Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, who’s in the early stages of a crucial second offseason on the job, spoke to reporters about the team’s winter plans Monday. The club’s on the heels of an 86-win season, its third in a row without a playoff berth. There are obvious need areas on the Mets’ roster, then, but it’s up in the air how aggressive they’ll be this offseason with seemingly limited spending room under the budget of owners Fred Wilpon and Jeff Wilpon.
Infielder Jed Lowrie and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes are among the players clogging up New York’s payroll. Injuries prevented either from factoring in much or at all in 2019, but they (Lowrie – $9MM and Cespedes – $29.5MM) are slated to occupy almost $40MM of the Mets’ payroll next season. Lowrie at least logged some playing time in September, meaning he should be good to go at the start of 2020. However, Lowrie won’t have “a normal offseason considering what he went through last year,” according to Van Wagenen, who noted the Mets have “continued to try to diagnose what Jed’s issues were that kept him out this season” (via Deesha Thosar of the New York Daily News). But signs point to the Mets rolling with Lowrie, Jeff McNeil and J.D. Davis as their third base options in 2020, Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets. On paper, that’s a capable trio, and with Robinson Cano at second base and Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto as the Mets’ top two corner outfielders, it would make sense for Lowrie, McNeil and Davis to share the hot corner.
The ongoing presence of Cespedes further complicates the picture in the outfield, but as Van Wagenen said last week, there’s still no indication as to whether he’ll be able to play next year (via Tim Healey of Newsday). Cespedes, the Mets’ highest-paid player, missed all of this season because of ankle issues. If the Mets were sure Cespedes would miss at least 60 days next year, they’d be able to recoup 60 to 70 percent of his money by way of insurance. For now, though, the team doesn’t seem to have any idea as to whether Cespedes will significantly weigh on its payroll going forward.
Regardless of what happens with Cespedes, it seems center field should be a priority for the Mets this offseason. The Mets tried Juan Lagares, Nimmo and Conforto there to underwhelming results in 2019. Lagares is now a free agent after the Mets declined his club option, while Nimmo and Conforto are likely better cut out for corner roles. Indeed, the Mets want to improve their defense in center, per Van Wagenen. Problem is that free agency’s not loaded with obvious solutions at the position, while the best trade candidates at the spot (Pittsburgh’s Starling Marte and Boston’s Jackie Bradley Jr.) earn fairly expensive salaries. That’s without adding in the assets they’d cost to acquire, and it’s worth noting Marte’s coming off a poor year as a defender.
Aside from center field, Van Wagenen cited pitching – both rotation and bullpen – as well as backup catcher as areas the club could address in the coming weeks (Twitter links via Mike Puma of the New York Post, Healey and Thosar). The Mets have one of the highest-profile free-agent starters in the game in Zack Wheeler, whom they issued a $17.8MM qualifying offer. While they’d like to re-sign Wheeler, it’s entirely possible he’ll end up out of the Mets’ price range, which would leave them with a still-enviable top of the rotation in Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman and Steven Matz. The team lacks depth after that foursome, though Van Wagenen pointed to David Peterson, Walker Lockett, Chris Flexen and Corey Oswalt as in-house options. If you’re a Mets fan who’s unexcited about the majority of that group, that’s understandable. But Peterson, MLB.com’s seventh-ranked Mets prospect, at least carries some intrigue. The 24-year-old, a 2017 first-round pick, reached the Double-A level this season and notched a 4.19 ERA/3.19 FIP with 9.47 K/9 against 2.87 BB/9 in 116 innings.
As for the Mets’ bullpen, it’s no surprise they’re interested in bettering a bunch that largely fell flat this year. The Mets were aggressive in trying to bolster the unit last offseason, evidenced by the acquisitions of Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia and Justin Wilson. But Wilson was the only effective member of the trio, and given that the Mets could move either Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman to their rotation, their relief corps looks like an even bigger concern at the moment.
While it’s unclear how the Mets will configure their pitching staff next year, it seems their hurlers will primarily end up throwing to Wilson Ramos. The veteran catcher was yet another of the Mets’ headline-grabbing pickups from last offseason who may not have delivered as hoped in 2019. But despite his defensive deficiencies, the 32-year-old Ramos did record yet another fine offensive campaign. With $9.25MM owed to Ramos next season, it seems the Mets will continue to ride with him behind the plate and seek a defensively sound complement to place behind him.
The Mets are undoubtedly in for a fascinating offseason. The club’s not short on talent, but there are clear flaws at the same time. If Van Wagenen doesn’t find a way to repair them, and if the Mets miss the playoffs yet again, it’s possible they’ll be on the lookout for a new GM a year from now.