The Mets were among the biggest sellers of the deadline. Impending free agents like Tommy Pham and David Robertson seemed obvious trade targets for weeks. The Mets signaled a larger retool when they dealt Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander for prospects, moving on from players they’d envisioned as co-aces of a contending team just a few months ago.
Scherzer told The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal yesterday that Mets’ higher-ups had informed him they were shifting their focus toward 2025-26, a key reason the future Hall of Famer agreed to waive his no-trade clause. Owner Steve Cohen and general manager Billy Eppler more or less expressed similar sentiments in response to Scherzer’s comments.
Cohen met with reporters this afternoon and elaborated on the organizational plans. “Max asked me straight: ‘Are you going to be all-in on free agency next year?’ And I couldn’t give him that promise,” Cohen told the New York beat (relayed by Tim Britton and Will Sammon of the Athletic). “It doesn’t mean we’re not going to bring in free agents. It may not be to the extent that we did in the past because I’m carrying a lot of dead money.”
The owner added he wanted next year’s team to be “very competitive” but conceded the 2024 club isn’t likely to carry the same expectations as this season’s group. Philosophically, he noted it “won’t be as star-studded a team as it was, but stars don’t necessarily make for wins.”
Unsurprisingly, Cohen didn’t elaborate on what kind of spending range he anticipates for the club going into 2024. It certainly seems as if they’re preparing to scale back from this year’s MLB record levels. New York opened the season with a player payroll pushing $331MM, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Their player spending was nearing half a billion dollars after factoring in their immense luxury tax bill.
Next year’s club has around $204MM on the books and a $219MM competitive balance tax figure, as calculated by Roster Resource. That’s before factoring in a $6.5MM club option for Brooks Raley or arbitration salaries — the most notable of which by far is that of Pete Alonso, who’ll be due a raise on this year’s $14.5MM tab.
The Mets don’t have many impending free agents of note at this point. Carlos Carrasco is headed to the open market after a down year. Adam Ottavino and Omar Narváez have player options they seem likely to exercise, although Ottavino could plausibly test the market. They’re going to head into the offseason projected above next year’s $237MM base luxury tax threshold, but they’d be well below this year’s spending levels.
Of course, they’ll need to tap into free agency, even if it’s not at the top of the market. A projected rotation of Kodai Senga, José Quintana, Tylor Megill, David Peterson and either Joey Lucchesi or José Butto is nowhere near sufficient. They’ll need to sort out the corner outfield after dealing Pham and Mark Canha, particularly if Starling Marte is still battling the migraine issues that have plagued him this year. They could look for an upgrade at designated hitter. Edwin Díaz’s return would be huge for the bullpen, but they’ll need to add middle inning depth.
Given that messaging, it seems those additions will be more modest than the star pursuits of the past two winters. It’s not a truly unpredictable turn of events. Cohen has spoken on a few occasions about considering the club’s recent level of spending unsustainable over the longer haul and talked about building through the farm system. Paying down huge chunks of the Scherzer and Verlander contracts to land Luisangel Acuña, Drew Gilbert and Ryan Clifford demonstrates genuine commitment to stockpiling younger talent. Yet it’s undoubtedly a sharp pivot from the organizational approach of the past couple seasons.
Even if they’re not planning to concede 2024 entirely, the acknowledgement they’ll enter the season with diminished expectations naturally leads to a question about Alonso’s future. The star first baseman is going into his final season of arbitration eligibility. If the Mets view themselves as longer shots for a playoff spot, there’s an argument to shop him this winter (particularly since the upcoming free agent class is so light on impact hitters beyond Shohei Ohtani).
Cohen declined to go into specifics on Alonso’s status but called him “an integral part of the Mets” and said he hopes they can “work things out” on a long-term contract. There’s nothing to suggest talks are ongoing or imminent, though. Cohen pointed out that the Mets re-signed Brandon Nimmo after he’d reached free agency last winter. (Díaz was also within a few days of the open market when he re-upped.) Alonso didn’t feature prominently in trade rumors this week, but concurrent speculation about both extension or trade possibilities figure to be key storylines next winter.