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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Mets trending in right direction since Steve Cohen's arrival

New Mets owner Steve Cohen and his wife,

New Mets owner Steve Cohen and his wife, Alex, pose with Mr. Met and Mrs. Met at Citi Field for a season-ticket holders event on Dec. 12.

It’s official. The Mets are a destination now, not a detour. And whether that’s because of Steve Cohen’s money, or clubhouse character, or the real possibility of winning a World Series, the bottom line is players want to come to Flushing again.

Not just any players. The best ones. Like James McCann, admittedly the No. 2 catcher in this winter’s free-agent market behind J.T. Realmuto, but coveted throughout the league for reasons made clear during Thursday’s Zoom conference with reporters.

McCann made a great first impression in articulating how he greatly enhanced his defensive skills and improved his hard-hit ratio, the latter leading to his recent offensive spikes across the board. Trusting his eyes as much as the analytics also was refreshing to hear, a trait that is likely to make a quick fan of Jacob deGrom, a back-to-back Cy winner who tends to lean on feel as well.

Giving McCann a four-year, $40.6-million contract, a sizable bump from pre-winter estimates, is ultimately how the Mets landed him. But there is more to free agency than simply writing big checks. Players can get paid anywhere. It’s also about creating the allure of being a championship-caliber organization, and knowing that you’ll be surrounded by even more top talent. McCann got that vibe from the Mets before the negotiations even started with new president Sandy Alderson, thanks in part to his close friend and Nashville workout partner Steven Matz.

"From the first minute they were high on the list, especially with the new owner and everything that he's doing," McCann said. "I've seen what he's come out and said in the media, I've seen what he does on social media, I've seen the excitement from current players, particularly Marcus Stroman, with just how everything is being sold for the New York Mets.

"I didn’t really need any selling from the standpoint of ‘Are we trying to put a winner on the field?’ or ‘How are we trying to compete?’ I knew that was a focus for the organization and I knew that was something I wanted to be a part of."

We know that Trevor Bauer has been watching closely because of the high praise both he and his agent, Rachel Luba, have expressed about the Mets’ transformation in recent interviews. The same is surely true for George Springer -- another Mets’ target -- even though he’s been more covert in his offseason movements.

Cohen’s billions are impossible for a free agent to ignore. But if you’re going up against other free-spending clubs, some that could be willing to match the Mets dollar-for-dollar, or happen to play in cities with no state income tax, Alderson needs a tiebreaker. Turning the Mets into a consistent winner, with a solid infrastructure, is a nice complement to Cohen’s vast financial resources.

Recently, the Mets’ best offer was an incentive-laden opportunity for a player to resurrect their career, with an outside shot at contending for the playoffs. They could join a jumbled roster of unclear potential, and maybe perform well enough to score a more lucrative deal somewhere else at season’s end.

What could those pre-Cohen Mets promise? Dysfunction on the cheap. Not quite as appealing as LA, San Diego or the Yankees. Now, the Mets’ baseline is deep-pocketed competence -- paid for by Cohen, operated by Alderson and new GM Jared Porter -- with a World Series ceiling. First thing Alderson had to do when he arrived for this second go-round at Citi Field was throw out all the old brochures.

"I don't think we have to sell our future," Alderson said Thursday. "Our conversation was not an effort really to sell James on the organization. It was to provide more information in more detail than one could gather from the media or social media.

"But I think the excitement surrounding the Mets right now is self-evident. We don’t really have to spin that, we don’t have to add to it, we don’t have to reach to hyperbole. People know who we are now, where we're going, and so as a result, that part of the conversation disappears and we get to talk more about nuts and bolts."

McCann said he was encouraged by Matz’s assessment of the organization, despite the Long Island lefty’s bumpy Mets’ tenure, and he has to be thrilled by the team’s aggressive efforts to rapidly build a contender. Alderson even suggested Thursday that while his preference is to go the free agency route this winter, he definitely wouldn’t rule out a blockbuster trade (hello Nolan Arenado and Francisco Lindor) if the opportunity made sense.

Suffice to say, the Mets are acting like a legitimate big-market team again, and who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

"Everything is trending in the right direction," McCann said. "That made the New York Mets a very attractive landing spot."

A month into the Cohen regime, it’s a good start.

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