What’s Left For Mets To Do After Starting The Offseason With A Flurry Of Activity?
The Mets have already been one of the league’s most active teams this offseason. They’ve replaced their manager, added a new baseball operations leader and embarked upon a huge spending spree to land the market’s top center fielder and starting pitcher. They probably won’t make quite as many headlines coming out of the lockout, but with seemingly limitless financial resources and an obvious desire to improve, they can’t be ruled out of almost anything.
- Francisco Lindor, SS: $341MM through 2031
- Max Scherzer, RHP: $130MM through 2024
- Starling Marte, CF: $78MM through 2025
- Jacob deGrom, RHP: $72MM through 2023 (deal contains a $32.5MM club option for 2024; deGrom can opt out of final year and $34.5MM after 2022)
- Robinson Canó, 2B: $48MM through 2023
- James McCann, C: $32.45MM through 2024
- Mark Canha, LF: $26.5MM through 2023 (including $2MM buyout on $11.5MM club option for 2024)
- Eduardo Escobar, 3B: $20MM through 2023 (including $500K buyout on $9.5MM club option for 2024)
- Carlos Carrasco, RHP: $15MM through 2022 (including $3MM buyout on $14MM vesting/club option for 2023)
- Taijuan Walker, RHP: $14MM through 2023 (Walker can opt out of final year and $3MM after 2022)
- Trevor May, RHP: $7.75MM through 2022
Total 2022 commitments: $215.8MM
Projected Salaries for Arbitration-Eligible Players (projections via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)
- Michael Conforto, Javier Báez, Marcus Stroman, Jonathan Villar, Rich Hill, Jeurys Familia, Aaron Loup, Robert Gsellman, Kevin Pillar, José Peraza, Jerad Eickhoff, Heath Hembree, Brad Hand, Dellin Betances, Corey Oswalt, Tommy Hunter, Brandon Drury, Albert Almora Jr., Robert Stock, Stephen Nogosek, Mason Williams, Wilfredo Tovar, Chance Sisco, Mark Payton
The Mets entered the winter knowing they’d be on the hunt for a new baseball operations leader, and a managerial vacancy followed in the opening days of the offseason. New York declined their 2022 option on Luis Rojas, ending his time in the role after two seasons.
The first few weeks of the offseason were fairly quiet on the transactions front as the Mets prioritized putting a new front office leader in place. New York inquired about such notable names as Billy Beane, Theo Epstein and David Stearns as part of a highly-public search. They missed out on those marquee names, but New York did eventually settle on a baseball ops head with previous experience leading a front office. In mid-November, the Mets finalized a four-year deal with former Angels general manager Billy Eppler to take on that role in Queens.
Eppler took over a club facing plenty of turnover. Starters Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman were hitting free agency, as were longtime outfielder Michael Conforto and deadline pickup Javier Báez. It now seems like all four of those players are going to be playing elsewhere next season. Syndergaard and Conforto rejected qualifying offers. (Stroman and Báez were each ineligible for QO’s but surely would’ve declined themselves). The two starters signed with other clubs before the lockout, as did Báez. Conforto remains a free agent, but the Mets other moves this offseason (more on those in a minute) suggest the club has probably moved on.
With two departing starters, New York made a run at Steven Matz. The southpaw, whom the Mets had traded away last offseason, hit free agency coming off a solid year with the Blue Jays. New York was one of a few clubs with notable interest in Matz, but the 30-year-old inked a four-year contract with the Cardinals. That didn’t sit well with owner Steve Cohen, who apparently felt the Mets were denied an opportunity to match St. Louis’ $44MM offer.
The Mets didn’t have much time to dwell on the result of the Matz negotiations, though. With the lockout approaching, the free agent market picked up quite a bit of steam in late November. With Eppler in place, New York was in position to partake in that extravaganza, and the team dove in headfirst. The Mets first free agent pickup — veteran infielder Eduardo Escobar on a two-year guarantee — was a solid but not overly splashy pickup.
It didn’t take long for more headline-grabbing news to follow. Corner outfielder Mark Canha agreed to terms on a two-year deal just a few hours later. And to top off one of the most active evenings by any team in recent memory, New York signed free agency’s only star center fielder. Starling Marte landed a four-year deal with a $78MM guarantee, the largest free agent contract signed by any player this offseason up to that point.
Within a few hours, the Mets fundamentally revamped their lineup. Marte and Canha stepped into the outfield, likely pushing Brandon Nimmo from center field to a corner spot. Escobar stabilized an uncertain second/third base mix, as the club was soon to see Báez land in Detroit. That initial spree didn’t address the potential Syndergaard/Stroman departures, but New York had their highest-impact pickup of all looming on the horizon.
That, of course, proved to be the signing of future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer. The three-time Cy Young award winner landed a three-year, $130MM deal that’s likely to be the largest commitment to any free agent pitcher this winter. It was always expected Scherzer would land a record-setting average annual value, but the extent of the Mets commitment even surpassed most pre-offseason projections.
That few days was the kind Mets fans had dreamed of when Cohen purchased the franchise from the Wilpon family last winter. New York entered the lockout with a projected $263MM in player investments next season, according to Jason Martinez of Roster Resource. That’s the highest in MLB by a mile, and the Mets look likely to handily exceed whatever luxury tax thresholds are set in the upcoming collective bargaining agreement.
The transactions freeze brought the Mets player acquisitions to a halt, but it didn’t mark the end of the club’s key offseason dealings. With the lockout looming, the Mets focused on adding to the roster in the intervening weeks between Eppler’s hiring and the December 1 expiration of the previous CBA. Once the league barred player movement, the club returned to their manager position, which had sat vacant for around three months.
According to reports, New York met with six candidates as part of that search. Longtime skipper Buck Showalter was cast as the favorite fairly early in the process, though, and his ultimate hiring proved wholly unsurprising. In contrast to the club’s past few hires — Mickey Callaway, Carlos Beltrán (very briefly) and Rojas — Showalter brings decades of experience to the position. He’ll oversee a star-studded clubhouse, leading a franchise that’ll enter the season with massive aspirations.
With so much in the rearview mirror, what’s left for the Mets after the lockout? Paradoxically, one could argue the club’s immense volume of activity makes their next steps either easier or tougher to project. On the one hand, they’ve done so much that the roster’s strengths and deficiencies are fairly clear. Yet the organization is already operating in uncharted waters from a payroll perspective, leaving little indication for outside observers how much further Cohen and the front office could be prepared to go.
Where might Alderson and Eppler devote their attention after the transactions freeze? The Nimmo – Marte – Canha grouping in the outfield is impressive enough that any further pickups will probably be of the depth variety. It looks all but inevitable that Conforto will depart, and the Mets will pick up another draft choice (they also received one after Syndergaard signed with the Angels) as compensation.
There’s plenty of depth around the infield as well. Francisco Lindor is the shortstop, and Pete Alonso is at first base. How exactly Showalter will divvy up the playing time between second and third base remains to be seen, but there are plenty of options on hand. Jeff McNeil is probably best suited for playing time at the keystone, but Robinson Canó is set to return to the organization after a year-long PED suspension. Escobar can player either position, while J.D. Davis is an option at the hot corner (even if he’s better suited at first base or designated hitter). Utilityman Luis Guillorme can back up all around the infield, including at shortstop.
The likely addition of the DH to the National League might alleviate that logjam a bit, but there’s also the presence of first baseman/corner outfielder Dominic Smith to consider. Committing to anyone at DH might leave a deserving player without regular at-bats, and it looks likely at least one notable name is traded away before the start of the season. Recent reports have suggested a McNeil or Smith deal may be the most probable, but Davis has long been speculated upon as a trade candidate himself — so much so that he guessed his chances of opening next season in Queens were “kind of 50/50” even before New York’s spending spree.
If the Mets were to deal one of those players, it seems likely they’d target pitching help in return. No one around the league can match New York’s best two arms, with Scherzer and Jacob deGrom a potentially dominating pairing at the top. There’s a lot of uncertainty behind that duo, though.
Carlos Carrasco is usually very effective when healthy, but he was limited to twelve starts last year by various injuries and underwent postseason surgery to remove a bone fragment from his elbow. He’s not expected to miss much more than a bit of Spring Training action, but it’s the latest in a rather significant injury history for the 34-year-old. Taijuan Walker stayed healthy last season, but he followed up an All-Star first half with a 7.13 ERA/6.79 FIP after the Break. David Peterson struggled and battled oblique and foot injuries last season. Tylor Megill showed promising strikeout and walk numbers but gave up a lot of hard contact when batters did put the ball in play.
At least adding some sort of stabilizing back-of-the-rotation presence would seem to be a priority. The Reds and A’s are expected to make some higher-impact arms available via trade, and other teams like the Marlins and Brewers might have enough pitching depth to consider dealing a back-end guy for offensive help.
As is the case with virtually every contender, the Mets could probably stand to add a reliever or two. Last year’s bullpen was a top ten unit by both ERA and strikeout/walk rate differential. But Aaron Loup has already departed, and Jeurys Familia (in whom the Mets apparently have some interest in re-signing) and midseason pickups Heath Hembree and Brad Hand all hit free agency.
Edwin Díaz, Trevor May and Seth Lugo make for a quality back-end trio, but adding some middle relief help makes sense. That’s particularly true from the left side, as the Mets don’t have a single southpaw in their projected Opening Day bullpen. Andrew Chafin, Tony Watson and Jake Diekman stand out as the top free agent lefty relievers still available. New York has also been tied to Twins closer Taylor Rogers, who could be attainable in trade.
Catcher stands out as one other potential weak point on the roster. The Mets hoped they’d solidified the position by signing James McCann to a four-year deal last offseason. The veteran was coming off a strong two-year run with the White Sox, but his numbers on both sides of the ball went backwards during his first season in Queens. Without many obvious alternatives available in free agency or trade, the Mets may have to primarily rely on a McCann bounceback, but they could look to replace Tomás Nido as a backup.
It’s certainly possible the Mets biggest activity of the winter is already behind them. Two of the best pitchers in recent memory are in place at the top of the rotation. There’s plenty of star power at the back of the bullpen. The outfield has already been completely remade, and there’s enough depth around the infield that trading away a player or two looks likely.
It’d be justifiable for the front office to view the core as already being in place and to now turn their attention to smaller pickups at the back of the roster. Yet after their November flurry of activity, it’s hard to count the Mets out on anyone. Would ownership push the payroll beyond $300MM for the right player? That’s impossible to tell, since there’s no spending history with Cohen on which to draw. Over the past few years, big-market behemoths like the Dodgers have continued to land star talent even in the absence of a true team “need.” It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if the Mets take the same approach.
One factor the Mets have to consider whenever major league free agency begins again: the qualifying offer. New York declined to sign first-round pick Kumar Rocker last summer, entitling them to a compensatory pick in next year’s draft. Yet because that compensation pick (#11 overall) is higher than the Mets original choice (#14 overall), they’d forfeit their second pick of the first round were they to sign a free agent who has been tagged with a QO.
That could deter a pursuit of someone like Trevor Story or Nick Castellanos, but there are a few marquee free agents who didn’t receive a QO. Carlos Rodón might be the top starting pitcher still available and wasn’t tagged by the White Sox; deadline target Kris Bryant, ineligible for a QO by virtue of a midseason trade, is unsigned; NPB star Seiya Suzuki is going through the posting process and wouldn’t cost a pick. The Mets probably don’t need to make another splash, but if ownership is willing to keep spending, the front office could explore their options.
It’s been another eventful winter in Queens. The Mets again have new leadership, both atop the front office and in the manager’s chair. They’re flexing financial muscle the likes of which previous ownership never seemed to consider. They’ve landed a couple more stars, and even if the remainder of the offseason involves adjustments on the margins of the roster, expectations will be as high as ever. It has been five years since the Mets last postseason appearance. If the streak reaches six, it’d go down as the club’s biggest disappointment yet.