Steve Cohen set to end Mets’ tradition of free-agency penny-pinching

Goodbye offseason dysfunction and hello efficiency? Steve Cohen’s arrival as the Mets’ new owner figures to end the annual tradition of team executives beginning the free-agent signing period,

Goodbye offseason dysfunction and hello efficiency?

Steve Cohen’s arrival as the Mets’ new owner figures to end the annual tradition of team executives beginning the free-agent signing period, which starts Sunday night, unsure about the budget.

Under the Wilpon family reign it was commonplace for the general manager to doggedly pursue needed approval on even smaller acquisitions. The latest example was last winter, when Brodie Van Wagenen needed to sell team COO Jeff Wilpon on the idea of adding two back-end starting pitchers in Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha.

But little was as maddening for team officials than to finish plugging their offseason holes, only to be told by Wilpon that an additional $10 million was now available for payroll. Where was that money when the GM was trying to sign a better pitcher or outfielder?

The offseason heading into 2014 was a prime example. It was a free-agent signing period one team official described the Mets as “bringing a knife to a gunfight.” The winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., concluded with the Mets signing Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon — two players team officials liked but didn’t love — and later hearing from Wilpon that additional money was available and how should the Mets spend it?

Steve Cohen and Sandy AldersonTwitter/@alexmomof5; Getty Images

Cohen, a lifelong Mets fan with $14 billion in his piggy bank, figures to eliminate such angst. Sandy Alderson — who knows all too well about the challenges of past Mets winters (he was the general manager for 7 ½ years) — is returning as team president to oversee what should be a more efficient operating structure. Alderson is expected to select both a president of baseball operations and general manager to identify the talent. It would be considered an upset if Van Wagenen remains with the organization.

The most glaring need is starting pitching and catching, and the Mets will have no shortage of possibilities as teams stung financially by the pandemic look to slash spending. It could be a perfect storm of sorts for the Mets. Why choose between Trevor Bauer and trading for a high-end starter with a big contract when maybe you can have both?

J.T. Realmuto would look great behind the plate, but if his heart lies in Philadelphia, names such as Mike Zunino and Yadier Molina could be appealing. The Mets last week declined 2021 options on Wilson Ramos and Robinson Chirinos, leaving Tomas Nido as the lone experienced catcher.

It gets trickier with the other positions. An overlying issue is whether the DH will continue in the National League next season. At this point it’s anybody’s guess.

“That is an enormous one to have hanging over all these teams throughout the offseason — ‘Hey, we can’t really tell you what format we’re going to be running next year,’ ” a NL executive said. “OK, then how do I sign this guy or that guy? Perhaps no individual is more screwed by it than Nelson Cruz. Can somebody be in play for Nelson Cruz or not?”

The 40-year-old Cruz (who is one of the players the Mets considered when they signed Granderson) posted a .992 OPS last season for the Twins. Another player who possibly falls into that category is Marcell Ozuna, whose defensive skills have eroded in recent seasons, but he remains a premier right-handed bat, which the Mets need in trying to combat their deficiencies against lefty pitching. Adding such a bat (provided there is a DH in the NL) would likely mean trading somebody from a group that includes Dominic Smith, Jeff McNeil and Brandon Nimmo.

George Springer is the top available outfield free agent. If the Mets were to sign him, Nimmo could shift from center to a corner, where he is better suited. But without the DH question settled, it could be difficult for the incoming front office to choose a path.

For now, starting pitching and catcher are the obvious pursuits.

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