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Inbox: How does McNeil fit into Mets' plans?

Beat reporter Anthony DiComo answers fans' questions
December 5, 2018

This is my ninth offseason on the Mets beat. I've never covered one quite like this.The Hot Stove sparked barely a month ago, and already the Mets have traded for an eight-time All-Star and perhaps the best closer in the game; dealt away a top-six Draft pick and two of

This is my ninth offseason on the Mets beat. I've never covered one quite like this.
The Hot Stove sparked barely a month ago, and already the Mets have traded for an eight-time All-Star and perhaps the best closer in the game; dealt away a top-six Draft pick and two of their top four prospects; been linked to some of the best players on both the free-agent and trade markets; non-tendered a fan favorite; at least considered trading away one front-line starting pitcher and at least considered acquiring another.
Hot Stove junkies can thank new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen for all that. And with the Winter Meetings now less than a week away, the action is unlikely to slow. As those meetings approach, here's a look at some of the pressing issues surrounding the Mets in the wake of their trade for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz:
What are the Mets' plans for Jeff McNeil after the trade for Cano?
-- @esahc88 via Twitter

At this point, I think we must preface every answer about the Mets' offseason with, "It depends." Since Wagenen's vows to be aggressive clearly were more than mere platitudes, we have to assume his predictions of an active offseason are sincere. The infield in place today may not be the infield on Opening Day. I wouldn't even be shocked if the Mets trade McNeil.
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Disclaimers aside, there's still room for McNeil to play. At first base, the Mets will undoubtedly consider keeping Peter Alonso in the Minors for a couple of weeks to ensure an extra year of service time. (Though Mets officials would never say that out loud, it's become standard operating procedure throughout the league.) While McNeil hasn't played first base very often over the years, manager Mickey Callaway has already indicated a willingness to see what he looks like there.

At second base, Cano is 36 years old and -- despite what he said at his introductory press conference Tuesday -- unlikely to play in 150-plus games. There will be opportunities for McNeil there. At third, Todd Frazier is coming off a year in which he hit .213 with a .693 OPS and twice landed on the disabled list. I doubt the Mets will simply hand Frazier's job to someone else before the season begins, but they'll at least allow McNeil to steal reps at that position. (When asked specifically on SNY about the possibility of starting McNeil over Frazier at third base next season, Callaway responded: "We still have to talk through that further.")
If nothing else, those options could allow McNeil to start several times per week early in the season. How it all shakes out remains to be seen, but this much is clear: the Mets wouldn't have insisted on keeping McNeil away from Seattle if their only plans were to stash him on the bench.
What will the team do to address being so overly left-handed? Only catcher and center field remain as holes in the lineup.
-- @dancohenn via Twitter

Yoenis Cespedes can't return to the lineup soon enough, eh? (More on that in a bit.) Without Cespedes in the fold, the Mets are looking at a top of the order featuring Cano, Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto, all of whom are left-handed. McNeil and Dominic Smith are lefty hitters as well.
It's no secret that the Mets intend to do something about that, though the solution could take many forms. Late Tuesday, Van Wagenen said on MLB Network Radio that he has been in touch with the agent for A.J. Pollock, widely considered the top right-handed-hitting outfielder on the market. Although Pollock comes complete with durability issues, he would fit snugly on the Mets' roster, allowing Nimmo and Conforto to start at the corners.

Tuesday's other hot rumor involved J.T. Realmuto, an All-Star catcher who just so happens to be right-handed. Though acquiring him would be more difficult than signing Pollock, perhaps costing the Mets a big league regular in exchange, Realmuto would also fill an obvious hole.
No matter what happens, the Mets know right-handed help is on the horizon. Alonso should be an option by the middle of April and Cespedes could return by …
What is Cespedes' timetable to return and what are Mets realistically looking to get from him?
-- @Ciano516 via Twitter

While the Mets aren't playing the timetable game with Cespedes, who is recovering from surgery on both heels, multiple sources have cautioned that his return may not happen until around the All-Star break. Anything before June appears to be a pipe dream. Cespedes has indicated that he won't be able to start baseball activities until late February, and he won't even attempt running full-speed until some time after that. Factor in additional time to get his body, swing and timing in shape, and midsummer seems about right.
The good news is that once Cespedes returns, the Mets are optimistic he'll be the Cespedes of old; that was the whole point of having surgery on both heels. Even entering his age-33 season, Cespedes is probably still the Mets' best power threat if healthy.
If the Mets go out and get another top-end starter like Corey Kluber, what are the chances they keep Noah Syndergaard in the rotation? Or is that a move they'd only make if they were also trading Thor?
-- @Mancah_38 via Twitter

Van Wagenen was clear Tuesday that he would need to be blown away to consider dealing Syndergaard. Later in the day, he told MLB Network that "if we had the opportunity to add another elite starting pitcher, we would do so with the mindset that we would be adding, not subtracting from our rotation."
From where I'm sitting, it's difficult to envision the Mets offering enough to land Kluber, a two-time American League Cy Young Award winner who would likely require a prospect haul greater than what the Mets just gave up for Cano and Diaz. Van Wagenen himself referred to adding an ace as only a "dream."
But if it does happen, Syndergaard isn't likely to be a casualty of that move.
Can you see a scenario where Travis d'Arnaud is the Opening Day catcher?
-- @Grossed_Out via Twitter

Absolutely. I do believe the Mets' interest in Realmuto is genuine, but I also believe there's a decent chance they come up short in their pursuit. I'm not convinced Van Wagenen will target Yasmani Grandal or Wilson Ramos in free agency -- at least not as aggressively as he has pursued other players. If the Mets acquire defensive-minded Martin Maldonado instead, it's entirely feasible he could split time with d'Arnaud.

So yes, my sense is that the Mets tendered d'Arnaud a contract believing he might be the Opening Day starter. If they wind up upgrading over the next two months, they'll figure out a new role for d'Arnaud at that time.
Why aren't the Mets being aggressive with the large number of free-agent relief pitchers available? They were projected at very affordable rates.
-- @Philip_Fermano via Twitter

Simply because that market hasn't developed yet. Most teams, the Mets included, focus more on trades than free agents early in the offseason. With the Winter Meetings now coming into view, the dynamic tends to shift. Last year's Meetings saw a run on relief pitchers and this year's may be no different. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Mets make a bullpen signing in Las Vegas.
What are our chances at signing Bryce Harper? Do you think it's possible?
-- @Mano530 via Twitter

It's possible but unlikely. While the Mets appear willing to increase their payroll this winter, they have too many needs to allocate so much of their budget on one player. But if they wind up trading, say, Nimmo for Realmuto, leaving themselves dangerously thin in the outfield, they'd have to at least consider pursuing Harper.
• Latest Harper free-agent rumors
What's the status of Zack Wheeler? One year left before free agency, are they going to extend him, trade him or let him walk?
-- @DustinLGM via Twitter

At a charity event last week, Wheeler said the Mets hadn't engaged him on any extension talks, which isn't a surprise. They haven't seriously engaged Jacob deGrom, either; those conversations tend to take place in January, within the context of arbitration settlements.
As far as Wheeler specifically, the Mets aren't likely to gamble on his health after one good season. If healthy, he'll be a key member of their rotation this year for as long as they are in contention. If they fall out of the race, he'll become a coveted trade chip. Either way, the Mets are almost certain to allow Wheeler to explore free agency next offseason.

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.