Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen has cited the bullpen, center field, and the starting rotation as key areas the team needs to address heading into the 2020 season. But could payroll limitations get in the way?
Asked on Monday at the GM Meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz. if the Mets would be willing to exceed the $208 million luxury tax for 2020, Van Wagenen bobbed and weaved a bit.
"Our goal is to identify what the acquisition costs are of players and then make recommendations to the ownership group that we think are going to put the team in the best situation to succeed," Van Wagenen explained. "So we will do that. And if the luxury tax threshold becomes something we have to consider, then we will talk about it at that time."
At present, the Mets have $126 million committed to the payroll for 2020. But when you add in the combined salary of roughly $48 million that is expected to get paid to their arbitration-eligible players, that number climbs to $174 million. Their current expected luxury tax 40-man roster payroll, per Cot's Baseball Contracts, is $187.6 million.
Among the key players due to receive arbitration raises are Noah Syndergaard and Edwin Diaz (who Van Wagenen said shortly after the season were almost certainly not getting traded), and Michael Conforto (whose future Van Wagenen discussed Monday, when he suggested he was also staying put).
If the Mets want to properly address the three key areas Van Wagenen cited (and potentially other areas), it could be hard to do so without exceeding the luxury tax. And if they dip their toe in the water on a potential blockbuster acquisition such as Red Sox OF Mookie Betts, exceeding the luxury tax would basically be forced upon them.
Additionally, because the luxury tax (also known as the competitive balance tax) is calculated using each player's average annual value, front-loading or back-loading contracts would not allow a team to find a loophole around it.
Since the Mets have not exceeded the luxury tax threshold since the new rules went into effect before the 2003 season, their penalty in 2020 as a potential first-time offender would be minimal. Per the rules, a first-time offender must pay a 20 percent tax on every dollar their payroll exceeds the threshold.
For example, if the Mets' luxury tax payroll in 2020 wound up being $217 million, they would pay a 20 percent tax on the $9 million they went over.
As things currently stand, the Mets have only $69.4 million committed to payroll for 2021 -- when Yoenis Cespedes and David Wright are among those coming off the books. That number drops to $56.2 million in 2022 and $50.7 million in 2023. The Mets currently have zero committed to payroll for 2024 and beyond.
Since the Mets' payroll situation clears up significantly in 2021 and beyond, they should conceivably be able to exceed the luxury tax in 2020 before easily dropping back under the threshold in 2021.