Eppler, Mets not done yet this offseason

January 17th, 2023

NEW YORK -- Now that the Carlos Correa saga is in the past, the Mets can move forward with the rest of their offseason. The bulk of their business is already complete, having taken place during a December blitz that saw owner Steve Cohen shell out nearly half a billion dollars in guaranteed contracts.

But ask general manager Billy Eppler, and he’ll say the front office isn’t necessarily done. Here are three takeaways from Eppler’s conference call with reporters on Tuesday:

The Mets are still looking for help in multiple areas

Asked specifically about outfield and bullpen help, Eppler answered thusly:

“I’m still engaged in the market, talking to representation in both spaces -- both in the outfield and the bullpen. Whether anything actually comes to fruition … remains to be seen. But definitely still having the conversations.”

The Mets already possess what Eppler called “a strong and deep lineup,” but as their pursuit of Correa suggested, there’s room to improve. Although no one like Correa is still hanging around the market, veterans such as Jurickson Profar and Adam Duvall could complement their lineup. A few impact relievers remain as well, including left-hander Andrew Chafin.

“This goes without saying,” Eppler said, “and I’ve said it in the past relating to any one of the areas of the organization: You can always be better.”

Extensions for Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil are coming … or they aren’t

Eppler politely brushed aside a question regarding potential contract extensions for Alonso and McNeil, two homegrown stars who each have two years remaining under team control. The window for locking up either player on a team-friendly deal likely closed several years ago, back before Alonso and McNeil had established themselves as middle-of-the-order hitters in their primes. But the Mets should still have interest in discussing new contracts for both, considering their importance to the franchise.

The question is whether those extensions can realistically happen at this juncture. From the Mets’ perspective, Cohen just ballooned the club’s payroll to an historic level, in some cases deferring money so as to minimize his Competitive Balance Tax outlay. Given all that, it doesn’t make a ton of financial sense to lock up Alonso to a richer deal when he’s making only $14.5 million this season, or to negotiate with McNeil, who could receive less than half of that total through arbitration.

Alonso in particular has been effusive in his love for New York, but it’s important to remember that business is business; he likewise doesn’t have much incentive, coming off a 40-homer season, to accept anything less than the full market value for a premier first baseman. (Freddie Freeman and Matt Olson set that market with a six-year, $162 million contract and an eight-year, $168 million deal, respectively, last spring, and Alonso will surely ask for more.)

That's a long way of saying that Eppler’s silence on Tuesday spoke volumes -- as did Alonso’s when asked about a potential extension at a charity event in Tampa last weekend. (His advice? Ask my agent.)

Don’t count out Eduardo Escobar

When Correa signed with the Twins rather than the Mets last week, the easy assumption around Flushing was that No. 2 Mets prospect Brett Baty might benefit by becoming New York’s full-time third baseman. Not so fast, though. While Baty will surely have a chance to compete for the job in Spring Training, Eppler cautioned that incumbent Escobar remains an important part of the team.

“I will remind people that Escobar had a really strong year last year, and Brett’s callup was born out of necessity,” Eppler said, referring to a string of injuries that prompted the team to promote Baty ahead of schedule. “I don’t want to forecast what will come at the end of March. That’s why we’re going to go down to Port St. Lucie, and that’s why we’re going to see what we see.”

Escobar hit 20 home runs last year but was far more effective against left-handed pitchers, suggesting a potential solution in which he and Baty platoon to start the season. These situations have a way of working themselves out, but one thing is clear: It’s not time to coronate Baty just yet, for as long as Escobar is still around.