Daniel Murphy was expected to decline the qualifying offer the Mets gave him, and he officially did so yesterday evening. With that, his Mets career is almost certainly over, as the Mets' payroll is still far from unlimited and second base is the position the team is best-equipped to replace internally right now. With approximately $93 million in commitments for 2016—including arbitration raises for eligible players—a one-year, $15.8 million contract for Murphy would have been a significant part of the team's Opening Day payroll next year.
Even though the Mets are expected to begin the season with a higher payroll than they did in 2015, they might have been approaching their maximum budget if Murphy had accepted and brought their commitments up to approximately $109 million. Of course, it's more frustrating now than ever before that the team seems to have either the inability or an unwillingness to spend money on players for a team that is coming off a World Series appearance with all of its best young pitching having arrived in the big leagues.
Whatever the budget—$115 million, perhaps even less than that, could be the maximum for next season—it's understandable that the front office needed to know how much wiggle room it has within its budget. At the general manager meetings, John Ricco brought up payroll, the infield, and the fact that Murphy was a significant left-handed bat as things the team had to take into account based on his decision on the qualifying offer.
The team's most obvious short-term needs are in center field and at shortstop, as none of Juan Lagares, Ruben Tejada, and Wilmer Flores are ideal full-time options at those two positions. And the Mets are reportedly interested in several relief pitchers as they look to improve upon the bridge between the Mets' rotation and the excellent Jeurys Familia.
If the Mets wants to shed more payroll to make room for new additions this winter, they don't have many expendable players making significant money. Jon Niese enters 2016 as the team's fifth starter and is set to earn $9 million for the season. That's a perfectly reasonable amount of money for a back-of-the-rotation major league pitcher to make, but it could be close to 10 percent of the team's payroll. The problem with dealing Niese, though, is that there is no obvious internal candidate to take over that fifth-starter spot.
Michael Cuddyer is set to earn $12.5 million in 2016, and with the arrival of Michael Conforto, he's out of a starting job. In the context of a larger payroll, that wouldn't matter much, but given the constraints here, something better than a .259/.309/.391 line in 2015 would have inspired more confidence for his performance, or given him some trade value, next year.
Beyond that, the Mets could non-tender Addison Reed, who is projected to earn $5.7 million in 2016 via arbitration. But he seems capable of being worth that salary. Two of the team's arbitration-eligibile players—Anthony Recker and Eric Young Jr.—are already free agents. Jenrry Mejia won't earn much, even if tendered a contract, because of the suspension he'll be serving for much of the season.
But here's hoping the Mets' financial limit for next year is high enough that trimming payroll from a roster that doesn't have all that much to begin with isn't a necessary step before new players can be acquired this winter.
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