Sun. May 9th, 2021

Trevor Bauer walks off the mound
Trevor Bauer walks off the mound

You can make the case that Trevor Bauer wasn’t worth the money, certainly not what it would have taken to keep him from signing with his hometown Dodgers.

You can even make the case the Mets are better off in the long run for not getting him, between the potential for his inevitable clashes on social media in New York as well as the money they can now use on other players.

But I don’t think you can argue that the Mets needed Bauer to have a real shot at winning a championship in 2021.

That doesn’t mean they won’t contend, and perhaps even win the NL East. But it’s hard to see them having the pitching now to outduel the best teams in the postseason, in particular now that the Dodgers have added Bauer to a rotation that was already arguably as deep and talented as any in baseball.

As one NL team executive told me Friday, “There’s no way around it, this has a huge impact on the balance of power in the league. If Bauer signs with the Mets, they can match up with anybody’s pitching, including the Dodgers. Now the Dodgers are in another stratosphere.”

At the same time, it’s fair to ask if beating the Dodgers necessarily had be the focus in Steve Cohen’s first offseason as owner when it seems clear he’s committed, from a financial and process point of view, to building an organization that will be in the running to win titles for years to come.

I’ve made the point repeatedly that the short-term should matter, largely because Jacob deGrom is 32 years old, and while he’s aging remarkably well, somehow throwing harder in 2020 than ever, the time is now to try and win a championship while he’s the still best pitcher in baseball.

That’s why Bauer mattered.

That’s why, to me, George Springer mattered even more, because if the Mets weren’t going to have the best starting rotation, there were other ways to win, and getting an All-Star center fielder with a proven ability to hit elite pitching in the postseason was at the top of the list.

After all, when it counted most last season, the Mets came up empty way too often, especially considering how well they hit when it didn’t matter as much.

Maybe that will prove to be nothing more than a small-sample anomaly over 60 games, but it just seemed that adding someone of Springer’s pedigree would have had a galvanizing effect on the entire offense.

With that in mind, a long-time scout made this point to me on Friday, and not for the first time:

“The Mets underachieved last year, and really for the last two years,” the scout said. “The lack of situational hitting, the poor defense, the baserunning mistakes, it all part of it.

“Their starting pitching was the root of their problems last year but they just didn’t play up to their talent level.

“They’ve solved some of those issues. Even without Bauer the pitching will be better, and the defense should be too. Sometimes teams have a different identity from year to year. I agree with you that Springer would have helped in a big way, but I’m really interested to see what effect (Francisco) Lindor has on the way they play. Sometimes a player of his talent and personality at such an important position can change everything.”

Yes, let’s remember the Mets have made some smart and bold moves this winter, getting James McCann to catch, Trevor May to make the bullpen stronger, and then pulling off that scintillating trade for Lindor and Carlos Carrasco.

But let’s also remember that one of the reasons for signing McCann early, and deciding not to pursue J.T. Realmuto, was to add flexibility to add more top talent. Lindor and Carrasco didn’t come cheap, but it’s still not clear why the Mets were willing to go over the luxury tax threshold for Bauer but not for Springer.

In any case, after losing out on Bauer it seems logical to think Sandy Alderson will try and upgrade in smaller ways. Jackie Bradley Jr. would provide that center field defense the Mets need, but overpaying for him doesn’t make a lot of sense. James Paxton is an enticing possibility except for the fact that he gets hurt every year.

Whatever else Alderson does, one point scouts made on Friday is that without Bauer the Mets are going to need Marcus Stroman, who opted out last year, to pitch like the front-of-the-rotation starter he is supposed to be, and perhaps even more significantly, they’re going to need Noah Syndergaard to come back strong from Tommy John surgery, which is no sure thing.

“They’re going to be a good team,” another scout said. “But I don’t think they’re a threat to win a championship.”

Again, if you want to say it’s Year One under Cohen, well, ok. But the Mets’ top prospects are still a long way from making an impact at the big league level, so there will have to be more spending ahead for this team to be a serious contender.

That was the promise, of course, of Cohen as the new owner. And to a certain extent he has delivered, though it’s also fair to say that more was expected, especially with the extra $20 million that came with Robinson Cano’s PED suspension.

Call it a good offseason so far, not great, with a chance for adjustment if Lindor’s brilliance proves transformative from a team standpoint.

Finally, as it turned out, you can’t blame the Mets for the way the Bauer decision went, but it was a tantalizing possibility while it lasted.

“I wanted to see it just because it would have been great for the game,” said the long-time scout. “I would have loved to see them with deGrom and Bauer match up in the postseason against the Padres or the Braves or even the Dodgers.”

That’s not to say the Mets can’t play with those teams come October. But now it’s going to be awfully tough to pitch with them.

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