post). “Is it as glaring a need as like a third or fourth starter? I don’t think so.”
This quote was also used to suggest the Mets might not be hunting for a top-end starter like Trevor Bauer. And if the third base situation is not “as glaring a need” as a middle-rotation piece, perhaps it is more of a hint that stealing LaMahieu away from the Yankees is not in the cards either.
What we do know is the Mets could use improvements in both center field and at third base, leaving George Springer and LaMahieu as two intriguing options. While fans drunk off the idea of Steve Cohen being the owner of the team can dream of them signing both players, that seems unlikely. Each will command a contract that will likely pay them an average annual salary over $20 million. The Mets are currently about $50-53 million below the initial luxury tax threshold, which has acted as a cap on even the biggest spenders in baseball, so I wouldn’t expect Uncle Stevie to look to blow past that in his first season.
If the Mets are going to sign one of these two free agents, both over the age of 30 (DJ is one year older), the decision could come down to how they view the long-term prospects of each player being able to field their respective positions.
Looking at the latest Steamer projections, George Springer is expected to produce four wins above replacement next season, which is based on the expectation that he continues to play a majority of his time in center field, where he has been pretty good over the past few seasons, and he undoubtedly would play in 2021 if he signs a mega-deal with the Mets.
⚠️ Note: This is where I am going to act like a sabermetrics mechanic and lift up the hood on WAR and pull out a piece of the engine that you will have to trust me is important to pay attention to (unless you want to read the owner’s manual and decide for yourself).
In calculating WAR, a positional adjustment is used to account for the fact that some positions are more difficult to play than others. For example, it is harder to play centerfield than right field or left field, which is why you want a faster player with a strong glove chasing down balls in center versus guarding one of the foul lines.
George Springer’s projected WAR value will depreciate over time the more often he plays in right field, which until last season, he has done pretty frequently, and as he gets older, he will probably transition to full-time. He is 31-years-old, he isn’t going to maintain his ability to chase down fly balls in the gap forever.
LeMahieu, on the other hand, has proven to be a versatile fielder, who can play multiple positions along the infield, and even if old age forces him to play more often at third base than second base, that’s fine.
What’s the difference between Springer moving to right and LaMahieu moving to third? Back to positional adjustment. Based on FanGraphs’ numbers (which pretty closely mirror Baseball-Reference’s values), there is a significant difference in the factor used in calculating WAR for right fielders (-7.5) versus center fielders (+2.5), whereas the positional adjustment is the same between second base (+2.5) and third base (+2.5).
How much does that difference matter? Using the 2020 runs per win value, all else being equal, Springer would shave close to 1 win off his WAR total by playing right field full-time instead of center field.
However, if LaMahieu is projected to be a 3.4 win player (as Steamer has him for 2021), he is a 3.4 win player whether he plays the keystone or the hot corner. Projecting his value over a multi-year deal simply requires the team to factor in an aging curve. For Springer, both an aging curve and positional adjustment need to be accounted for, and since both players are pretty similar in value and age, perhaps that leads to LaMahieu being the better investment, especially if he signs for a shorter-term deal than Springer.
Below are the additional sections that were sent in the original email newsletter this morning. We later move the analysis section to the top of this page for linking purposes.
⏰ Catch me up in 60(ish) seconds…
BATTLE OF NEW YORK: The Mets have recently contacted free agent Yankees infielder DJ LaMahieu, per Jon Heyman (more in a bit).
💰PAYDAY: Right-hander Noah Syndergaard agreed to a one-year, $9.7 million contract to avoid arbitration, per USA Today.
JAPANESE STAR: Mets could be in the hunt for recently posted starter Tomoyuki Sugano of the Yomiuri Giants, as Joel Sherman relays from one executive: “Watch the Mets on this. I think they have as good a chance as anyone.”
🤷♂️ Who is this guy? Sugano is a two-time winner of the Sawamura Award, which is the Nippon Professional Baseball’s equivalent to the Cy Young. He is 31-years-old and some scouts believe his stuff would translate into a top rotation piece in the Majors, or at least a #2-3 starter. He might be the second best starter on the market to Trevor Bauer.
🗓 Timing: Based on an agreement between the two leagues, NBP players must sign with a major league team within one month of being posted, so Sugano would need to find a new home by January 7.
💵 How much? The Mets just signed James McCann well above the projections, but ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel recently predicted Sugano would get two-years, $24 million.
MINOR LEAGUE SIGNINGS: The Mets made several previously reported signings official on Monday: LHP Jerry Blevins; RHP Jared Eickhoff; LHP Tom Windle; and INF Wilfredo Tovar. All will receive invites to Spring Training.
STEVE COHEN will be answering Twitter questions with Howie Rose. You can watch him on the Mets YouTube channel and Facebook at 7:00 PM.
📚 ON THIS DATE IN 1999: Steve Phillips orchestrated a deal to acquire 22-game winner Mike Hampton and outfielder Derek Bell from the Houston Astros in exchange for Roger Cedeno, Octavio Dotel and Kyle Kessel.
The New York Post lede on the trade: “One day after New Yorkers fired back at Braves moron John Rocker, the Mets placed the NL champions in the crosshairs of a loaded, 2000-caliber baseball weapon.”
Rocker became Public Enemy Number 1 after making disparaging and racist comments about New Yorkers, which he doubled down on in a Sports Illustrated issue that was released the week of the Hampton trade.
As for Hampton: After living in Trump Tower while playing in New York, he famously cited the school system in the Denver area as the reason he bolted from the Mets in free agency the following winter. Ironically, the Denver Public School system is weighing whether to scrap their ranking system so who knows which schools are really the best. And Mets fans still feel pretty good about the compensation pick netted from Hampton signing in Colorado that turned into David Wright.
🔗 MUST READ: Relentless. Ruthless. Genius. The many sides of Steve Cohen, by Tim Britton, The Athletic: “To canvass those who know or have encountered Steve Cohen is to court disagreement. You will hear about his remarkable and autodidactic passion for art, and you will hear doubt about just how genuine that passion is. You will hear about trips on the LIRR from Great Neck to Shea Stadium, and you will hear questions about the authenticity of that now-ballyhooed fandom. You will hear that he’s been a trading genius and a ruthless employer, a man lucky to avoid personal criminal indictment who’s also donated hundreds of millions of dollars to philanthropic causes.”
🔗 Mets bench coach Dave Jauss recalls his years working with Luis Rojas’ father Felipe with the West Palm Beach Expos, by Nathalie Alonso, MLB: “According to Mets’ team president Sandy Alderson, the club brought Jauss back for 2021 ‘because Louie wanted him.’ Luis Rojas: ‘My father has always told me that Dave Jauss is one of the best coaches he had in his career.’”
🔗 Will Steven Matz Bring His Slider Back? by Matt Musico, MetsMerized: “This is pure speculation, obviously, but if he really didn’t have enough confidence in Ramos’ ability to handle the [slider], it’s not at all shocking to see why his usage and execution of the pitch itself plummeted. Throwing more pitches that aren’t straight (i.e. fastballs and changeups) will be helpful in keeping opposing hitters on their toes more often. Having a catcher Matz knows and trusts behind the dish in McCann will allow him more brain space to solely focus on executing the pitch.”
📺 GET TO KNOW the Mets recent signing, catcher James McCann:
Thanks for reading! More to come next Monday!
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