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Mets offseason FAQ: Who stays, goes, arrives?

Wheeler eyes free agency; Thor among nine on arbitration-eligible list
October 4, 2019

NEW YORK -- Welcome to the offseason. A turbulent summer for the Mets is about to 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

NEW YORK -- Welcome to the offseason.

A turbulent summer for the Mets is about to 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 order of prominence: starting pitcher Zack Wheeler, third baseman Todd Frazier, outfielder Juan Lagares, reliever Luis Avilán and catcher Rene Rivera can become free agents next month. All but Frazier stand at least some chance of returning.

Are any of them likely to receive qualifying offers, and what is the deadline for that?

Wheeler will probably receive a qualifying offer, given the likelihood he’ll turn it down; he can probably command a more lucrative deal as a free agent, with offers of at least four years, and he knows it. The Mets will have until 5 p.m. of the fifth day after the World Series to make their decision. If they extend Wheeler a qualifying offer, he’ll have 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 Draft -- the equivalent of a late second-round Draft pick.

The industry assumption is that the Mets will extend Wheeler a qualifying offer and that he will reject it, thereby entering free agency. That would not preclude him from returning to the Mets, who figure to have at least some level of interest in a reunion.

Which players have contract options for 2020?

Reliever Brad Brach is the only Met with a 2020 contract option, and it’s a relatively complicated one. The option is worth $5 million, but if the Mets reject it, Brach can trigger a $1.35 million player option. That seems like a real possibility for Brach, a New Jersey native who enjoyed modest success after coming to the Mets in August. Both sides must make their decisions within five days of the final World Series game.

Which Mets are eligible for salary arbitration?

Marcus Stroman, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Michael Conforto, Diaz, Seth Lugo, Brandon Nimmo, Robert Gsellman and Joe Panik 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.

Which of those are non-tender candidates?

Realistically, only Panik, who makes sense as a roster fit but not at a raise over the $3.8 million he made this season. The Mets could try to negotiate a smaller deal for Panik -- a New York native who enjoyed playing close to home -- to return.

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 on Nov. 4, 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 since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.