NEW YORK -- Welcome to the offseason.
Now that the World Series has ended, a turbulent summer for the Mets can officially give way to one of the more intriguing winters in recent memory, as an 86-win New York team hopes to improve enough to become a World Series contender in 2020. Last year, first-time general manager Brodie Van Wagenen made a significant splash in trading for Robinson Canó and Edwin Díaz, which didn’t work out quite the way he envisioned. It remains to be seen whether Van Wagenen will be so bold this time around.
The offseason will also bring with it plenty of procedural deadlines and other events. Here’s a look at what’s in store for the Mets from November through January:
Which players are free agents?
In addition to Lagares and Panik, starting pitcher Zack Wheeler, third baseman Todd Frazier, relievers Luis Avilán and Donnie Hart and catcher Rene Rivera are now free agents.
Are any of them likely to receive qualifying offers, and what is the deadline for that?
The Mets extended a one-year, $17.8 million qualifying offer to Wheeler on Monday afternoon -- just ahead of the 5 p.m. ET deadline to do so. The right hander will likely decline the offer, as he would presumably receive more lucrative, multiyear offers in free agency.
Wheeler has 10 additional days to decide whether to accept. If he rejects it and signs elsewhere, the Mets will receive a compensatory pick following Competitive Balance Round B of the 2020 MLB Draft -- the equivalent of a late second-round Draft pick.
Which players have contract options for 2020?
Reliever Brad Brach has a 2020 contract option, but it’s the Cubs that are responsible for it, not the Mets. If the Cubs reject that $5 million team option, Brach can trigger a $1.35 million player option to return to Chicago. Only if both options are declined can Brach become a free agent. Outfielder Juan Lagares had a $9.5 million option that the Mets did not pick up, instead giving him a $500,000 buyout and making him a free agent.
Which Mets are eligible for salary arbitration?
Marcus Stroman, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Michael Conforto, Díaz, Seth Lugo, Brandon Nimmo and Robert Gsellman all have between three and six years of Major League service time, making them arbitration-eligible. That means they will negotiate new one-year deals with the Mets and, if they can’t agree to terms, an independent arbiter will select salaries for them. (These days, it rarely gets to that point.)
The first four players on that list will be due significant bumps in salary after contributing productive full seasons in 2019. The next four are eligible for the first time, meaning they have a chance to start making big money through the arbitration process. All told, the Mets could pay out close to $50 million in arbitration contracts this winter.
Joe Panik was also arbitration-eligible, though the Mets opted to outright him to Triple-A Syracuse instead. Panik rejected the assignment and is now a free agent.
Which of those are non-tender candidates?
With Panik gone, the Mets are unlikely to non-tender anyone.
How about contract-extension candidates?
Arbitration season takes place in January, and tends to coincide with extension talks for choice players. Conforto makes sense as a candidate, given his escalating salary, high floor and potentially untapped ceiling as a one-time All-Star, plus the fact that he has only two years remaining under team control. But Conforto’s agent, Scott Boras, has a long-established reputation for committing players to free agency. He’ll likely want to do the same with Conforto in 2021.
Another intriguing extension candidate is Pete Alonso, who is under team control for five more seasons and could have interest in extending that relationship. Extensions for pre-arbitration players such as Alonso tend to come at lower dollar amounts, guaranteeing young players immediate cash and security at the cost of future earnings potential. It remains to be seen if Alonso, who made far more in bonuses and endorsements than actual salary this season, might be curious about that sort of deal.
What kind of help do the Mets need, and will they be active in free agency?
Lots, and yes. The Mets likely need to add at least one starting pitcher, and they have to figure out a way to improve their bullpen. Free agency could provide an answer on both fronts. The Mets could also take a hard look at adding a true center fielder, with Starling Marte topping the list of available candidates.
The Mets will be on a tight budget this winter, however, looking at a payroll that will exceed their 2019 Opening Day mark before they add a single player. They’ll either need to expand that payroll somewhat significantly, find more creative ways -- i.e., trades -- to improve their roster, or both.
Which prospects must be added to the 40-man roster to avoid the Rule 5 Draft?
Four of the Mets’ Top 30 prospects, as ranked by MLB Pipeline, will be Rule 5 eligible this year: shortstop Andres Gimenez (No. 3), infielder Shervyen Newton (No. 8), left-hander Thomas Szapucki (No. 12) and right-hander Jordan Humphreys (No. 22). That doesn’t mean the Mets will add them all to their 40-man roster to protect them. Newton, for example, posted a .613 OPS as a 20-year-old this year at Class A Columbia. He’s a big name, but it’s unlikely a team would claim him in the Rule 5 Draft and keep him on a Major League roster all summer.
Gimenez is a lock to be added. Szapucki, who turned heads after returning from Tommy John surgery this year, seems to be a likely add as well. The Mets are looking at a bit of a 40-man roster crunch this season, and they will need to free up spots for at least those two in November.
What about Awards season?
The Baseball Writers’ Association of America will announce its award finalists Monday, and its winners from Nov. 11-14. Of particular note for fans of the Mets will be the National League Rookie of the Year Award announcement on Nov. 11, and the NL Cy Young Award reveal on Nov. 13. Alonso and Jacob deGrom are the presumptive favorites to win.
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.