Inbox: Mets' future tied to key front office hire

September 23rd, 2021

As another Mets season draws to a close, offseason questions are moving to the forefront. It figures to be another busy few months for a team growing a longstanding tradition of November upheaval.

Before that future starts to unfold, it’s time to dip back into the Inbox:

Where do we go from here?
-- @danbau76
This is actually a more straightforward answer than your open-ended question might suggest. For the fifth consecutive offseason, the Mets will engage in a high-profile job search -- this time for a president of baseball operations. It’s the same gig they sought to fill last October, before a lack of suitable candidates caused them instead to hire a lower-ranking general manager, Jared Porter. That resulted in a cascade of effects that left the Mets, once again, with Sandy Alderson atop the baseball operations hierarchy. According to sources, the goal now is for Alderson to shift his responsibilities back to the business side, which can only happen once the Mets hire a new executive.

To that end, team owner Steve Cohen appears committed to hiring someone at the top of the market, with Theo Epstein, Billy Beane and David Stearns headlining the wish list. Whether the Mets can lure those names or others away from comfortable situations remains to be seen. They certainly will try and are highly motivated to do so, following a disappointing 2021 season.

Assuming Cohen succeeds, the rest will be up to a new executive. Manager Luis Rojas’ future, the coaching staff’s future, ’s future -- these are all things the president of baseball operations will be empowered to decide. Taken in that context, it’s pretty apparent how important that hire will be.

Rojas deserves another full season as manager. True or not?
-- @BillSlocum1
This will be the first significant decision the new front office must make, and it won’t be an easy one. Rojas is well-liked and extremely well-respected in the organization, where he has worked exclusively since 2006. Nonetheless, the fan base is already mounting significant pressure for change following consecutive losing seasons. While it’s tough to predict how an unknown head of baseball ops might view Rojas, it theoretically would be easier for an outsider to shake things up than for Alderson, who has a personal relationship with the man.

As such, I suspect it will be difficult -- though not impossible -- for Rojas to survive the regime change in his current role. (If Rojas exits, he shouldn’t have trouble finding a job on a big league staff elsewhere.)

How will affect the acquisition of free agents for next season? His salary will be a factor. And how will it affect and after the seasons they've had?
-- @DemetriosBayio1

The remaining $48 million on Canó’s contract (of which New York will pay $20.25 million in both 2022 and ’23) will be an albatross regardless of whether the Mets retain or release him. But that doesn’t mean it’s a $20.25 million reduction in budget. Since buying the team in November 2020, Cohen has expressed a willingness to go over Major League Baseball’s luxury-tax threshold. This offseason, coming off a losing campaign, could give him the push he needs. (The actual competitive balance tax threshold remains unknown as MLB and the MLBPA negotiate a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.)

I suspect Canó will be back next year, though in what capacity remains to be seen. He possesses value as a left-handed pinch-hitter. He should still be able to play a reasonable second base, and Mets officials have been thinking about him as a third-base option, as well. At the latter position, Canó could potentially pair with Davis in an offensive-minded platoon.

But the Mets must decide if Canó is worth keeping around, given both the public relations sting of his PED suspension and the fact 39-year-old hitters tend not to succeed in Major League action. This answer should come relatively early in the offseason.

What do you make of McNeil, who is he as a player?
-- @littlealomar

Under the hood, McNeil remains essentially the same player he always has been, given his relatively stable walk rate, strikeout rate and average exit velocity. There’s no doubt that McNeil ran into a slew of poor batted-ball luck this season, with a BABIP that dropped from .335 to .282 entering Thursday. It’s not unusual for a player to suffer through a year-long stretch like that -- particularly one who derives so much of his value on batting average, which can be a volatile statistic.

In that sense, McNeil’s value isn’t necessarily in question. What the Mets must weigh is if they consider themselves set at second base with him as the starter, or if they believe it’s more important to upgrade at the position -- perhaps by bringing back Báez. Add it to the list of things the new president of baseball operations must decide in his first few months on the job.

Has overtaken as the top third-base prospect in the system? Is either looked at as a reason to not pursue Kris Bryant as a free agent?
-- @tossup
I’ll answer the second question first: No. Neither Vientos nor Baty is ready to step in as the starting third baseman on Opening Day 2022, whereas Bryant (or another free agent) could. The Mets, who are very much in win-now mode, won’t shy away from a move just because it might block a prominent prospect; if they subscribed to that philosophy, they never would have signed to an 11-year extension with waiting in the wings.

As for the comparison, it’s worth noting that Baty and Vientos are the same age (21), despite being drafted out of high school two years apart. Both possess significant raw power. Both gained a bit of defensive versatility in left field this summer. Baty’s on-base acumen is a bit stronger at this point in his career, but both players profile as legitimate big league hitters. Right now, Vientos, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Mets' No. 6 prospect, has a slightly longer track record of success in the upper Minors, so he’s more likely to make an MLB impact first -- perhaps as soon as next summer. But that could change quickly if Baty, the Mets' No. 2 prospect, breaks out in 2022.

If both hit enough to force their way into the Majors, the Mets will find places for them to play.