The Great Awakening began around 7 p.m. Friday night with the news of a ho-hum signing of Eduardo Escobar, a nice player but not exactly what Mets’ fans were looking for a week after Steve Cohen essentially offered new GM Billy Eppler a blank check to make major upgrades to his underachieving ballclub.
Twitter bristled with disappointment.
The signing of Mark Canha an hour or so later only added to the exasperation. Again, another nice player but not a difference-maker.
“Please tell me these are only the appetizers,” one fan tweeted.
Hours went by and it looked as if fans wanting a star would go hungry for at least another day, but then around midnight came word the Mets had struck again, this time for Starling Marte, very much a difference-maker as one of the best center fielders in the game.
And like that, in the space of some five hours, the Mets had changed the silly narrative that no one wants to play for them by taking advantage of their greatest organizational strength — Cohen’s stature as baseball’s richest owner.
In doing so they galvanized a skeptical fan base that quickly seemed to forget its distrust of all things Mets and predict that there is more to come this winter.
“If (Max) Scherzer is next I’m buying season tickets tomorrow,” someone tweeted.
Yes, Mets fans obviously were dying for a reason to buy in to the new regime’s cash-infused vision for 2022 and beyond, and now they have it.
There is more work to be done, especially on the pitching front, so it’s still way too early to make any big-picture judgments. Certainly signing Max Scherzer on top of what has already been done would instantly make this offseason a resounding success, but who knows if that’s realistic, based on the sense among baseball people that he wants to stay with the Dodgers.
That doesn’t seem likely, though, for it was Eppler who said on his introductory Zoom call that pitching would be the immediate priority for him, so if anything his work on the position-player front simply makes it more likely the Mets are prepared to do what it takes to land some quality pitching.
If they can’t get Scherzer I have to believe they’ll go hard for the likes of their own guy, Marcus Stroman, or other top starters such as Kevin Gausman, Carlos Rodon, or Robbie Ray.
However, I think Scherzer is worth whatever it would take to convince him to leave LA. Not only because he continues to pitch at such a high level, finishing third in the NL Cy Young Award voting at age 37, but because he brings such intensity to every start, and is so highly respected around baseball for his work ethic and a willingness to win that he could help build a winning culture around the Mets.
Maybe it’s not possible but at least now Mets fans know Eppler is taking his swings.
Getting Marte, in particular, is a move I thought was vital to change the dynamic of an offense that has underperformed for the last two seasons, especially in clutch situations. He’s a high-contact hitter who hit .310 last season for the Marlins and A’s while playing in pitcher-friendly ballparks, and he led the majors with 47 stolen bases, so his speed will add a dimension to the offense as well.
You can argue that four years and $78 million is too much, considering he’s 33, but it’s also a good sign if the Mets are willing to pay for players at the top of the free agent market, and indeed Marte was being pursued by several teams.
So now they finally have a true center fielder, allowing them to move Brandon Nimmo to one of the corner spots, while the right-handed hitting Canha will get his share of playing time in the other one.
Canha has put up solid numbers for years in Oakland, a tough ballpark for hitters, and his presence gives the Mets flexibility in the outfield. This all but ensures that Michael Conforto won’t be back, as had been expected, and it’s up to the Mets how much they want to use Dom Smith and/or Jeff McNeil in the outfield as well.
Escobar, meanwhile, is a switch-hitting infielder who hit 28 home runs while playing for the Diamondbacks and Brewers last season, and where he plays could be dictated by whether the Mets still bring back Javier Baez.
Friday’s moves make a strong case for doing just that, if Cohen is willing to spend the money. Because by adding three proven hitters to the lineup, the Mets now have more latitude to live with the ups and downs of Baez’s swing-and-miss game, even if the plate discipline he demonstrated late last season doesn’t last.
If Baez does come back to play second, Escobar figures to play mostly third, giving the Mets flexibility to trade J.D. Davis and/or McNeil. Also, it remains to be seen if Robinson Cano is being counted on as anything more than a possible DH as he returns from suspension.
In truth, it feels like the Mets still really need Baez’s power and athleticism to make their moves Friday night all the more significant, potentially transforming an offense that was such a problem last season.
It’s a big ask, considering the money that needs to be spent on pitching, but at least now Mets fans have reason to believe that anything and everything could be on the table this offseason. A wild Friday night changed everything in that regard.