CARLSBAD, Calif. — This week’s general managers’ meetings ideally would begin for the Mets with a new front office leader in place, but so much for the best laid plans.
Instead, a second-straight offseason is underway in which team president Sandy Alderson has been entrusted with directing the moves, as the Mets still search for a baseball operations honcho. Over four days in Southern California he will lead the Mets delegation in discussions with agents and opposing team executives about potential player acquisitions in this unusual offseason.
Without a collective bargaining agreement in place and the threat of a December lockout real, it’s possible this event — which normally serves as a primer for the winter meetings — will simply be a precursor to two or three months of emptiness.
Last winter, with the GM meetings scrapped because of the pandemic, Alderson presided over early business to largely mixed results. It was Alderson — then still officially awaiting his return to the Mets upon Steve Cohen’s approval as the new owner — who told former general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, days before firing him, to extend the qualifying offer to Marcus Stroman. That offer was accepted, giving the Mets an important starting rotation piece.
Alderson later moved quickly in reaching agreement with reliever Trevor May on a two-year contract worth $15 million (perhaps overpaying for a reliever who produced a 0.4 bWAR) and then miscalculated badly in the catching market. Unwilling to potentially wait out J.T. Realmuto, the top free agent at the position, Alderson gave James McCann a four-year deal worth $40.6 million. McCann gave the Mets a presence behind the plate, but was a disappointment offensively — he owned a .246/.299/.387 slash line with 10 homers and 46 RBIs.
As this offseason commences the Mets have needs to fill in the starting rotation and outfield and at third base.
The rotation need is glaring, after a season in which Jacob deGrom and Carlos Carrasco spent significant time on the injured list. The team’s most dependable starter from 2021, Stroman, is a free agent and even if Noah Syndergaard returns — he is expected to accept the team’s qualifying offer worth $18.4 million — there are questions about his durability after nearly two full seasons missed rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
The Mets have to decide whether Stroman fits their long-term vision or if they might want to head in a different direction in a free-agent market that includes names such as Robbie Ray, Kevin Gausman and Danny Duffy. Max Scherzer is an intriguing name, but the future Hall of Famer might not embrace the idea of a return east after finishing last season with the Dodgers. By waiving Wade Miley (he was claimed by the Cubs for $10 million) the Reds have sent the message they are in cost-cutting mode. Could Sonny Gray be available? It’s certainly a question Alderson and his lieutenants should ask.
Michael Conforto was another qualifying offer recipient, and the Mets must decide if there is a long-term offer that makes sense for their homegrown outfielder. Conforto showed life late in the season, but overall was a disappointment in a year he missed over a month with a strained right hamstring after testing positive for COVID-19 just before spring training started. With or without Conforto, it’s possible the Mets could pursue Kris Bryant as a hybrid who would fill two needs: an upgrade at third base and right-handed bat for the outfield. Starling Marte is another right-handed bat on the free-agent market. If the Mets were to sign him, they could move Brandon Nimmo to left field full-time.
Javier Baez, who arrived from the Cubs at the trade deadline, is a free agent and could provide a long-term solution at second base. But the Mets still have Jeff McNeil and 39-year-old Robinson Cano (returning from a PED suspension and still owed $40 million by the Mets) as possibilities at the position.