It's that time of year: Mets players have begun filtering into Port St. Lucie, Fla., for another spring. With a few days left until the official start of camp, let's dig back into the Inbox for another batch of questions and answers:
In regards to the Jacob deGrom contract talks: Do you feel he will give a hometown discount to the Mets and general manager Brodie Van Wagenen? How long do you feel contract talks will continue (assuming there is no deal) before one of the camps breaks off talks?
-- @BobbyKleinau via Twitter
First off, let's define what "talks" consist of right now. As of last week, the Mets hadn't really spoken to deGrom's representatives since the Winter Meetings, and the chat they had back in December was really quite casual. That can change quickly, and I do expect the Mets to engage in more formal negotiations in the coming weeks. But there's a sense among some fans that the Mets are talking to deGrom and his representatives regularly, or heatedly, which is simply not true.
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As for a hometown discount, I highly doubt deGrom will agree to something significantly less than market value just to stay in New York -- not now, when he's two years away from free agency and a potential windfall. But I do think deGrom would give the Mets a modest rebate in exchange for the certainty of signing now. That's par for the course for players who sign extensions while under contract.
I've always viewed this situation as more dependent on the Mets than on deGrom. Until now, they have never really engaged their star pitcher on long-term talks. If they do, and offer something fair, I believe he'll take it. If they lowball deGrom, we'll probably see him hit free agency in 2021.
While neither side has put a deadline on negotiations, teams and players tend to get this stuff out of the way before the regular season. I suspect if the Mets can't agree to something with deGrom by late March, that's the last you'll hear of it until next offseason.
Are the Mets really trying to make Jeff McNeil a full-time outfielder, or more of a true jack-of-all-trades that plays everywhere throughout the season?
-- @SeanTie75299777 via Twitter
They'll tell you it's the latter, but realistically, there's just not a lot of playing time available for McNeil in the infield. Barring an injury to Robinson Canó, Jed Lowrie or Todd Frazier, it's hard to see McNeil getting significant time anywhere other than in the outfield. That's why the Mets are going to invest so much time in McNeil as an outfielder this spring.
Who's your favorite to start in center field for the Mets? Juan Lagares or Keon Broxton? And why?
-- @GMF1981 via Twitter
I wouldn't simply eliminate McNeil from that conversation. The Mets feel he's athletic enough to handle center, even if he ultimately does default to a corner.
As for the two you mentioned, I'll say Lagares for now. He has less power than Broxton but better contact skills, along with a Gold Glove in his equipment bag. When healthy, Lagares feels to me like the more well-rounded player. But he's rarely been healthy in the past, potentially giving Broxton plenty of opportunity to leapfrog him on the depth chart. It's close enough that Broxton could do that anyway with a strong spring.
I was stoked to see Dilson Herrera back in the organization. Have you heard anything about the Mets' intentions for him? I'm assuming he'll be Minor League depth, but the team still lacks a quality backup shortstop for Amed Rosario. Could Herrera be in the team's plans?
-- @tossup via Twitter
Most likely, Herrera will open the year at Triple-A Syracuse, where he figures to play primarily second and third base. Herrera doesn't really have much experience at shortstop.
As for that position, the Mets have made it clear that they plan to use Lowrie as their backup to Rosario, assuming the latter starts 140-plus games over the summer. If Rosario misses significant time to injury, however, the Mets appear at least willing to consider an aggressive promotion of 20-year-old prospect Andres Gimenez, who was ranked by MLB Pipeline as the club's No. 1 prospect in 2018, and whose defense and baserunning are big league-ready right now. Another option is Luis Guillorme, who, like Herrera, appears ticketed for Syracuse on Opening Day.
How much of an emphasis is being placed on team defense? As fans, we recognize the offensive struggles the Mets have displayed, but team defense hasn't been truly great since John Olerud, Edgardo Alfonso, Rey Ordonez and Robin Ventura played here. Our pitching deserves great defense.
-- @mediamatt via Twitter
Once again, the Mets focused on offense this winter, acquiring Wilson Ramos, Lowrie, Cano and others, instead of younger or more defensive-minded players. Add in the fact that Peter Alonso (the club's No. 2 prospect in 2018) is likely to receive significant playing time this season, and it doesn't appear the Mets will feature an elite defensive team anytime soon -- which is fine, so long as they mash at the plate. That hasn't always been the case in the past.
Do you have a dark-horse prospect that not many people are talking about that could make an MLB impact this year?
-- @chaybags27 via Twitter
I mentioned this recently in our "Around the Horn" series, but keep an eye on former 29th-round Draft pick Matt Blackham. He's already 26 years old and won't be in Major League camp, but he throws hard, has struck out more than 12 batters per nine innings in the Minors and, with a strong start to the season, could move up the ladder quickly. As far as prospects go, Blackham is about as under-the-radar as they come.
Another couple of relievers to keep an eye on are Joshua Torres and Stephen Villines, both of whom will be in big league camp.
Like most teams, in order for the Mets to contend, they need to get something unexpected out of a non-roster guy, a Rule 5 pick, a rookie or player from one of the fringe trades Van Wagenen made for guys like Broxton, J.D. Davis, etc. I know this is just a guess on your part, but who do you see having the best potential to have an impact in 2019?
-- @lueck_george via Twitter
I think you just named the bulk of them. Much of what Van Wagenen did this winter is create a bench with upside. Broxton and Davis both boast significant power potential from the right side of the plate. Rule 5 Draft pitcher Kyle Dowdy throws hard and stands a good chance of making the team. Outfielder Rymer Liriano is a speedy former top prospect, and still just 27 years old. I'm not smart enough to tell you which of them will succeed with the Mets, but if you're looking for surprise contributions, look to those players and others like them.
How are the plans going for the 1969 team reunion weekend? Is the entire living roster invited? Is Tom Seaver coming?
-- @GoKnightsGo4 via Twitter
All I can tell you is that the Mets are working hard to bring in as many players from the 1969 team as possible for the June 28-30 reunion weekend. It's the centerpiece of former PR man Jay Horwitz's new role in alumni relations, and it promises to be a memorable few days at Citi Field.