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The Mets are off to a fast start under new owner Steve Cohen, but there’s more work to be done this offseason.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration-Eligible Players

This year’s arbitration projections are more volatile than ever, given the unprecedented revenue losses felt by clubs and the shortened 2020 schedule. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz, who developed our arbitration projection model, used three different methods to calculate different projection numbers. You can see the full projections and an explanation of each if you click here, but for the purposes of our Outlook series, we’ll be using Matt’s 37-percent method — extrapolating what degree of raise a player’s 2020 rate of play would have earned him in a full 162-game slate and then awarding him 37 percent of that raise.

Free Agents

After years under the yoke of the much-maligned Wilpons, Mets fans were understandably thrilled when the duo sold the franchise to Cohen – who became the wealthiest owner in the majors as soon as he took over the club. Cohen continued to excite the fans at his introductory press conference, saying: “I’m not in this to be mediocre. I want something great.”

There was a lot of mediocrity during the Wilpon regime, evidenced in part by the Mets’ five-year playoff drought. The two most recent unsuccessful seasons came under general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, whom the team parted with once Cohen took the reins. Cohen brought back Sandy Alderson, Van Wagenen’s predecessor, as team president. Alderson subsequently hired former Diamondbacks executive Jared Porter as the GM.

Even before Porter entered the fray, the Mets got to work in upgrading their roster. They quickly made a significant free-agent addition in former Twins right-hander Trevor May – one of the most coveted relievers on the market – on a two-year, $15.5MM contract. He’ll join Edwin Diaz, Dellin Betances, Jeurys Familia, Brad Brach and Robert Gsellman as stone-cold locks for next year’s bullpen. While most of the unit is in place, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the club further bolster it with at least one more high-profile pickup. The Mets have interest in the No. 1 free-agent reliever available, former Athletics closer Liam Hendriks, though he’s just one possibility. Brad Hand, Blake Treinen, Trevor Rosenthal, Alex Colome, Kirby Yates and Jake McGee represent other notable options in free agency. On paper, Hand or McGee would make sense for a Mets bullpen devoid of left-handers.

May and the rest of the Mets’ relievers will be throwing to newly acquired catcher James McCann – the first big-money position player signing of the Cohen era. McCann struggled earlier in his career with the Tigers, but the proverbial light bulb seemed to come on during the previous two years as a member of the White Sox. Thanks to his vast improvement in Chicago, McCann scored a four-year, $40.6MM guarantee. Maybe he wasn’t the catcher Mets fans were hoping for (J.T. Realmuto is the best backstop in the game and the top free agent at the position), but McCann makes for a nice consolation prize.

It’s fair to say the Mets aren’t going to stop upgrading their offense with McCann. In fact, it’s quite possible they’ll make a far bigger splash in an effort to better their group of position players. There has been no shortage of speculation connecting the team to free-agent outfielder and Connecticut native George Springer, who MLBTR predicts will land a five-year, $125MM contract this winter. The Mets already have a crowded outfield picture with Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and Dominic Smith, so it’s unclear what a Springer signing would mean for any of them. Regardless, Springer would presumably take over as the Mets’ starting center fielder – a role Nimmo held in 2020.

The infield has also been a source of rumors centering on the Mets, particularly in the wake of Robinson Cano’s season-long suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. That wiped Cano’s massive salary off the books, but it also took away a player who slashed an excellent .316/.352/.544 with 10 home runs in 182 plate appearances last season. That’s going to be a tough void to fill, though the Mets do have a capable in-house replacement in Jeff McNeil. Of course, that’s assuming the Mets don’t keep McNeil in a super-utility role or even use him in a trade. If he’s not their second baseman, they could steal free agent DJ LeMahieu from the Yankees. Other than LeMahieu, there don’t appear to be any second base upgrades over McNeil in free agency or on the trade front.

There is a bit less certainty on the left side of New York’s infield, but that’s not to say it’s in bad shape. Third baseman J.D. Davis continued to hit in 2020 (albeit not as well as he did the prior year), while Andres Gimenez stepped up as a rookie and outperformed Amed Rosario at short. The Mets could simply stick with Davis and Gimenez, but it’s worth noting both positions feature prominent free agents and trade possibilities. LeMahieu and former Met Justin Turner are available as potential third base choices, while Didi Gregorius, Marcus Semien and Andrelton Simmons remain unsigned at short.

Trade speculation has pointed the Mets toward Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, who’s due a whopping $199MM over the next years. If acquiring him isn’t in the cards, the Mets could make a splash at short by landing the Indians’ Francisco Lindor or the Rockies’ Trevor Story. Both players are under control for just one more season, but considering Cohen is flush with cash, the Mets could conceivably extend either player within the next year. Alderson did indicate earlier in the offseason that he’d prefer to keep his young talent in place, which points more to the free-agent route than a trade. However, he suggested earlier this week that the Mets will be involved in the trade market for high-priced players on long-term contracts (Arenado fits the bill) and players on expiring deals (Lindor and Story check that box).

A year ago at this time, it looked as if the Mets’ rotation would be a major strength in 2020. Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman were supposed to be among the premier trios in baseball, but that plan went up in smoke before the season even began. Ultimately, deGrom was the only member of the group who threw a single pitch in 2020. Syndergaard underwent Tommy John surgery in March, and Stroman opted out because of COVID-19. The Mets aren’t going to get Syndergaard back until sometime next summer, but Stroman will return after accepting their $18.9MM qualifying offer.

DeGrom, Stroman and David Peterson give the Mets three sure bets for their starting staff as they await Syndergaard’s comeback, but the unit still needs work in the meantime. It’s unclear, for instance, whether Seth Lugo will start or go back to the bullpen in 2021. And while the Mets did keep Steven Matz around on a $5.2MM salary, they’d be hard-pressed to count on him in the wake of his awful season.

Considering the uncertainty surrounding Lugo and Matz, expectations are that the Mets will acquire at least one proven starter in the coming months. The arrival of Cohen seems to make the team a realistic suitor for reigning NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer, the leading free agent available at any position. The rest of the free-agent starting class isn’t nearly as exciting, though longtime Yankee Masahiro Tanaka, Jake Odorizzi, Jose Quintana, Corey Kluber, Adam Wainwright and James Paxton are among accomplished arms looking for jobs. The trade market lost an enticing starter when Lance Lynn went from the Rangers to the White Sox earlier this month, but former Cy Young winner Blake Snell (Rays) and Joe Musgrove (Pirates) have the potential to move. Either of those two would help the Mets’ rotation.

Whatever the Mets do for the remainder of the offseason, the Cohen-led organization isn’t going to make moves that hamper their goal of building a perennial winner.

“You build champions, you don’t buy them,” Cohen stated during his introduction. “We’ve got a great core on this team, and we’re going to get better and I plan to make the investments we need to succeed. We want to win now, but we’re also building for the long term.”

Having already spent on May, McCann and Stroman, Cohen has so far lived up to his promise to invest in the roster. It’s anyone’s guess what the Mets will do next, but thanks to their new owner, they’re one of the truly intriguing teams to watch during what has been a slow winter in Major League Baseball.

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