The Flushing team we used to know, let’s call them the pre-Cohen Mets, would have been done with their offseason spending on Nov. 11 once Marcus Stroman accepted that $18.9 million qualifying offer to return.
But now? Consider Stroman merely a down payment on the 2021 rotation, with the Mets in the hunt to put this year’s Cy Young winner, Trevor Bauer, behind the back-to-back title-holder (and third-place finisher this season), who is their resident No. 1, Jacob deGrom.
Such is the benefit of having new owner Steve Cohen, who also happens to be the richest in the sport. Stroman’s $18.9 million is couch-cushion change for Cohen, and if you think that’s hyperbole, consider that he actually thanked the former Patchogue-Medford star in a tweet despite picking up the hefty tab.
Cohen sounded thrilled to write the check. And you can bet there are others coming. Bigger ones, too, with even more zeros. As for Bauer, he got lucky this Mets sale went down when it did. Cohen, the hedge-fund titan, understands that timing is key for any investment. Not only are the Mets craving another elite starter, Cohen’s billions will be a distinct advantage in an otherwise depressed free-agent market, as other teams lament a year’s worth of pandemic-related losses.
It’s still going to take a while to get an accurate read on the prices, but the public flirtation between the Mets and Bauer already is underway. Bauer’s reputation as an eccentric character, with an outspoken manner, might be a turnoff for some teams. He also maintains a very active Twitter account that occasionally gets him into trouble, but given Cohen’s affinity for tweeting, that could end up being a plus with the owner.
Mets president Sandy Alderson doesn’t seem bothered by any of that, however. Just the opposite. Alderson swooned over the pitcher, and tipped his hand to some degree during Tuesday’s interview with WFAN.
"This is an entertainment business," Alderson said. "So we’ve got to be open-minded about how players express themselves. The thing that’s interesting about Bauer is, he brings with him a lot of ideas, a lot of routines, a sort of technical orientation, that I bet we can learn from.
"If a guy can perform, it doesn’t really [matter] to me as long as it’s not disruptive in the clubhouse. Basically, if guys see someone performing, they’ll live with whatever the baggage is. I actually think Bauer would be a great personality in New York. I think he’s the kind of guy that fans would embrace."
Bauer, on his Cy Young media call Wednesday night, didn’t hesitate to participate in the mutual lovefest.
"I think in the past, a lot of the narrative surrounding me is I couldn’t handle a big media market, that I was a head case," Bauer said. "So to hear that someone as high-ranking as Sandy feels the way he feels about that is refreshing. Certainly very appreciative of that."
Coming from Alderson, that was some rare PDA for a free agent who he’s likely to be negotiating with in the very near future. He never would have gushed so openly during his previous GM tenure under the Wilpons. Who are we kidding? If he was asked about someone like Bauer back then, Alderson’s response typically would be a mischievous smile and some self-deprecating joke.
The other revealing part about Alderson’s comments? His eagerness to tap into Bauer’s highly regarded pitching intel (and elite spin rate). In addition to Bauer’s numbers — he had a 1.73 ERA with a 0.795 WHIP over 11 starts during this truncated season — Alderson’s desire for the knowledge behind them reflected the management style Cohen talked about during Tuesday’s introductory news conference.
"I’ll take a good idea from anybody," Cohen said. "If somebody is doing it better than us, I’m going to try to figure out why."
Nobody did it better this season than Bauer, who tends to get ripped for doing things his own way. But he lives on the bleeding-edge of pitching tech, and that data-driven side to him has to be very appealing to someone like Cohen, who sees plenty of similarities between his hedge-fund analysts and baseball visionaries.
And one of the more attractive parts about enlisting Bauer for his rejuvenated Mets? All he costs is money, which is no longer the very limited commodity it used to be in Flushing.
"Given what we want to achieve," Alderson said, "it's not about how much less we can get somebody for, it's more about getting that somebody."
Bauer definitely fits the description as one of those targeted somebodies. And with Stroman opting back in Wednesday, the Mets’ rotation could get very good, very quickly, this winter.