With step 1 of the offseason plan done, here are five questions GM Brodie Van Wagenen should answer...
Are you serious about trading Noah Syndergaard and, if not, have you seen any interest in Zack Wheeler?
I've talked to some sources that 100 percent think Van Wagenen is committed to trading Syndergaard. However, I've also talked to just as many people who think Van Wagenen intends to keep Syndergaard and is using his name as bait to open doors.
Think about it, the Mets floated Syndergaard's name to anyone that would listen during their talks with other teams at the GM Meetings in early November. Then, two weeks later, we started seeing his name and potential matchups leak to media in every major market. By dangling Syndergaard in front of other GMs, Brodie and his staff get people to answer the phone and can learn about the wants and needs of other organizations.
This is not to say Syndergaard won't be dealt, but I do think it suggests he only gets dealt for the absolute perfect fit for the Mets. That said, given the supply of front-end starting pitching on the free agent and trade markets, when all is said and done, it wouldn't shock me to see Wheeler get dealt instead of Syndergaard. Remember, it was Wheeler that most teams wanted at last summer's trade deadline because he'd cost less given he has just one more year of control, after which he can be a free agent.
How much money is the team saving in 2019 by non tendering Wilmer Flores and swapping the salaries of Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak for Robinson Cano?
This matters only because the Mets have rarely gone way over budget with their spending each season. By my rough calculations, with the above plus arbitration and raises, etc., the team currently has around $130 million committed to payroll for 2019.
If they trade Syndergaard or Wheeler it cuts another $5 million or so. Then, even if they trade, say, Brandon Nimmo to the Indians to get Corey Kluber, who is due $17 million, it seems the team's payroll is still under $150 million. If they acquire Trevor Bauer, who I think is the more likely Indian to get dealt, it would mean Van Wagenen's payroll is back around $130 million. And, if it's in that neighborhood, and he signs an inexpensive, defense-first catcher, such as Martin Maldonado, it means there could realistically be enough money available to make a run at Bryce Harper. And, if they backload Harper's contract, with the bulk of money kicking in after 2020, when Yoenis Cespedes is off the books, it could mean leaving room to sign another free agent reliever this winter.
Don't get me wrong, I think the above is crazy far fetched. But, if you squint, you can see it.
Along those lines, how does Cespedes factor in to the roster in 2019 and how does insurance on his contract factor in to his season?
Cespedes is due a whopping $29 million each of the next two seasons. By the way, while Yo's agent, it was Van Wagenen that negotiated this deal with the Mets. How's that for irony?
Cespedes had bone calcification removed from both heels this past August and October. The initial indication from medical experts and team insiders had Cespedes missing the early part of 2019, which is incredibly vague. However, the buzz from St. Lucie is that -- at best -- he could be back at some point after the All Star break and, depending on how the heels heal, it's still possible he could end up missing the entire season.
In either case, it's best for Van Wagenen to assume Cespedes is gone until 2020. It's just more safe this way. As a result, he can operate by penciling Michael Conforto into one of his corner outfield spots and go from there.
If Cespedes returns in late 2019, great. If not, so be it.
In the event Cespedes doesn't return, what does that mean for his salary? Is it insured? If it is, how much do the Mets get back and can it be used to acquire talent this season? I've actually heard people speculate that Yo's contract has very limited insurance because this heel issue is something everyone knew about. And, if they didn't, they do now, because he spoke openly and on record last year about needing this surgery for quite a while. In either case, given that Van Wagenen negotiated the contract, I'm sure he knows everything there is to know about how it is insured (if it is at all).
Is there a scenario where Seth Lugo could end up being a starting pitcher, depending on trades made and free agents that are signed?
Mickey Callaway and Dave Eiland love Lugo, which was clear listening to them each talk about him at the end of last season. Callaway said Lugo could succeed whether a starting pitcher or a reliever, though he'd prefer to have him pitch in relief because he's such a unique weapon, especially given his amazing curve ball.
That said, let's say the Mets trade Syndergaard for an inexpensive, everyday player that fills a current void in the starting lineup. And, let's say Van Wagenen also trades Wheeler for prospects or for another everyday player. And, let's say the Mets sign David Robertson to pair with recently-acquired Edwin Diaz. In that scenario, do Callaway and Van Wagenen put faith in Lugo by committing to him as a starting pitcher? Do they think he's capable of making 30 starts in this one role, or are they not yet that confident?
What does your ideal catcher look like, as it pertains to offense, pitch framing, game calling, etc.?
The difference in going over budget or staying under could hinge on how Van Wagenen looks at solving his need for a catcher.
He said during his introductory press conference that it was important for the Mets to improve their fielding, specifically up the middle. At the same time, he said they also need to score more runs. So, how does catcher factor in to this? Do they want an experienced backstop that can frame pitches, call a great game, work with Eiland and handle a staff? Or, do they need their catcher to hit and be a run producer, which is something that is becoming more and more difficult around baseball every year.
The Mets have maintained interest in signing free-agent C Wilson Ramos. But they have concerns about his defense and previous injuries, according to the NY Post's Mike Puma. Similarly, they have not gotten far in talks with free-agent C Martin Maldonado, who they've reportedly been interested in since the start of the offseason.
In the end, I still expect the Mets to add offense in the field and go with a defense-first catcher behind the plate. I've heard Callaway say in offseason interviews that his pitching staff deserves to have better hands behind the plate. I agree with this, so long as the rest of the offense can support the pitching staff with runs, as well.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!