NEW YORK -- A disappointing season ended on a high note Sunday for the Mets, whose second-half surge provided optimism that they can be far more competitive in 2019. But the team is also realistic about its chances. Outside of a rotation that led the Majors in second-half ERA, the Mets have plenty of issues to solve before Spring Training.
That begins with the front office, which is about to install a new general manager for the first time in eight years. Whom the Mets choose rates as one of their five most pressing offseason questions:
1. Who's in charge?
By the start of November, the Mets hope to have hired a general manager to replace Sandy Alderson, who took an indefinite leave of absence over the summer. They are casting a wide net in their search, trying to find the right blend of traditional scouting and analytical acumen.
When asked recently about the structure of the 2019 Mets, team officials have consistently deferred to the lack of leadership, saying they will know more once a new GM is in place. As recently as Sunday, chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon said he could not answer roster questions until he hires a GM. The Mets have incentive, then, to make a move as soon as possible.
The new GM will determine the fate of executives John Ricco, J.P. Ricciardi and Omar Minaya, as well as that of manager Mickey Callaway and his coaching staff. While Wilpon has made it clear that his preference is for all those people to stay, he understands any incoming GM will have ideas of their own.
2. What shape will the bullpen take?
There's no way around it: the Mets have relief issues. The team's best returning arm, Seth Lugo, still sees himself as a starting pitcher. The other two pitchers all but guaranteed spots in next year's bullpen are Robert Gsellman, who performed unevenly in 2018, and Anthony Swarzak, who was hurt for much of the summer.
Acquiring relief help will be the Mets' top priority this winter, but it remains to be seen how unshackled they will be in their spending. One thing is clear: With Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Miller, Zach Britton, Cody Allen, Jeurys Familia and Player Page for David Robertson all due to become free agents, plenty of top-market inventory is available.
3. Who's catching?
Once again, the Mets head into the winter with no obvious long-term solution at catcher. Kevin Plawecki flashed glimpses of excellence at times, but he ended the season with a .685 OPS. Travis d'Arnaud is recovering from Tommy John surgery and has been reticent to talk about his timeline; he isn't likely to be back by Opening Day. No one at the top levels of the Minors has distinguished himself.
Should the Mets decide to go shopping, veterans Wilson Ramos and Yasmani Grandal will doubtless draw their attention. But with a paucity of quality catching around the league, the Mets will have plenty of competition -- and they haven't won many free-agent bidding wars in recent winters.
4. How quickly will Yoenis Cespedes recover?
Scheduled to undergo the second of two heel surgeries on Oct. 29, Cespedes will have a better idea then about his recovery timetable. Opening Day seems like a stretch for Cespedes, whose absence could certainly linger into midsummer. Even once Cespedes returns, the Mets won't know right away if the soon-to-be 33-year-old will ever be a 30-homer threat again.
The Mets have enough outfielders to cover for Cespedes, with Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto and Jay Bruce all capable of starting. But Juan Lagares is their only depth piece at this point, necessitating perhaps a bit of spending this winter.
5. Is there any chance at locking up Jacob deGrom?
The Mets have never seriously engaged deGrom in long-term contract talks. Coming off a Cy Young-caliber season and now just two years from free agency, deGrom holds more leverage than at any point in his career. Signing him would be expensive, likely requiring a nine-figure deal.
But deGrom also represents the Mets' best chance to become a relevant part of the playoff chase for years to come. An extension would be well-received by an adoring fan base, as unlikely as it may be.