New York Mets’ 2021 Season in Review: Offseason Preview

MLB: New York Mets at Miami Marlins

Now that the 2021 season is over for the New York Mets, we will spend the next several weeks taking a look at the big picture. This deep dive will be broken down into phases every weekday, concluding today with an offseason preview.

The New York Mets’ 2021 season ended up as a failure, which isn’t surprising since they became the first team in major league history to ever spend more than 100 days in first place and finish with a losing record. There will be plenty of changes in store for the Mets in what could be a transformative offseason, so today’s final edition of the Season in Review series will look at various questions that the Mets figure to address over the winter.

Who will run the front office?

The Mets appear to have struck out on their top targets from their wish list for the vacant President of Baseball Operations post after Theo Epstein didn’t want the job and unlikely to receive permission to interview either David Stearns or Billy Beane. Teams are more likely to block executives from pursuing what they deem as lateral moves, so the Mets may have to show a bit of creativity and hire a younger executive from outside the organization with a promotion to run day-to-day baseball operations. The Mets have kept this search quiet and it will likely remain so until a candidate is hired.

Who will be the new manager?

Luis Rojas’ departure was seemingly inevitable and it looks like the Mets are waiting to stabilize the front office situation before they hire a manager. This approach makes sense since they are one of only three teams actively looking for a manager, meaning that they have time to get their ducks in a row.

It remains to be seen if the Mets target a manager with more experience, such as Ron Washington or Buck Showalter, or a first-time skipper who can grow with their new front office, leading to inevitable speculation about a reunion with Carlos Beltran, who was let go before he could ever manage a game in 2020 due to the fallout from his involvement in the Astros’ cheating scandal.

How will the Mets address the starting rotation?

The Mets technically have five starters already under contract for 2021 with Jacob deGrom, Carlos Carrasco, Taijuan Walker, David Peterson and Tylor Megill but starting with those five would be asking for trouble. Peterson and Megill have minor league options so they should be upgraded upon in order to let them serve as valuable depth at AAA Syracuse.

Decisions will have to be made on free agents Marcus Stroman, Noah Syndergaard and Rich Hill, with the top two being priorities to retain. Syndergaard will likely accept a qualifying offer if he receives it, making that investment a no-brainer if Cohen is truly willing to blow by the luxury tax, while Stroman will test the market. Given the lack of dependable starters this team has, the Mets should strongly consider making a push to re-sign Stroman to give them reliable innings in their rotation.

What will the Mets do with Michael Conforto?

Conforto suffered through a lost year at the worst possible time but could still be in line for a decent payday in a free agent market lacking in top flight position players. The Mets will likely extend Conforto a qualifying offer which he should reject since Conforto’s agent, Scott Boras, believes he will find a multi-year offer at a good AAV on the open market.

If the qualifying offer is rejected it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Mets move on from Conforto as they need to try and find a way to shake up a core that has been too stagnant over the past few years. Conforto is a valuable player but at this point a change of scenery may be worth it for both sides.

Will Javier Baez be retained?

When the Mets acquired Javier Baez most pundits thought it would be strictly as a rental. Baez did have some low moments in New York, including the “thumbs down” scandal where he encouraged his teammates to “boo back” at the fans, but Baez did find a way to produce in electrifying ways in the New York market.

The Mets definitely have to be encouraged by the more patient approach Baez developed in September, which could help him become a true superstar, but that small sample size goes against the free-swinging nature Baez has displayed throughout his career. Baez’s friendship with Francisco Lindor is also an advantage since Lindor played his best baseball in New York alongside Baez, a factor that can’t be ignored with Lindor signed here for the next decade.

It would be an unconventional use of resources to allocate another nine-figure contract to a middle infielder but Baez is a special case since he possesses a lot of skills that the team as a whole doesn’t have, including speed and stellar defense. The Mets would have to decide if the cost of the deal is worth the risk of Baez’s skills degrading over the life of the contract.

What will the Mets do with J.D. Davis, Dominic Smith and Jeff McNeil?

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of 2020 was the step back from supposed core contributors J.D. Davis, Jeff McNeil, and Dominic Smith. All three dealt with injury issues, with Davis’ hand and Smith’s wrist clearly hampering their production, while McNeil simply went through his worst hitting performance as a pro.

The problem the Mets have to consider is that all three were starters in 2021 but may be better off as either super-utility players or platoon options, which can be problematic in the case of Smith and Davis since they aren’t standout defenders in their current positions. The Mets will have to weigh whether or not they will receive more value from bringing these players back in 2022 or dealing them at a point where their trade value is quite low.

What will the Mets do with Robinson Cano?

Mets’ fans may have forgotten about Robinson Cano after he served a 162-game suspension for steroid use in 2021 but he is back on the team’s roster after the end of the season. Cano was the Mets’ best hitter in 2020 but questions remain about how good he can be after a year away from baseball. It is also fair to question whether or not Cano’s strong 2020 performance was aided by the use of steroids since he struggled through the majority of his Mets’ debut in 2019.

The Mets as a team would probably be better off without Cano but there is no easy way to move him when Cano has two years and $40 million left on his contract as well as a no-trade clause. One option would be to simply give Cano the Bobby Bonilla treatment and waive him with a settlement that defers some of his salary with interest to free up luxury tax space now but it is unclear if Cohen is willing to simply pay Cano to go away. There is a scenario where Cano comes to camp and is asked to learn another position, such as third base (where he will supposedly be playing in winter ball), or accept a part-time role so the Mets can get some use out of him.

Will the Mets pursue any contract extensions this winter?

One of the big disappointments from the prior regime was their unwillingness to extend their current players, leading the Mets to either overpay when a star’s service time ran out or letting talented players like Zack Wheeler walk in free agency. The new front office will have a lot of say in this as the Mets face a pair of critical extension situations with Pete Alonso and deGrom.

Alonso has proven to be a star worth retaining and is set to hit arbitration for the first time this winter, making a long-term extension a good idea to get some cost certainty over his arbitration years while buying out a few free agent years in return. deGrom is technically signed through 2023 but has an opt-out after next season he will likely exercise if he maintains his recent all-world performance. The Mets did approach deGrom about a potential extension last spring and talks went nowhere, which was before deGrom got hurt and missed the entire second half, making the situation much more complicated now.

How will the Mets address their bullpen?

The Mets’ bullpen was a strength this season but they do face a few big decisions. Aaron Loup and Jeurys Familia were two key performers set to hit the open market while Edwin Diaz struggled again in big situations, raising questions as to whether or not he should be the team’s closer.

The priority will likely be to retain Loup, who is due for a significant raise over the $3 million he earned in 2021, while Familia will likely be let go to add some new blood to the unit. The Mets will also have to make decisions on whether to tender contracts to Robert Gsellman and Miguel Castro, leaving room for some potential shakeups in this unit.

How will the Mets’ draft pick situation impact free agency?

The Mets have two first round picks in 2022 after failing to sign Kumar Rocker but are only guaranteed to keep their compensatory pick as of now. The current rules regarding draft picks in the CBA state that a team that signs a free agent who received a qualifying offer would lose their second-highest draft pick, meaning the Mets would forfeit their own first-rounder (and perhaps more critically, the slot money that goes along with it) if they sign a qualifying free agent.

For an organization that is trying to build up its farm system as well as contend this is a delicate balance. This draft pick situation could be a tiebreaker if the Mets are trying to decide between similar players, such as Carlos Correa and Baez for their infield or Kris Bryant and Nick Castellanos in the outfield. It is worth noting that players who were traded in the middle of the season, such as Bryant and Starling Marte, are not eligible to receive the qualifying offer.

Will the Mets go over the luxury tax?

This question is arguably the most important one the Mets will have to face as they begin their offseason planning. The Mets did make some big expenditures in the first year of Steve Cohen’s ownership, headlined by giving Francisco Lindor a $341 million extension, but they also didn’t sign a high-priced free agent like George Springer or J.T. Realmuto that would have pushed them over the luxury tax threshold, a figure the Mets have never surpassed.

It is worth noting that the Mets were interested in Trevor Bauer last winter, whose eventual contract would have pushed them over the luxury tax threshold. Cohen has also gone on record saying that it doesn’t make sense financially to over the luxury tax by just a dollar, indicating that he is willing to blow past the tax to improve his club.

The new CBA will certainly have an impact on the Mets’ offseason plans since it will offer more clarity on the luxury tax rules for 2022 and beyond, an area that clearly weighed on the mind of many teams near the threshold this season. The Mets already have $127 million committed to eight players for 2022, a factor that doesn’t include arbitration raises and external free agent contracts.

Given the time that the Mets need to stock their farm system with talent and allow it to develop, a spending spree certainly seems necessary if they want to try and win immediately. The new front office should certainly have full access to Cohen’s checkbook if they want to spend a ton of money but all of the answers to these questions will have to wait until that new baseball operations power structure is in place.

Check back tomorrow as our 2021 Player Review Series kicks off with a look at outfielder Albert Almora!

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