NEW YORK -- Although Brodie Van Wagenen may have been new to the Mets’ general manager job at last year’s Winter Meetings, he already had a significant splash -- Edwin Díaz and Robinson Canó, via a seven-player trade -- in his past. At a time when the pace of deals around baseball was slow, Van Wagenen made it clear that he intended to be aggressive.
Flash forward a year and the Mets are only just beginning to take part in a relatively frisky free-agent market. That doesn’t mean they intend to stay quiet; to the contrary, the Mets came alive this week with a trade for Jake Marisnick and a signing of Brad Brach, just in time for the Winter Meetings to become a forum for additional moves.
Given the extent to which the division-rival Braves and Phillies have already improved their clubs, the Mets have incentive to continue doing the same. Here’s a look at their needs and roster situation heading into the Meetings, which begin on Monday in San Diego:
Club needs: The Mets continue to look for a starting pitcher to replace Zack Wheeler, as well as additional relief help. They don’t necessarily feel they have to fill both holes; Van Wagenen could bolster the relief corps and move Seth Lugo into the rotation, for example, or he could acquire enough starting depth to leave both Lugo and Robert Gsellman in the bullpen. In either case, the Mets will explore both markets.
Whom might they trade? First baseman Dominic Smith and outfielder J.D. Davis make the most sense, in that order of likelihood. Smith is completely blocked by Pete Alonso at first base and, while he’s working to improve his outfield defense, he could provide more value to teams with available playing time at first. Davis was an offensive force last season, posting an .895 OPS in 453 plate appearances. But he doesn’t have an obvious defensive home and because of that, the Mets may look to sell high on him in exchange for pitching help.
Prospects to know: After parting with Jarred Kelenic, Anthony Kay, Simeon Woods Richardson and many others over the past 13 months, the Mets don’t have much depth left at the upper levels of their farm system. They could deal pitcher David Peterson or infielder Andrés Giménez, but neither is coming off a particularly strong season. From one perspective, the Mets have incentive to hoard their remaining prospect capital. From another, Van Wagenen doesn’t often shy away from a deal, and he doesn’t seem to fear the idea of thinning the system.
Rule 5 Draft: With a full 40-man roster, the Mets won’t be eligible to select anyone unless they make another trade before the Rule 5 Draft. While it’s possible they could lose a prospect like infielder Shervyen Newton to a rebuilding team, that’s unlikely given how much development Newton still needs. As such, the Rule 5 Draft probably won’t affect the Mets much.
Payroll summary: The industry expectation is that the Mets won’t add more than $10-20 million in payroll this winter. Dumping salaries like those of Jed Lowrie or Jeurys Familia might give them more flexibility, but doing so would not be particularly easy. The Mets’ ownership situation is also in flux, with billionaire Steve Cohen negotiating a greater stake in the team. That probably won’t affect what the Mets spend this offseason, but it’s something to consider if and when Cohen and the Wilpons reach agreement.
One question: How creative will Van Wagenen get? Assuming he isn’t able to spend much cash, the GM must find alternative avenues to improve the team. He tried last year with a blockbuster trade for Canó and Díaz, which didn’t work out quite as he envisioned. Could Van Wagenen double down with a similar trade this winter? Might he instead play it safe, pursuing non-tenders and reclamation projects? The possibilities for the Mets aren’t exactly endless, but they’re certainly varied.