Mets facing more pressure to make MLB free-agency splash

Mets facing more pressure to make MLB free-agency splash

The past couple of days have injected a helpful dash of reality into what has been a pie-eyed dream ride for the Mets for all of November. From the moment Steve Cohen and his checkbook took control of the team, he has been a daily source of unedited glee for most Mets fans.

He has shown a sense of humor on Twitter, going so far as to tweak the Bobby Bonilla contract that causes an annual spasm of angst among Mets fans every July 1, when Bonilla collects his $1.19 million, renewing a punch line the rest of the baseball world finds endlessly hilarious. He has forged a sense of community with the fans, promising to bring back Old-Timer’s Day.

And, of course, there is that checkbook, and all the unknown glories potentially available therein. He has been a willing good cop in all of this.

Sandy Alderson might not be the bad cop here, but he is certainly the cautious cop, the world-weary cop, the seen-it-all cop, the been-around-the-block-a-time-or-three cop. So it was that maybe 15 minutes into the Zoom chat Monday when he introduced himself as the Mets’ chief baseball officer, he was perfectly willing to play the role of buzzkill.

He was asked: are the Mets a player away from contention?

“I don’t think we’re a player away,” he said. “I think we’d need more than that. Do we have a good foundation? Yes, I think we have an excellent foundation. But I think our needs are multiple at this point and we’re more than a player away.”

And then, as if Alderson hadn’t done enough to water down the drinks that have flowed during the Mets’ monthlong happy hour, their old friends and adversaries from Atlanta jumped in for the ride. The Braves made the first notable move of the free-agent season, signing Charlie Morton to a one-year, $15 million deal, bringing one of Tampa’s most reliable October stalwarts back to the organization that drafted him 18 years ago.

It isn’t that the 37-year-old Morton clinches anything for the Braves. But he does add a fifth name to what is probably the most imposing rotation in the National League, joining Max Fried, Mike Soroka, Ian Anderson and Drew Smyly.

And it is a useful reminder that the Braves are already the three-time defending NL East champions who are also loaded from top to bottom in the batting order, too, who gave the eventual-champion Dodgers their biggest postseason terror before surrendering a three-games-to-one lead in the NLCS.

You start looking at the Braves’ roster, even from the safe remove of November, and you start to understand that Alderson wasn’t simply being wary in his self-assessment Monday. There is a profound gap there. You start with the freshly minted MVP (and perennial Mets slaughterer), Freddie Freeman. There is Ronald Acuna Jr., who will almost certainly collect a few of those plaques before he’s done. Go ahead. Keep going.

(And if you really want to sour your mood, ask yourself: are the Mets really better right now than the Nats, who never fired their engine at all in 2020? Or ask yourself: can the Phillies possibly underperform as badly in Year 2 under Joe Girardi? Or remind yourself: the Marlins MADE THE PLAYOFFS this year, and won a round.)

OK. The good news in all of this? That checkbook. That owner, and his stated commitment to making the Mets into a contender. It is good that he has his money earmarked for important long-range upgrades, in infrastructure, in analytics, in scouting both domestic and international.

It is also helpful that there are players available who can make the Mets better — and narrow the various gaps inside the NL East — immediately. That has mostly been an abstract dreamscape until now. But the Braves, as they will do, acted early and aggressively, fired the first shot and wrote the first check. They were already better than the Mets, and just got a little more so Tuesday.

Soon it will be time for Alderson, and Cohen, to answer. Reports surfaced Tuesday that the Mets won’t limit themselves to one item from the player buffet that includes George Springer, Trevor Bauer, DJ LeMahieu, J.T. Realmuto, Francisco Lindor and Marcell Ozuna. That is both in keeping with the new owner’s personality and the old (and new) GM’s belief that the Mets are still straddling the silver-medal stand — at best — in their own division.

For the first time in years, that seems a fixable chasm. Now all they have to do is actually fix it.

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