On Friday, the New York Mets handled their most pressing piece of offseason business. . Beltran retired following the 2017 season and spent 2019 in the Yankees front office. This is his first managerial job.
"Congratulations to Carlos. We are thrilled, as we know our passionate fans will be, to have him back in the family," COO Jeff Wilpon said in a statement. "Thanks to (GM Brodie Van Wagenen) and the entire baseball operations staff on this expansive, diverse and collaborative managerial search process."
The Mets dismissed former manager Mickey Callaway following a disappointing 2019 season that saw them finish in third place in the NL East at 86-76. They missed the postseason for the third straight year. Van Wagenen & Co. went all-in last offseason and again at the trade deadline, but it didn't work.
With Beltran aboard, the Mets can now focus on upgrading their roster. There is a strong talent core in place with Pete Alonso, Michael Conforto, and Jeff McNeil offensively and Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, and Noah Syndergaard in the rotation. The supporting cast needs some help, however.
Here's an offseason primer on the Amazin' Mets with their new rookie manager.
2020 Payroll Situation
The Mets have not run a payroll commensurate with their market size and television network the last few years. Their $160 million payroll in 2019 was tenth highest in baseball, though their effective payroll was quite a bit below that thanks to insurance payouts for Yoenis Cespedes and David Wright. Here is the club's current 2020 payroll situation:
- Guaranteed contracts (7 players): $102.7 million (via Cot's Baseball Contracts)
- Arbitration-eligibles (8 players): $48 million (via MLB Trade Rumors projections)
- Miscellaneous: $12.5 million (for Wright and Juan Lagares buyout)
The Mets are already at $163.2 million, essentially last year's payroll, for only 15 roster spots. deGrom has a big raise coming to him -- his salary jumps from $9 million in 2019 to $25.5 million in 2020 -- and the Mets will have Stroman on the roster all season, which boosts the payroll. Ditto arbitration raises owed to Conforto and Syndergaard, among others.
Cespedes may not be ready to play at the outset of next season and that could lead to further insurance payments. He missed the entire 2019 surgery following dual heel surgeries and a freak ankle injury suffered at his ranch in May. Point is, the 2020 payroll is already at the 2019 level. Either a payroll increase or a salary dump will be required to make meaningful upgrades.
New York has clear needs. First and foremost, they need a fifth starter behind deGrom, Stroman, Syndergaard, and Steven Matz. Zack Wheeler is a free agent and the Mets probably don't want Chris Flexen or Walker Lockett in the Opening Day rotation. There has been speculation Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman could move into the rotation next year, though that would create a void in the bullpen. At a minimum, the Mets figure to scour the market for a veteran innings eater this winter.
The Mets also need a true center fielder. They declined their $9.5 million club option for Lagares, as expected, leaving them with this outfield depth chart:
Two natural corner outfielders (Conforto and Nimmo), a natural second baseman (McNeil), a natural third baseman (Davis), a natural first baseman (Smith), and an injured player (Cespedes). Not great! The Mets do not have a true center fielder on the 40-man roster, so, if the season started today, they would have to shoehorn Conforto or Nimmo into the position again.
Beyond a fifth starter and a center fielder, the Mets also need to bolster their bullpen, especially if they move Lugo or Gsellman into the rotation. Getting Edwin Diaz right could be the biggest bullpen addition the team makes all offseason. Right now, their relief unit looks something like this:
- Closer: RHP Seth Lugo
- Setup: RHP Edwin Diaz, LHP Justin Wilson
- Middle: RHP Jeurys Familia, RHP Robert Gsellman
Even if Diaz and Familia straight themselves out next year, there's still room in the bullpen for another high-end arm or too. After trading away near MLB ready pitching prospects like Justin Dunn (for Robinson Cano) and Anthony Kay (for Stroman) within the last year, Van Wagenen also needs to reinforce the overall pitching depth. The farm system doesn't have the bodies right now.
One more thing the Mets need to do this offseason that is easier said than done: improve the defense. Part of that is getting a new center fielder, but Amed Rosario had a disappointing defensive year at short, Cano is slipping at second base, and none of the third base options are gifted with the glove. Aside from adding a new center fielder, I'm not sure how the Mets are supposed to improve their team defense. They're pretty well locked into this group. Defense is a clear weakness though.
Syndergaard has been mentioned as a trade chip for two years now and, following the Stroman trade at the deadline, it felt like the Mets would flip Syndergaard elsewhere. Instead, he remains. I reckon we will hear plenty more Syndergaard trade rumors this winter. The Angels, Astros, Padres, Twins, White Sox, and Yankees figure to be most aggressive suitors. (I can't see a Mets-Yankees trade of this magnitude happening, but who knows. Never say never.)
In addition to Syndergaard, the Mets have a prime trade chip in Smith. He is blocked by Alonso at first base -- Smith gave left field a valiant try the last two years, but it's not a good fit at all -- and he's a former top prospect who can really hit. Smith authored a .282/.355/.525 batting line in 89 games around a foot injury in 2019. He's only 24 and he's under control through 2024. First base needy teams like the Blue Jays, Brewers, Rangers, Red Sox, and Royals will likely come calling.
Wilson Ramos didn't gel with several Mets starters last year and the team could look to unload him and his $9.25 million salary. The problem is Ramos hit .288/.351/.416 in 2019, and that's a lot of offense to replace. If the Mets really believe in Tomas Nido, moving Ramos is possible. Jed Lowrie is owed $11.5 million and is a salary dump candidate. He won't fetch anything worthwhile though. It would probably be a bad contract for bad contract trade, if anything.
Baseball America ranked New York's farm system 28th in baseball following the trade deadline. Van Wagenen has moved several top prospects for big league help in his year at the helm (Dunn, Kay, Jarred Kelenic) and I wouldn't bet against him doing it again this winter. infielders Ronny Mauricio, Mark Vientos, Andres Gimenez, and Brett Baty as the team's top four prospects, with righty Matthew Allan fifth. I suspect none will be off-limits in trade talks this offseason.
Assuming the Mets look for a cheap fifth starter, free agents like Brett Anderson, Jhoulys Chacin, Gio Gonzalez, Michael Wacha, and Alex Wood could be options. What about New Jersey native Rick Porcello on a one-year prove yourself contract? Mets fans can forget all about Gerrit Cole and Madison Bumgarner, and maybe even Cole Hamels. It's unlikely to Mets will spend big to secure a depth starter, Syndergaard trade or no Syndergaard trade.
There are not many center fielders available in free agency but three stick out as possible fits: Jarrod Dyson, Brett Gardner, and Billy Hamilton. Neither Dyson nor Hamilton provides much offensively, but they can really run and play the heck out of center field. They would improve the outfield defense tremendously. For Gardner, it seems like Yankees or bust, but if things don't work out, he could be an affordable center field stopgap. He's New York proven and could provide something with the bat too.
My favorite free agent reliever this winter is Drew Pomeranz, who stunk as a starter with the Giants and excelled as a reliever with the Brewers this past year. His velocity shot up in relief and so did his strikeout rate. The tools are there for a successful long-term transition into the bullpen. Pomeranz shouldn't command huge dollars but could be an impact bullpen addition. Steve Cishek, Chris Martin, and Sergio Romo are other lower-cost veteran free agent relievers.
On the trade front, I can't help but wonder if there's a Smith for Jackie Bradley deal to be made. The Red Sox are looking to cut payroll and Bradley is projected to make $11 million in 2020. Boston gets its first baseman of the future and the Mets get a Gold Glove caliber center fielder. The Pirates just fired GM Neal Huntington and could begin a true rebuild this offseason. In that case, Starling Marte would be an obvious trade target for the Mets.
Lowrie isn't going to bring back anything worthwhile unless the Mets attach a prospect to him, and, even then, the big return is likely to be salary relief more than a roster player. Ramos will make $9.25 million next year and has value as a bat-first catcher. Do any of these guys make sense in a one-for-one salary shuffle trade?
- Julio Teheran, Braves: $12 million
- Jake McGee, Rockies: $9.5 million
- Bryan Shaw, Rockies: $9 million
- Kelvin Herrera, White Sox: $8.5 million
- Mike Fiers, Athletics: $8.1 million
An intradivision Braves-Mets trade seems unlikely, so we can scratch Teheran off the list. The A's have a few pitching prospects coming (Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk) but I still don't see them trading Fiers. Wilson for Herrera, McGee, or Shaw? The Mets need bullpen help, sure, but none of those three qualifies as an impact guy. Ramos is better at being a catcher than they are at being late-inning relievers, you know?
Moving Syndergaard would open a world of possibilities for the Mets. They could trade him for multiple young roster players and also be able to redirect his projected $9.9 million salary elsewhere. Would the Padres give up center fielder Manuel Margot, lefties Joey Lucchesi and Matt Strahm, and catcher Austin Hedges for Syndergaard and Ramos? That addresses several roster questions for the Mets, and leaves them with a nice chunk of money to spend. Just an idea.
Van Wagenen and the Mets went all-in last year and it didn't work out, but don't expect them to do anything different this winter. This is a win-now core with Conforto, deGrom, Stroman, and Syndergaard in their primes and Alonso and McNeil in their dirt cheap pre-arbitration years. The Mets may never have a better chance to win with this group than right now. A new center fielder and pitching help is on the offseason shopping list, with Smith the most obvious trade chip.