Well, the great Flushing Bear yawned and growled ever so audibly yesterday, the Mets shaking off layers of sloth and slumber and landing in the transactions, signing Shaun Marcum to a one-year deal, becoming the 30th, and final, team to sign a major-league free agent this offseason.
As hot stove moves go, this isn’t exactly a scalding cup of coffee, more a comforting cup of cocoa, but Marcum is a professional, proven, major league starter. He is 21 games over .500 across seven seasons and 149 big-league starts, he does have a 112 ERA+ for his career if you’re into advanced metrics, making him well above league-average in that category.
(And, yes: he did miss about 13 starts last year with the Brewers because of elbow soreness; there’s a reason the pan was brewing, not boiling).
So the Mets are, incrementally, better today than they were yesterday, they now have a five-man rotation in place with the assumption that if any of that quintet falters, Zack Wheeler will be waiting to parachute in from Triple-A Vegas
And now there is talk, just about everywhere, that the Mets are possibly kicking the tires on Michael Bourn, who is the best-available outfielder left on the market, who is a terrific defender and a good lead-off man and a dependable hitter and would be a swell addition if not for a couple of discomfiting facts:
1) He is 30 years old. And as the Mets famously spun things after declining to re-sign Jose Reyes, it’s a dangerous business to invest in a legs-player after age 30.
2) He is represented by Scott Boras. He will not choose his next employer for the sheer love of the game.
3) Right now, it looks like the Mets would have to forfeit the No. 11 pick in the draft next year if they do sign him. The Mets should have the 10th pick — and, therefore, top-10 protection against free-agent compensation — but the Pirates slipped one ahead of them after they failed to sign their first-round pick last year, Mark Appel (and, yes: if you are a Mets fan who believes the universe constantly conspires against you, this is the place to chime in).
Those alone are compelling impediments.
But this one might be the most damning of all, one Mets fans (understandably) don’t want to ponder during this blissful time when the team is still 0-0, one the front office probably isn’t excited about discussing as they wonder how in the world they’re going to fill seats at Citi Field this year:
The Mets are a fourth-place team without Bourn. With him? They are a fourth-place team. They are probably five or six games better than the Marlins. They aren’t anywhere near the Nationals, Phillies or Braves, a point that Atlanta helpfully drove home yesterday by adding Justin Upton in a blockbuster seven-player deal.
Now, that doesn’t mean general manager Sandy Alderson shouldn’t be looking to upgrade what is a skeletal, wafer-thin roster featuring an outfield that inspires him to Catskills stand-up whenever a microphone is near. Of course he should, and must.
Still: the Mets live in a painful reality right now, owned by men who are still reeling from a vicious financial hit and show no intention of selling; strapped by a budget (and expiring contracts) that limit flexibility; ransacked by four straight years of losing. One smart thing they did commit to, in hiring Alderson, was buying into his notion a smart, sturdy foundation, trying to own the future.
It is a plan worth holding on to, worth going all-in on, in fact, even if they choose to pursue an appeal to keep that 11th pick safe from compensation (a possibility baseball people seem decidedly mixed on). Bourn is a valuable asset for a contending team.
But it is telling that two of the teams he has played for share the NL East with the Mets. One, Atlanta, was unwilling to give him more than a qualifying offer. The other, Philadelphia, was strapped for outfielders yet willing to sign noted sociologist Delmon Young rather than bring Bourn back.
The Mets should know better than anyone there’s a difference between best and best available. Call it the Jason Bay Corollary. If 2013 is destined to be another season of medicine, why spring for extra sugar to chase it all down? Are 72 wins that much more valuable than 67?