Here is a general rule I have. Teams should build around a strong young core of everyday position players. High end position players should only be acquired when they meet the following criteria:
- It is at a position you cannot fill on your own (e.g. catcher).
- The player is significantly under 30 years old.
- The team is getting a player so beyond excellent (Mike Trout/Mookie Betts), it is worth going all in. These are guys on a hall of fame path who are only expected to decline in their mid/late 30’s.
The big mistake of the Mets in 2017 and 2018 was ignoring this rule. The 2017 Mets opening day lineup made this abundantly clear. Every position player was 30 or older. Reyes (34), Cabrera (31), Cespedes (31), Granderson (36), Walker (31), Bruce (30), Duda (31), and Rivera (33) took the field that day. The 2018 opening day lineup still included Cespedes (32), Bruce (31) and Cabrera (32). However, they added veterans like Gonzalez (36) and Frazier (32). The reliance on veterans over youth cost both teams big time.
When the 2019 Mets ended up 10 games above the .500 mark, the offense primarily relied on younger players like Pete Alonso (24), Amed Rosario (23), JD Davis (26) Michael Conforto (26), Jeff McNeil (27), Brandon Nimmo (26) and Dom Smith (24). The primary veterans the Mets used were Robinson Cano (36), who was a disaster as well as Wilson Ramos (31) who was fine.
Going into the 2021 season, the Mets are expected to rely heavily on young guys again. In addition to the players mentioned above who are still under 30, the Mets also have Andres Gimenez (22) and Luis Guillorme (26), who finally put it together with the bat. The only critical player above 30 is James McCann. The goal will be to have similar offensive numbers to Ramos in 2019 but with better defense. In other words, he isn’t expected to be the star.
With all of this said, it would seem reasonable to say that George Springer should be avoided. After all, he turned 31 in September and plays centerfield. This is usually where you expect someone young with speed to cover ground. In addition, he was part of the Astro cheating crew so there are question marks around his stats. Nevertheless, the Mets should make a serious push here since they don’t have any great options for center.
To begin, we need to state the obvious. George Springer has been very good with the glove. If you look at the traditional fielding percentage stat, he makes 99.7% of the plays in center. However, that is only part of the story. When you look at the advanced defensive metrics like Rtot or Rdrs, it becomes clear that he is one of the best defenders out there and has actually gotten better over the last couple of seasons.
It goes without saying that no one on the Astros can be discussed without mentioning the elephant in the room… or trash can in the tunnel. Springer had great years on a team that was stealing signs. There is no doubt this benefited Springer. However, there are two key points. The first is that George Springer is the only one to not see a big drop in his offensive numbers in 2020.
The second is that Springer is actually a better hitter on the road than at home in his career. This means that it is fair to assume that it wasn’t just the trash can that made him good nor the fact that Minute Maid Park is very hitter friendly.
Even in 2017, when cheating most certainly occurred, it didn’t seem to give him the same boost that a road trip did.
What the Mets are hoping for is that Springer can be like Lorenzo Cain. Cain is a special player. This is because he is the only centerfielder who has aged well recently. From 2011-2019, a total of 160 men have started at least a hundred games in center over the course of a season. Of them, only 21 have been 31 years of age or older. If you have a look at WAR by season, it becomes clear that most have not been great. Only two players other than Cain have had a WAR above 3 on the season, and the last one was in 2013. In other words, teams are avoiding older centerfielders.
I am going out on a whim here and saying that Springer has the potential to be the next Cain.
This gets to the final point. Signing Springer will get down to years and dollars. A 5 years deal is a lot to ask for, considering he probably won’t be in center for much longer. In addition, he turned down a qualifying offer, which means Springer will cost the Mets a draft pick. With that said, he doesn’t need to be the big basher in the Mets lineup. Batting him lower down, like sixth, could help keep him fresh. With Conforto, Nimmo, McNeil, Alonso, Dom Smith and Davis in the lineup, Springer doesn’t have to be the messiah with the bat. If he hits well enough and plays solid defense, he will be doing his job and the Mets will be much better off.
(David Weiss is a lifelong Mets fan. He has lived in Israel since 2008 and runs the Facebook page Jewish Mets Fans.)