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Assessing the Mets’ biggest needs going into the winter meetings

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Expectations are high for the Mets in their first offseason under new ownership.

League Championship - Houston Astros v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Six Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Baseball’s winter meetings began yesterday and will continue through the week. This year, a lot is different about the winter meetings, which will be conducted entirely virtually due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A lot is different about the Mets, too. The team has a new owner, who might very well break any big signing via Twitter and a new, albeit familiar, president. The search for a general manager is ongoing, and it’s unclear how that will impact the Mets’ ability to make any big moves at the meetings—although it didn’t stop them from signing reliever Trevor May last week—but their Christmas wish list is pretty well-defined this year.

Catcher

The catching position is the clearest gaping hole on the roster this offseason. The Mets wasted no time in declining options on Wilson Ramos and Robinson Chirinos, both of whom were ineffective last season. That leaves Tomas Nido, who lost a chunk of the 2020 season due to a COVID-19 diagnosis and also has a lifetime 46 wRC+ in the majors, as the only option. That’s not exactly viable for a starting player, even at the catching position.

By hook or by crook, the Mets must acquire a starting catcher. And it just so happens that the best catcher in baseball in J.T. Realmuto is a free agent this offseason. However, the Mets have been more closely connected with James McCann so far this winter, perhaps hoping they can get most of the production for a fraction of the price. The two sides are not yet close to a deal, according to reports, but the Mets have stepped up their efforts of late. Either way, the Mets are unlikely to head into the 2021 season without having signed a catcher, and it is one of the moves they are most likely to prioritize at the winter meetings.

Center field

While the Mets have no shortage of players to put in the outfield, especially given indications that the National League will not have the DH in 2021 (more on that later), they lack a true center fielder. And one of the other top tier free agents available happens to play that position: George Springer. Of the “big three” free agents likely to land large contracts—Realmuto, Springer, and Trevor Bauer—it is Springer who has been linked to the Mets most often in reports. Buster Olney even went as far last night as to say that he is “just about ready to bet the family farm in Vermont” that Springer becomes a Met.

Similar to Realmuto at the catching position, there is a pretty large drop-off in talent between Springer and the rest of the crop of center fielders available, which includes Jackie Bradley Jr., among others. But expectations have been set for the Mets to make a splash this offseason, and most of the baseball world is seeing Springer as the most likely path. However, whether a deal is actually worked out this week is anybody’s guess.

Starting pitching

With Marcus Stroman having accepted the Mets’ qualifying offer, that is one rotation spot they do not have to worry about filling next season. Unfortunately, the starting rotation is still a place where the Mets are lacking. With Noah Syndergaard still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and likely to start the season on the injured list, the Mets do not have much behind ace Jacob deGrom and Stroman. David Peterson likely did enough to prove himself last season to earn a slot, but that still leaves a couple of question marks. Seth Lugo was forced into service as a starter last season, but he’s been more effective as a reliever. The Mets tendered Steven Matz a contract, but if he continues to perform like he did in 2020, he will not be a viable option in the rotation.

The Mets likely have to sign or trade for at least one solid starting pitcher—if not more than one—this offseason. Reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer is the most prominent free agent starter available and his agent says he “likes where the [Mets] organization is going,” but there have yet to be concrete rumors connecting the Mets and Bauer. The Mets have reportedly shown interest in right-hander Jake Odorizzi, although he is talking to multiple teams. The current free agent class is not exactly stacked to the brim with exciting arms, but options such as Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Quintana are other notable names. And Tomoyuki Sugano, believed to be the best pitcher in Japan, has been posted by the Yomiuri Giants and is available to major league teams. Sandy Alderson said that the Mets are going to be doing some “shopping in the gourmet section” and moving aggressively in the somewhat thin starting pitching market would be a way to add teeth to that statement this week and draw contrast with past offseasons.

Figure out what to do with Dominic Smith

This isn’t a free agent target, but in order to prioritize their offseason pursuits, the Mets must decide what they’re going to do with a roster that is more well suited for a league with a DH than one without. Dominic Smith will likely be the primary victim of this situation, as Pete Alonso is likely locked in as the starting first baseman for the foreseeable future and Smith’s defense is not viable in the outfield, despite the Mets’ best intentions to get him in the lineup.

And if the Mets do acquire George Springer or another center fielder, that potentially leaves other players—like J.D. Davis—without a position, despite having an everyday caliber bat. The team will then have to decide whether to trade from that position of strength to fill another need, like in the starting rotation, or simply bask in the glory of their positional player depth and figure out a way to get everyone at-bats. Either way, that decision dictates a lot of the rest of the rest of the Mets’ offseason approach.

Depth pieces

While the Mets have already put in some leg work in this arena with moves like signing Jacob Barnes and Jared Robinson, more remains to be done to add depth, especially to the pitching staff. As they learned the hard way for the past few seasons now, the Mets have very little in the way of pitching in the high minors that can contribute meaningfully at the major league level. They struck gold with Chasen Shreve last season, but he was non-tendered and lightning rarely strikes in the same spot twice. Filling out the minor leagues with competant arms that can eat up innings in relief is something the Mets have rarely excelled at, but has often been the difference between them and more successful organizations. The new regime can start now to change the Mets’ reputation in that regard and moves made around the edges at the winter meetings can fly under the radar, but still be crucial to a team’s success.

On the positional player side, the Mets roster was actually quite deep in 2020 and as long as the needs mentioned above are filled, that should remain the case in 2021. However, Robinson Cano’s suspension does present an interesting situation for the Mets. They can easily fill the second base vacancy internally with Jeff McNeil or even Andres Gimenez, especially if George Springer is the big bat they choose to go after, creating fewer opportunities for McNeil and others in the outfield. However, they could also sign an infielder or trade for one. DJ LeMahieu is by far the best free agent infielder available and Jeff Passan recently reported that the Mets are “in” on him. They have also been connected to Francisco Lindor, who has been made available by Cleveland in trade, and the Rockies are dangling Nolan Arenado as well. Of course, these would not be “depth” acquisitions, but they would be moves that don’t fill a need directly, but make the Mets’ lineup much more potent and the roster much deeper.

Hire a general manager and build out the front office

Arguably the most crucial vacancy in the Mets organization is not on the roster, but in the front office. The Mets don’t yet have a general manager, let alone a complete front office, and the winter meetings are already underway. Sandy Alderson was brought back under the new regime to fill the role of team president and after looking at a few candidates to head up baseball operations, Alderson announced he would be filling that role himself. The Mets have already been turned down by Chris Young, who could not be lured away from his home state by Steve Cohen’s billions. Ex-Athletics executive Billy Owens is one person that is still in the running.

It’s hard to know how much impact having a front office running at less than full capacity will have on the Mets’ dealings during the winter meetings this week—and the offseason at large until the front office is filled out. No matter how much confidence one has in Sandy Alderson, it’s hard to argue the optics aren’t bad at the very least. But in the end, it is results that matter. And for those, we’ll just have to wait and see.