For the Mets to build on their 86 wins in 2019, second-year GM Brodie Van Wagenen has some serious work to do. First, the Mets need to figure out how much they're going to spend on player payroll for 2020.
According to work done earlier this week by SNY.tv's Danny Abriano, if the Mets acquire no one and simply dish out raises eight of their arbitration-eligible players, they'll begin next season with a payroll of roughly $174 million.
In other words, unless the Mets are willing to increase their budget, which could bring them close to the $208 million Collective Bargaining Tax (CBT), Van Wagenen might have to get creative when looking to bring in new talent.
It's worth noting that the CBT is calculated using the average annual salary of every player contract on the books, regardless of players that are no longer active (David Wright) or are injured and whose contracts are insured (Yoenis Cespedes). So, like it or not, the combined $41 million due to Wright and Cespedes is part of the $174 million.
When building the 2020 Mets, Van Wagenen must choose one of the three paths below. Otherwise, the Mets will lose momentum and risk entering their second rebuild in 10 years...
Based on the above, if Van Wagenen wants to add to and shake up his roster, he will need to make some difficult decisions.
Ideally, he finds a taker for Jed Lowrie, Robinson Cano, Jeurys Familia and/or Wilson Ramos, but -- to free up salary and make the deal fair -- he will probably need to include a top prospect.
The Angels, in particular, could help in this area as they need a catcher and second baseman, they have money to spend, hired Joe Maddon to be their manager and they seem to like acquiring big name veterans.
Aside from the Angels, it's too early in the offseason to have a read on players from other teams that will be available in trade. However, based on rumors and reports, it seems the Indians might look to move reliever Brad Hand (due $7 million), the Royals will try to deal Ian Kennedy and the Pirates could try to flip center fielder Starling Marte after picking up his $11 million option.
Pittsburgh needs a rebuild and a third baseman, so perhaps a swap of Marte and cash for a prospect and third baseman J.D. Davis could make sense. Marte is sensational and would improve Van Wagenen's defense, but would be a free agent after next season, whereas Davis - coming off a breakout, 22-home run season -- is under contract through 2024.
The point is, there may be ways to swap salary in trade, but it will take being creative and taking risks.
Go for it, make the big deal
Van Wagenen is going to be contacted to see if he's willing to trade starting pitchers Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard, outfielder Michael Conforto, and relievers Edwin Diaz and Seth Lugo, all of whom will earn a sizable salary by way of arbitration.
He's been asked in the past about many of the above players, specifically Lugo and Syndergaard. However, despite rumors of him flirting with the idea, neither player has been traded.
The above five will combine to earn roughly $35 million in 2020.
Stroman will likely earn at least $12 million and is set to be a free agent after next year. Van Wagenen could trade him for prospects then use the money saved to help sign a free agent to a multi-year deal that extends to when he has less money committed to future payrolls.
In late September, Van Wagenen said he expects Syndergaard and Diaz to be with the Mets in 2020. However, I'll believe that when I see it. This is not to say I expect either player to be dealt, but I do think he'll talk about trading them with any team willing to make a legit offer.
For instance, Syndergaard would bring back a major haul that would \almost certainly include a promising young player making little money in 2020 and under contract for years to come. Maybe this is how Van Wagenen can add a center fielder.
Similarly, though Diaz has been the easy scapegoat for the Mets failing to make the playoffs in 2019, he is still just 25 years old, throws 97 mph and has 135 saves in four years. He may not bring back what he would have during the middle of 2018, but plenty of teams would love to add him and his track record and potential.
Throw caution to the wind and increase payroll
As of now, the Mets are set to clear significant salary after next season, plus they have very few salary commitments beyond 2021. So, technically, the Mets could push to exceed the league tax rate this year and pay the fee this one time because the massive reduction in future payrolls will make it near impossible to exceed the CBT again any time soon.
In the event the Mets went this route, Van Wagenen would be wise to pursue free agent Nick Castellanos, who can play third base and left field and be the perfect counter balance to Jeff McNeil, who plays the same two positions. Castellanos thinks he's going to get a five-year, $100 million deal. However, like FanGraphs.com's Dan Szymborski wrote last week, Castellanos is unlikely to see anything more than three-year, $60 million contract.
If Van Wagenen really wanted to solve his third base-left field void, he could shock baseball, make major headlines and break the bank by signing free-agent 3B Anthony Rendon. Rendon is going to look for a Bryce Harper-like $300 million deal, but he won't get it. He will, however, get $200 million. He would also give the Mets an MVP-caliber third baseman, which would more than justify McNeil in left field and Brandon Nimmo in center.
In the end, my hunch is Van Wagenen will end up doing some combination of trading an expensive veteran, as well as an arbitration-eligible player or two in deals that will be quite controversial. If this frees up any money, he'll use it to add a reliever and hopefully a fifth starting pitcher.
Van Wagenen has options, though. There are multiple paths he can pursue. But will be able able to consider all three? Or, will he be left to hustle for marginal additions to a roster with potential and deserving of more meaningful upgrades?