How Steve Cohen, Mets Can Flex Extra $315M to Shake Up MLB After Carlos Correa SagaJanuary 10, 2023
If the New York Mets have any Carlos Correa bragging rights following his reported deal to return to the Minnesota Twins, it's only that he was a Met for longer than he was a San Francisco Giant.
That unfortunately doesn't do the Mets much good, of course, and the same goes for the money they saved by failing to consummate with the superstar shortstop. As far as fans should be concerned, that ought to be an I.O.U. worth at least $315 million.
Granted, anyone who really wants to get technical can point out that Mets chairman and CEO Steve Cohen didn't actually save $315 million by not signing Correa.
That may have been the value of the two sides' agreement from Dec. 21—which itself was a discount on the $350 million pact that Correa had made with the Giants on Dec. 13—but ESPN's Jeff Passan reported Tuesday that Correa jumped ship yet again to the Twins for only $200 million:
According to Jon Heyman of the New York Post, the Twins have already completed the "major part" of Correa's physical, including the part pertaining to the leg injury that spooked both the Giants and Mets. If so, it won't be long before the Twins can celebrate a reunion with arguably the best shortstop in Major League Baseball.
In the meantime, it's a loss the Mets should already be lamenting.
Steve Cohen Picked a Bad Time to Finally Spare Some Expense
Back when the Mets reached that $315 million agreement with Correa and his agent, Scott Boras, the last thing anyone could accuse them of being was cheap.
The contract itself would have been the fifth-largest for a free agent in MLB history, and it would have put the Mets' expenses for the 2022-23 offseason at more than $800 million. Factoring in their likely luxury-tax penalties, the club's payoll for 2023 was slated to be just south of $500 million.
It's fairly weird, then, that Correa is going to be a Twin perhaps because Cohen apparently didn't want to pony up the $42.5 million it would have taken to match Minnesota's offer. As Heyman reported:
Jon Heyman @JonHeyman
Sources tell The Post: Mets were willing to fully guarantee 6 years (at $157.5M) but the final 6 would have been only conditionally guaranteed. So Correa will make $42.5M more in first 6 with Twins. Mets and Correa couldn't get past the language issue. Story to come at <a href="https://twitter.com/nypost?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@nypost</a>
One could see this as justifiable on account of the red flag of Correa's right leg, but it nonetheless doesn't reflect well on the Mets that the team that was willing to take the risk on him is a small-market club with less wealthy owners. According to Forbes, the Pohlad family's net worth is smaller than Cohen's by about $14 billion.
As for whether the Mets needed Correa, well, let's remember what Cohen himself told Heyman in December: "This really makes a big difference. I felt like our pitching was in good shape. We needed one more hitter. This puts us over the top."
He wasn't wrong. In adding Justin Verlander, Kodai Senga and José Quintana to a rotation that already featured Max Scherzer and retaining Edwin Díaz and Adam Ottavino and adding David Robertson for their bullpen, the Mets arranged what may well be the best pitching staff in the majors. Once Correa came aboard, they had added a missing piece to their offense in the form of a player who has averaged a 129 OPS+ and 28 home runs per 162 games for his career.
Now that Correa is out of the picture, though, newcomer catcher Omar Narváez is the only player who differentiates the 2023 offense from the 2022 offense.
As the Mets tied for fifth in scoring last year, this is a good thing in at least one respect. But in the sense that they were below-average at hitting home runs even before the San Diego Padres out-homered them 5-3 in winning a National League Wild Card Series, less so.
The bottom line is no longer as bearish as it was following the Mets' agreement with Correa. With him, they projected to produce the most wins above replacement of any team in 2023. Without him, they rank behind four clubs, including a key National League East rival in Atlanta.
In other words, the Mets now have ground to make up if they want to enter the coming season as favorites to win their first World Series since 1986.
Where Can the Mets Go from Here?
The problem, of course, is that the Mets have little recourse for gaining ground.
Unlike in past offseasons, wherein the market tended to remain well-stocked up to and even after the start of spring training, the free-agent cupboard is quite bare. Here are the top five remaining options by projected WAR for 2023:
- SS Elvis Andrus: 1.8
- RHP Michael Wacha: 1.6
- SS José Iglesias: 1.4
- LF/2B Jurickson Profar: 1.4
- 3B/RF Brian Anderson: 1.3
None of these players is close to Correa's equal on an individual level, and even the lot of them put together might still not amount to one Correa. To wit, their combined projected WAR barely exceeds what he did in each of his three best seasons.
The trade market is therefore the only hope the Mets have of adding a Correa-type difference-maker before Opening Day. The top target there is All-Star center fielder Bryan Reynolds, who requested a trade from the Pittsburgh Pirates in December.
Alas, the Mets won't be able to simply buy Reynolds from the Bucs. They'd have to meet the prospect price Pittsburgh is demanding, which Jon Morosi of MLB Network reported mainly consists of an impact starting pitcher:
Jon Morosi @jonmorosi
If <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Pirates?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Pirates</a> trade Bryan Reynolds this offseason, they're looking for at least one top starting pitcher to headline the package — such as Bobby Miller (<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Dodgers?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Dodgers</a>) or Ricky Tiedemann (<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BlueJays?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BlueJays</a>), both of whom rank among the top 40 prospects in <a href="https://twitter.com/MLB?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@MLB</a>, per <a href="https://twitter.com/MLBPipeline?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@MLBPipeline</a>.<a href="https://twitter.com/MLBNetwork?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@MLBNetwork</a>
While the Mets indeed have impact starters, none is of the young, controllable and high-upside variety implied here. Their farm system is likewise short on such hurlers, which basically renders top-ranked catcher Francisco Álvarez as New York's best hope of moving the Pirates on Reynolds. If they continue to insist on a hurler, that won't work.
As for players the Mets conceivably could acquire via trade, the only obvious candidate is Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale. Heyman has reported that Boston is listening on the left-hander, who's owed $55 million through 2024.
Given how strong the New York rotation already is, however, a trade for Sale would be a solution in search of a problem. And not much of a solution at that, as the seven-time All-Star has been limited by injuries to just 11 appearances over the last three seasons.
Likewise, the Mets should want nothing to do with Josh Donaldson or Aaron Hicks even as the New York Yankees are looking to unload them. A quick scan around MLB for other albatross contracts turns up names such as Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, Christian Yelich, Kris Bryant, Javier Báez and Yoán Moncada. Even if all of the above were legitimate trade candidates, not one is what you'd call "desirable" right now.
Granted, more options should present themselves after the 2023 season gets underway and snakes its way closer to the trade deadline. But if the Mets are ever going to spend the money they had earmarked for Correa on someone else, it's more likely to happen next offseason.
The 2023-24 Free-Agent Class Awaits
The 2023-24 class of free agents looked weak even before the Red Sox preempted Rafael Devers' date with the open market by signing him to an 10-year, $313.5 million extension. Following that, it's not likely that next winter's market will surpass the $3.6 billion splurge of this winter's market.
There is Shohei Ohtani, though.
The Mets may well get a chance to acquire the best two-way star baseball has ever known even before he files for free agency. Ohtani will be the summer's top trade candidate if the Los Angeles Angels find themselves struggling to keep up in the American League West, which seems likely even despite their notable offseason improvements.
Failing that, reporting from Heyman put the price tag for entry into the bidding for Ohtani at $500 million.
Whether the Mets can afford that seems a silly question. It's "only" $185 million more than what Cohen—whose wealth, once again, is beyond exorbitant—was willing to spend on Correa, after all, and such things as a hike in the luxury-tax threshold and free agency for Robertson and Carlos Carrasco will only increase the club's flexibility.
If not Ohtani, Manny Machado—who can opt out of his contract—would be a darn good consolation prize.
Whereas the Mets were merely hoping Correa would be a capable partner in crime for fellow natural shortstop Francisco Lindor at third base, Machado has long since proved himself as one of the best at the hot corner. And offensively as much as defensively, as he's put up a 132 OPS+ and 35 home runs per 162 games dating back to 2015.
If the Mets can't get Ohtani or Machado next offseason, then they'll be in some trouble. Because with respect to Aaron Nola, Julio Urías, Matt Chapman and former Met Amed Rosario, none of them is an MVP-level performer akin to Correa, Machado or especially Ohtani.
For now, the Mets will have to make do with the roster they have. Even if that involves winning 100 games for the second year in a row, one can only assume that they'll be that much more willing to rectify the Correa loss if the championship that Cohen so badly wants once again fails to materialize.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.