Race for outfielder George Springer down to Mets, Blue Jays: source

Deesha Thosar, New York Daily News

NEW YORK — The race for George Springer has narrowed down to two teams.

Steve Cohen’s Mets and the Toronto Blue Jays are the final clubs competing to land the high-priced outfielder, a source told the New York Daily News.

Springer, 31, is expected to sign with either team in January. He figures to pick up a long-term contract worth well over $100 million.

The New Britain, Conn., native is the best outfielder on the free-agent market and his right-handed bat would blend well in a lefty-heavy Mets lineup. Cohen’s parched and eager fan base is impatiently expecting the team to make a big play for a top-tier free agent like Springer, Trevor Bauer or even DJ LeMahieu — and/or make a trade for All-Star infielders like Francisco Lindor or Nolan Arenado.

So far this offseason, the Mets signed catcher James McCann to a four-year, $40.6 million deal and acquired free agent reliever Trevor May to help improve the back end of their bullpen. The Mets' pivot from J.T. Realmuto, the best catcher in the game right now, to McCann suggested they have bigger plans to secure a more expensive contract. Springer is one of their top targets.

Springer, a three-time All-Star and 2017 Houston Astros championship winner, has a 132 OPS+ since 2016. He slashed .265/.359/.540 with a .899 OPS, 14 home runs and 32 RBIs in 51 games in 2020′s pandemic-shortened season. Springer was the 2017 World Series MVP following an Astros season that included an illegal sign-stealing scheme with trash-can banging, calling into question the legitimacy of Houston’s championship run. Springer, however, proved to be an elite, productive hitter without cheating.

If the Cohen Effect, which features the new owner’s billions and exciting vision for the Mets, impresses Springer and he enters the picture, the Mets may have a tough time deciding how they want to align their outfield. Brandon Nimmo, the team’s primary center fielder when healthy, would shift to left field with Michael Conforto remaining in right. With no room in the outfield, that leaves Dominic Smith splitting time with Pete Alonso at first base and J.D. Davis getting the majority of his reps at third base.

If the universal DH sticks around for good in 2021, the scenario above works in the Mets’ favor. Without it, the club will have to choose between Smith, Alonso and Nimmo’s bat in the lineup. Their offense works when all three are batting regularly, but with Springer’s career .852 OPS in center field and the National League potentially left to navigate without the DH, the Mets have a bit of a lineup-construction problem.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred reminded teams earlier this month that the universal DH used in 2020′s abbreviated season is not guaranteed to stick around in 2021. The Players Union and the league continue to negotiate rules surrounding next year’s season and nothing is yet finalized. As of now, the Mets must operate with the strong possibility that the universal DH will cease to exist.

Team president Sandy Alderson is publicly vouching for the DH in the NL, not just because it would benefit his roster makeup, but because “pitchers can’t even bunt anymore.” Alderson likes his internal DH options and while signing Springer would certainly change things, his addition creates a good problem for the Mets of choosing between quality bats on a regular basis.

“We’re not looking for a DH on the open market,” Alderson said last month. “That would be one of our lesser priorities. I just hope we have the DH so that we can better utilize what we already have.”