With the World Series wrapped up and free agency beginning, the MLB offseason is revving up. For many fans, this time of year serves as a forced detox from the daily presence of baseball that they’ve grown used to throughout the summer. But for teams with money in the bank, the winter can be almost as exciting. With the Mets looking to recover from a crushing playoff defeat, there are numerous holes to plug before they can look forward to competing in 2023. Here are the most impactful questions for the front office as the Mets offseason commences:
5. Is Eppler in Charge?
It’s no mystery that now-general manager Billy Eppler wasn’t exactly the first choice last offseason. The Mets had been linked to some of the best minds in the game–such as former Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns–and crossed off numerous names before Eppler eventually accepted the job. The former Angels GM did at least a decent job in his first year, acquiring several players who succeeded in 2022. However, he faced harsh criticism for the Mets’ rather complacent trade deadline. Since the season ended, owner Steve Cohen was again said to be looking for a president of baseball operations, furthering rumors that Eppler doesn’t have the billionaire’s full trust. If Cohen is really looking for someone different to head the front office, he’ll have to find them soon with the off-season likely to heat up within the month.
4. Does Management have Faith in the Farm?
The Mets were by far the oldest team in MLB last year, with an average player age of 30.68, more than half a year older than the second-place Yankees. On one hand, the reliable veteran presence likely helped the team consistently succeed across 162 games. On the other hand, older players are often more injury prone (see: Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer) and it doesn’t necessarily bode well for sustained success.
The good news for the Mets is that they will likely showcase a significantly younger team next year, with numerous veterans hitting free agency, and several top prospects poised to make the jump to the big leagues. The question here though is whether the team is willing to bet on the youngsters from the start. If catcher Francisco Alvarez is ready, that could push either James McCann or Tomas Nido to be traded. If they are ready to give Brett Baty a starting job, that places greater limitations on where the team can upgrade offensively. On the pitching side, the Mets could lose three-fifths of their starting rotation. Can they put faith in David Peterson or Tylor Megill to find consistency as a starter? If not, they’ll have to get creative to acquire enough pitching.
3. Are the Mets in on Aaron Judge?
Aaron Judge just completed one of the greatest offensive seasons of the 21st century. Not only breaking Roger Maris‘ AL home run record but posting a 211 OPS+, one of just 23 such seasons since integration in 1947. Judge is one of the more confounding free agency cases, with generational offensive potential but concerning injury history and age concerns. He could command $40 million per year, but the bidding may come down to which team is willing to risk a lengthier contract.
On the Mets’ side, the wild card series blatantly exposed their lack of power, and with Brandon Nimmo hitting free agency, the outfield is one of the few obvious offensive holes to fill. Nothing solid has linked the Mets to Judge yet, but Cohen isn’t the type to be counted out on any big names. Ultimately, signing Judge would define the offseason, largely completing the offense and possibly limiting pitching upgrades.
2. What’s the Deal with deGrom?
Since his March announcement of his intention to opt out of his current contract, the speculation around deGrom’s intentions has been rampant and largely nonsensical. Some would have you believe deGrom has been planning to flee to Texas or Atlanta in order to be closer to his home in Florida. Others insist he loves the Mets and wants to come back. In the end, deGrom may be the only free agent more confounding than Judge. Like Judge, he has showcased once-in-a-generation talent but has been marred by injury. There is very little precedent for the sort of contract he may get.
Last year, the Mets gave Max Scherzer a 3-year, $130 million contract. Scherzer is older and may have a lower ceiling at this stage, but he has also been far more durable throughout his career. deGrom could look for an average annual value nearing $50 million, but would any team be willing to risk that with his recent injury history? Should the Mets make deGrom a priority, his salary could eat up more than half the off-season budget, and would likely limit their ability to add other big names.
1. How Much Will Cohen Spend?
New York has always had the ability to pull the best free agents, and the Mets are clearly shopping on the top shelf. Regardless of which names get top priority, the Mets’ offseason will be mainly dictated by the budget. Current projections have the Mets with a payroll already around $220 million, about $50 million less than their final 2022 payroll. Cohen has more than proved his willingness to spend, without regard for the ire of other owners. With the team in need of multiple starting pitchers, most of a bullpen, and ideally another big bat, a baseline projection for 2023 may already be pushing $300 million. If the hedge fund billionaire decides to throw caution to the wind, Mets fans could be in for a very exciting offseason.
main image credit: Embed from Getty Images