James McCann of the White Sox catches pop up in foul territory...

James McCann of the White Sox catches pop up in foul territory by Mike Moustakas of the Brewers to end the top of the eighth inning of the All-Star Game on July 9, 2019, in Cleveland. Credit: AP/John Minchillo

Steve Cohen was at Citi Field on Saturday personally delivering bobbleheads to season-ticket holders while behind the scenes, the Mets were handing out key jobs, first to catcher James McCann, then to Jared Porter, the highly respected Diamondbacks executive who will be the team’s new general manager.

After years of waiting to see which retreads fell off the bargain racks, the Mets are busy checking boxes.

That process continued Saturday when they finally got McCann on board with a four-year deal reportedly in the $40 million range. Team president Sandy Alderson also wrapped up his longer-than-expected GM pursuit by making a brilliant hire in Porter, 41, originally from the Theo Epstein management tree after tenures under Epstein with the Red Sox and Cubs.

With Mets fans coming down from that initial Cohen adrenaline rush, it’s starting to feel as if the momentum is building again in Flushing. Could George Springer or Trevor Bauer be far behind?

McCann is the cost-conscious alternative to J.T. Realmuto, considered the top prize of this free-agent class, and going this route suggests that Cohen, along with Alderson, have a few more items on their list.

Neither Cohen nor Alderson has mentioned a budget, other than not following a "drunken sailor" blueprint for building the 2021 Mets. The number to watch, however, is $210 million, which is the competitive-balance (luxury) tax threshold for the upcoming season. With the signings of McCann and reliever Trevor May (two years, $15.5 million), the Mets are roughly at $157 million — according to payroll estimations by Spotrac.com — so they presumably have room for either Springer or Bauer, but it’s looking impossible to stay under with both.

The Robinson Cano PED suspension, a savings of more than $20 million, basically made Marcus Stroman ($18.9 million qualifying offer) a freebie for luxury-tax purposes, so the Mets can have a very, very good offseason and still not put themselves into the penalty zone as they forge ahead into an uncertain pandemic future.

Cohen can always go over that $210 million threshold, of course. The hedge-fund giant is sitting on a $14 billion fortune. But in terms of smartly constructing a team, he doesn’t have to place all his bets in one winter.

Cohen didn’t directly answer the luxury-tax question when asked about it last month.

"I can promise you we’re going to act like a major-market team," he said. "Are we going to act like drunken sailors in the marketplace? No. I want to be thoughtful. You can spend a lot of money today and then tie up your team in bad contracts for the next five years. That’s part of building a sustainable franchise. You want to make decisions on not what works for the next 60 games but works for the next few years. We want to be thoughtful about it."

We’ll take Cohen at his word on that. Scooping up May was a solid move and it definitely helped to already have his previous Twins mentor, Jeremy Hefner, on the coaching staff to help with the recruiting effort. Evidently, McCann required a little more wrangling (and a few more bucks) as the Angels stayed in the mix for him, but the Mets clearly had identified him as a priority early on.

And I think we all know Cohen isn’t done yet, either. The consensus around MLB is that Springer will wind up in Flushing, sooner rather than later, and that the market for Bauer could be stretched out longer

The Mets have other potential options to bolster the rotation — Jake Odorizzi, maybe Masahiro Tanaka if the Yankees actually bow out — but any subsequent moves are dependent on what happens to the dominoes positioned in front of them.

You certainly could say McCann was an overpay for a catcher entering his age 31 season with 1 1/2 good seasons on his resume. Going to four years, at that price, is a calculated risk. But the Mets aren’t losing sleep over their bank statements these days.

Cohen and Alderson told us they would be active in the free-agent market and they’re off to a decent start, securing a pair of significant upgrades by mid-December (and an SNY host, Jerry Blevins, as a potential good guy for the bullpen).

In other words, gone are the days of the Mets always finishing second for a free agent (or not even trying). If Alderson targets someone, Cohen is going to give him the cash to close, and we’ll anticipate the same in the pursuit of Springer or Bauer or whomever the next targets might be.

Cohen, a lifelong Mets fan himself, is well aware of what his customers want this holiday season, whether he’s crowd-sourcing on Twitter or handing out bobbleheads with his wife, Alex, to season-ticket holders, as he spontaneously did Saturday at Citi Field (masked-up, through car windows).

"We just wanted to say thank you," Cohen said.

So far, Cohen can do no wrong, ending a long streak of Mets owners delivering the exact opposite. Adding McCann, for now, is making good on his pledge — or at least keeping people happy until the Mets can announce the next signing.


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