Danny Abriano, SNY.tv | Twitter |
With the hot stove season here, the Mets have a lot of work to do if they hope to turn their 86-win team of 2019 into a team that should be legitimately feared by the rest of the NL East entering the 2020 season. And their first big decision is getting close.
The Mets have until Monday at 5 p.m. to decide whether or not to extend a qualifying offer to free agent Zack Wheeler.
If the Mets extend the offer to Wheeler and he accepts, they will be on the hook for roughly $18 million on a one-year deal for 2020.
If the Mets extend the offer to Wheeler and he rejects, they will receive a compensatory pick in the 2020 MLB Draft.
If the Mets do not extend the offer to Wheeler and he leaves via free agency, they will lose him for nothing.
When they held on to Wheeler at the trade deadline this past season -- a move that looks good in retrospect since the team went on a run that nearly got them into the playoffs -- the Mets gave up their last chance to get a player or players of value back for Wheeler.
Now, the decision to extend the qualifying offer should be a simple one, and it's likely that they will, according to SNY's Andy Martino.
As things currently stand, Wheeler should be the second-most sought after free agent starting pitcher on the market, behind only Gerrit Cole, who is expected to secure perhaps the most lucrative contract ever given to a pitcher.
Joining Cole and Wheeler on the market could be 2019 World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg, who has to decide whether to opt out of the final four years and $100 million he has on his deal with the Nationals.
If Strasburg opts out, he would vault past Wheeler and become the 1A to Cole's 1 on the free agent market. While still valuable, Wheeler would become a distant third when it comes to who the most highly thought of free agent starting pitchers are.
Still, Wheeler -- with a price tag that is expected to be a galaxy lower than Cole's and a great deal lower than Strasburg's (if he opts out) -- could offer a terrific alternative for teams looking for a young-ish starter with ace upside who will be relatively affordable.
Put all of the above together and it should be a no-brainer for the Mets to extend the qualifying offer to Wheeler. There simply doesn't seem like there's any more than a tiny chance he will accept.
However, if things go haywire on the free agent market and Wheeler does accept a qualifying offer, the situation for the Mets could get tricky.
As things currently stand, the Mets' payroll commitments for the 2020 season are roughly $124 million. When you add in the players who are expected to get raises via arbitration (including Noah Syndergaard, Michael Conforto, and Edwin Diaz), that number jumps to roughly $174 million.
With the Mets needing to address a bullpen that was the main culprit when it came to the team missing the playoffs and potentially needing a new center fielder, they might have to get creative when it comes to adding to the payroll while staying under the $208 million luxury tax threshold.
If the Mets sign external free agents, they'll have a workaround of sorts since they'll have the option of middle-loading or back-loading any such deal in order to blunt the impact on the 2020 payroll (payroll frees up significantly in 2021 and beyond). But if Wheeler were to accept a qualifying offer, roughly $18 million would be added to the books for 2020.
Another option the Mets have is to again try to negotiate an extension with Wheeler -- something the two sides tried during the season without gaining much traction, according to Martino.
With Marcus Stroman added at the trade deadline to bolster the rotation with an eye on 2020, the Mets might feel less pressure to try to bring Wheeler back. But adding Wheeler to a group that already includes Jacob deGrom, Syndergaard, Stroman, and Steven Matz seems much more appealing than going after a lower-tier option on the free agent market.
We'll see how things shake out in the coming weeks and months when it comes to the Mets' starting rotation for 2020, but the clock is ticking on their first big decision -- do they extend the qualifying offer to Wheeler or do they simply let him walk?