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The Mets’ payroll outlook that new ownership would inherit

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The Wilpons seem incredibly likely to sell the team, and here’s what the roster looks like in the long term.

90th MLB All-Star Game, presented by Mastercard Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images

All indications are that the Wilpons will sell the New York Mets soon, several months after nearing a deal to sell them to billionaire Steve Cohen, only to have that deal fall apart late in the process. With several bidders, including Cohen, involved in the process now, it’s realistic that ownership of the team will change hands sometime relatively soon. Whomever ends up owning the Mets will inherit a roster that has minimal long-term salary commitments, several young and talented players, and plenty of holes to fill.

To start, the Mets have very little in the way of guaranteed contracts for the 2021 season. Jacob deGrom is set to earn $36 million next year and again in 2022 before dipping slightly to $30 million in 2023. Robinson Cano is set to earn $24 million, of which the Mets are responsible for about $20 per year, in each of the 2021 through 2023 seasons. In terms of guaranteed commitments to pay players, that’s it.

The team has slightly more guaranteed money on the books in 2021, with Jeurys Familia set to earn $11.6 million, Dellin Betances will either pick up his $6 million player option or be due $3 million in a buyout, Wilson Ramos can either be retained via a $10 million team option or bought out for $1.5 million, and Brad Brach has a $1.25 million player option. Cot’s Contracts, from which all of the salary data for this piece originates, therefore has the Mets on the hook for just $74 million in guaranteed salary for next year.

There are other considerations, of course, when taking a realistic look at a major league team’s payroll, namely arbitration-eligible players. Noah Syndergaard and Michael Conforto are set for their respective final years of team control, with the former having been set for a $9.7 million salary in a normal 2020 season and the latter set for $8 million. How arbitration raises will work this winter is anyone’s guess, but at the very least, both should be slated to earn more if there is a full 2021 season.

Steven Matz enters his final year of team control next year, too, and while he hasn’t been quite as good as it looked like he could be early in his career, he’s undoubtedly a useful major league starting pitcher. He would have earned $5 million in a normal 2020 season, and like Syndergaard and Conforto, he figures to get more than that in 2021.

While he isn’t entering his final year of arbitration eligibility, Edwin Diaz was set for a $5 million salary this year, too, and he’ll join his teammates in earning more next year. That’s not it for the roster, as Brandon Nimmo, Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman, Amed Rosario, J.D. Davis, and Dominic Smith will all be eligible for arbitration this winter. But the highest 2020 salary in the group belongs to Nimmo at $2.2 million, with the lowest being Smith at $579k.

Regardless of how all of those details play out, even in 2021, the Mets will not be pushing the limits of what a major league payroll, especially not in a market as large as New York. Beyond 2021, their commitments are even lower.

There will be holes to fill as soon as this winter, too. Marcus Stroman, Rick Porcello, Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Wilson, Jake Marisnick, and Michael Wacha are due to hit free agency following the 2020 season. That’s 60 percent of the team’s starting rotation, and while Syndergaard should return fairly early in the 2021 season coming off Tommy John surgery, no pitcher’s recovery is guaranteed to happen without setbacks. The team is better suited to fill roster vacancies left by departing position players, but if Ramos, Betances, and Brach are off the roster via their aforementioned options, those are three more major league players who would have to be brought back or replaced.

In total, any new owner or ownership group would inherit something Sandy Alderson loved to talk about in his time as general manager of the Mets: payroll flexibility. They’ll also inherit a group of young players, headlined by Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil, making far below market rate. That’s a pretty good spot from which to work, and if a new owner were more willing to spend than the team’s current owners have been during their tenure, the Mets would have as good a chance as just about any team at contending perennially.