As they build for the 2020 season, the Mets could have a gaping hole in the starting rotation and badly need to improve their team defense. Meanwhile, Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon are free agents. Could the Mets be players for them?
Asked directly about whether the team can add a top flight free agent without reducing payroll, Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen danced around the question.
"At this point, we're going to explore all options with the roster," Van Wagenen said on Monday after introducing Carlos Beltran as the team's new manager. "Once we find the right fit, we'll try to make that a reality."
When Van Wagenen was asked a bit later on Monday whether he had the ability to spend where he wants to spend, he gave a much more expansive answer.
"We have the ability to make right decisions and I think there's a lot of ways to reconfigure our roster," Van Wagenen explained. "As I said earlier, we like our team. We're bringing back a Cy Young Award winner, we're bringing back Noah Syndergaard, we made a big acquisition over the summer to bring back Marcus Stroman. We certainly will continue our dialogue with Zack Wheeler. But we're going to put the best players on the field and I think ownership has shown to me over the course of last year they've been willing to let me make some bold decisions."
Speaking one-on-one with SNY's Steve Gelbs before giving the above answers, Van Wagenen said that the Mets "won't rule anything out" but also talked up the ability of Jeff McNeil to hold things down at third base (after Rendon's name was brought up).
As the Mets embark on the offseason, they have $124 million committed to the payroll for 2020. When you add in projected arbitration raises for the arbitration-eligible players the Mets are expected to keep, the payroll commitments rise to roughly $174 million. The luxury tax threshold for the 2020 season is $208 million.
Cole, 29, is expected to get paid well north of $200 million.
One MLB executive who spoke with SNY's Andy Martino estimated that Cole will find a deal of at least seven years and make $33-35 million per year. That would put the floor of Cole's deal at $231 million, making it the most lucrative deal ever given to a starting pitcher.
Rendon, 29, reportedly turned down an offer from the Nationals before the season ended that was worth between $210 million and $215 million over seven seasons.
Aside from extensions for their own free agents (Mike Piazza, David Wright, and Jacob deGrom all received seven-year extensions), the last time the Mets signed a free agent to a deal longer than four seasons was when they signed Carlos Beltran prior to the 2005 season. They also signed Johan Santana to a six-year deal prior to the 2008 season after receiving an extension window upon agreeing to a trade with the Twins.
If the Mets don't go after the free agents in the top tier, one potential option is working out an extension with Zack Wheeler, who will be given the qualifying offer.