Offseason Outlook: New York Mets

In conjunction with this post, Darragh McDonald will be hosting a Mets-centric chat on 10-29-22 at 1 pm Central. Click here to ask a question in advance, join in or read the transcript afterwards.

The Mets threw a lot of money last offseason, which got them into the postseason in 2022. But after losing their first-round matchup to the Padres, they are now about to see a huge chunk of their roster head to free agency. That means they might have to keep the wallet open if they want to take another shot in 2023.

Guaranteed Contracts

  • Francisco Lindor, SS: $306.9MM through 2031. $50MM of his extension was deferred and will be paid out in $5MM installments from 2032-2041.
  • Max Scherzer, SP: $86.667 through 2024. Scherzer can opt out after 2023.
  • Starling Marte, OF: $62.25MM through 2025.
  • Jacob deGrom, SP: $34.5MM through 2023 plus $32.5MM club option for 2024. deGrom can opt out after 2022. Some deferred money to be paid out starting in 2035.
  • James McCann, C: $24MM through 2024.
  • Mark Canha, OF: $12.5MM through 2023, including $2MM buyout on $11.5MM club option for 2024.
  • Eduardo Escobar, IF: $10MM through 2023, including $500K buyout on $9MM club option for 2024.
  • Darin Ruf, IF/OF: $3.25MM through 2023, including $250K buyout on $3.5MM club option for 2024.
  • Robinson Cano, IF: $24MM through 2023. Cano was released in 2022 and is now a free agent, but the Mets are still on the hook for the last year of his deal.

Total 2023 commitments: $182.4MM, assuming deGrom opts out.
Total future commitments: $564.067MM, assuming deGrom opts out.

Option Decisions

Arbitration-Eligible Players (projected 2023 salaries via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)

Free Agents

Fans have long called for the Mets to act like a big market team, and it finally happened this year. The second year under owner Steve Cohen, the club gave out four big free agent deals last winter, signing Max Scherzer, Starling Marte, Mark Canha and Eduardo Escobar. All four of those players got eight-figure contracts, with Scherzer getting into nine figures on a three-year deal that set a new record for average annual value.

When combined with the contracts already on the books, the Mets ended up with an Opening Day payroll of just under $265MM, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. That was more than $100MM more than anything they’d done in the pre-Cohen era and an increase of about $70MM on Cohen’s first season in charge. In terms of the luxury tax, which is calculated based on the AAV of contracts and not the 2022 salaries, the Mets were much higher. Ronald Blum of The Associated Press reported that the Mets finished 2022 with a Competitive Balance Tax number of $298.8MM, leading to a tax bill of $29.9MM.

All of that spending translated into quality on-the-field results, for the most part. The Mets led the NL East for the majority of the season, finishing with a record of 101-61. That was the second-highest win total in franchise history, eclipsed only by the 108 wins of the 1986 squad. Unfortunately, the Braves got red hot in the second half and also managed to get to 101 wins, sneaking past the Mets to the divisional title on a tiebreaker. The Mets still nabbed the top NL Wild Card spot, qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 2016. Unfortunately, they were dispatched by the Padres in the best-of-three Wild Card series.

On the heels of that disappointing finish, the club will now be thinking about how to put together a team for 2023. It’s possible that there will be a high amount of turnover, especially on the pitching staff, leading to the roster looking very different next year. In terms of the starting rotation, the Mets had six guys who made more than 10 starts in 2022, four of whom are now likely to become free agents. Jacob deGrom has long maintained that he intends to trigger his opt-out provision once the offseason begins, even when he was injured and his status was questionable. Chris Bassitt has a mutual option, with those deals almost never triggered by both parties. Taijuan Walker has a $7.5MM player option but with a hefty $3MM buyout. He should take the latter and leave $4.5MM on the table, but then easily eclipse that in free agency. Carlos Carrasco can be retained via a club option, which is a bit risky given that he hasn’t stayed healthy enough to pitch more than 152 innings since 2018. However, given the potential for so many losses, the Mets will likely keep him around.

Assuming the Mets do indeed decide to keep Carrasco, he will slot into the rotation next to Max Scherzer, who will enter the second year of his deal, and David Peterson, who has not yet reached arbitration but could qualify this year depending on where the Super Two cutoff ends up. There are some in-house options to fill out the backend, such as Tylor Megill and Joey Lucchesi, but the Mets will certainly look to make additions here.

Whether deGrom can be lured back to Queens will likely be a story that dominates the headlines until it’s resolved. He reportedly has a preference to be closer to his family home in Florida, though it’s unlikely that would be strong enough for him to accept significantly smaller deals than he would find elsewhere. He will still need to be paid something resembling his market value. The Mets have shown they are willing to spend big on the players they want, but deGrom will turn 35 in June and is likely looking at deals somewhat similar to the short-term, high AAV contract that Scherzer got. Even if they are willing to spend, would the Mets want around $80-90MM devoted to just two pitchers?

If the Mets decide to let deGrom go, there will be plenty of other options. Carlos Rodon will be one of the most sought-after pitchers this winter, though he is much younger, about to turn 30. That means he will likely be seeking a longer pact but with a lower AAV than deGrom, which might be more appetizing to the Mets. The tier below Rodon will feature many pitchers who are quite good, though not quite at that ace level. Nathan Eovaldi, Jameson Taillon, Tyler Anderson, Kodai Senga, Mike Clevinger, Ross Stripling and Michael Wacha are just some of the names in this bracket, which also includes old friend Chris Bassitt. It’s possible the Mets would prefer to spread some money around to a few guys at this level, as opposed to putting all of their eggs into an ace basket. Given the high amount of turnover that’s possible, there would be an argument for taking this approach.

Speaking of turnover, how about this bullpen? Edwin Diaz, Adam Ottavino, Trevor Williams, Joely Rodriguez, Seth Lugo, Trevor May and Tommy Hunter are all heading into the open market this winter. Mychal Givens has a mutual option and will likely be joining them. That leaves the Mets with Drew Smith as the only guy who threw more than 25 innings in 2022 to still be around. Though there are some other arms around, they are better suited to depth options. That means the Mets will effectively be looking to rebuild their entire bullpen from scratch this winter. Much of the attention will be on Edwin Diaz, given that he has established himself as one of the best relievers in the game. However, that also means he will be looking at a huge payday, possibly even becoming the first reliever to crack nine digits. With so many holes in the relief corps, perhaps the Mets will look to spread some money around to a handful of different arms instead of focusing on a lockdown closer.

If there’s one thing working in the Mets’ favor this winter, it’s that the position player core is much more stable. Outfielders Brandon Nimmo and Tyler Naquin are headed for free agency, but the whole gang will be coming back apart from that. The losses of Nimmo and Naquin will certainly hurt the club’s outfield depth, but they still have options there. Marte could slide over from right field and take over Nimmo’s center field duties. Canha can be pencilled into one corner. Jeff McNeil has split his time between the infield and outfield but could spend more time on the grass going forward. Dominic Smith is still under club control and could get the playing time he was lacking in 2022, though he could also be non-tendered after a down year. That’s a serviceable group, though the Mets could certainly look to bolster it, either by re-signing Nimmo or acquiring someone else. Nimmo won’t be cheap, however, as he’s clearly the best center field option on the market this year and many teams have a need for such a player. Given the free spending of the Cohen era, some fans might dream of the Mets plucking Aaron Judge from the Bronx and placing him in Queens. But given the multiple areas of need, it’s possible they look to cheaper options like Joc Pederson, Mitch Haniger or Michael Brantley.

On the infield, there are a few locks and a few maybes. Francisco Lindor will be the shortstop and Pete Alonso will be at first base. Eduardo Escobar and Luis Guillorme are the most obvious first for third and second base, respectively, though there are some other routes the club could take. If they do end up signing an outfielder, it would free McNeil up to stay on the dirt. There are also youngsters to consider, as Mark Vientos and Brett Baty both made their MLB debuts in 2022. Neither of them excelled in their brief MLB appearances, but each of them has crushed minor league pitching. If the Mets are willing to roll the dice on one of those two holding down the hot corner, perhaps they could try flipping Escobar to help fill in the gaps on the pitching staff.

There’s one other area where the youth factor will come into play. Behind the plate, James McCann was gradually eclipsed by Tomas Nido throughout 2022. The Mets also promoted Francisco Alvarez late in the year, who is considered by some evaluators to be the best prospect in the league at the moment. He’s still quite young, about to turn 21, and has played just 50 games above the Double-A level. He’s hit everywhere he goes but his defense is considered to be a bit behind his bat. The Mets could start him in Triple-A in 2023 while he continues to develop, but they could also be bold and pave the way for him. McCann’s contract is underwater at this point, after two consecutive poor seasons and two years left to go. But if the Mets are willing to eat some money, perhaps they can find a taker and let Alvarez spread his wings and fly.

Ultimately, how the Mets approach these different areas will depend on the budget. The high amount of roster turnover creates challenges but also frees up some spending room. Roster Resource currently pegs the club’s 2023 payroll at $231MM and CBT number at $238MM, though deGrom’s opt out and a non-tender of Smith would drop those by almost $40MM. Exercising Carrasco’s option would add $11MM and put the club just over $200MM in terms of real pa. General manager Billy Eppler spoke with the media recently and said he doesn’t anticipate any kind of budget cuts this year, though he didn’t provide any kind of specific target number. If they decide to go into 2023 with a payroll similar to the $265MM Opening Day figure they had here in 2022, that could leave them with around $60MM to spend.

That’s a decent chunk of change, though the Mets have many holes that need filling. They need at least one starting pitcher, perhaps two, along with an entire bullpen. Adding another outfielder makes sense. deGrom alone is likely to pass $40MM in terms of the AAV on his deal. Nimmo, Bassitt and Diaz will likely be in the $20MM range. Shopping in that aisle will likely require the Mets to increase the payroll closer to $300MM, something that Cohen is apparently open to, per Jon Heyman of the New York Post. Trading Escobar and McCann to address some of the gaps would help with the financial squeeze, but those moves would also come with the risk of handing prominent roles to unproven prospects. Perhaps the club will avoid the top names on the market and spread their money around to more second-tier free agents. There are many ways that Eppler could approach his second offseason making the baseball decisions for the Mets. But there’s no doubt they will be active one way or another, making them one of the most fascinating franchises to watch yet again.

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