Mets to iron out extensions, 5th starter, 'pen

March 24th, 2021

One week remains until Opening Day. As the Mets approached their final Spring Training off-day on Thursday, they were left with seven-plus days to figure out their roster mix and more, with plenty of questions still front-of-mind.

Here are the three most pressing as the Mets enter their final stretch before the regular season.

Will the Mets complete extensions with two of their stars?

Francisco Lindor, who has been on a tear at the plate, has made it clear that he won’t negotiate past March. If he hasn’t agreed to a new deal by Opening Day, he will play out the season and enter free agency alongside premium shortstops Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Javier Báez and Trevor Story, if none of those All-Stars agree to extensions.

Earlier this month, Lindor confirmed that he’s talking to the Mets, but he was reticent to discuss the details, as was Michael Conforto, who also confirmed that talks are ongoing.

“At this point, I’m pretty much just focused on baseball,” Conforto said. “I’m not really interested in speaking about the contract stuff. It’s between me, my family, my agent and the team.”

Mets president Sandy Alderson did not respond to a message on Wednesday inquiring about the state of the negotiations, but he’s been open in saying he would like to lock up both players if possible. Alderson also mentioned Noah Syndergaard as a potential extension candidate, but the pitcher -- who is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery -- has not spoken publicly in more than a year. Another pending free agent, Marcus Stroman, hasn’t discussed contract matters; he said he’s fine with exploring the open market next winter.

That leaves Lindor and Conforto as the two players worth watching on the extension front. The Mets should have answers on both by this time next week.

Who will be the fifth starter?

Manager Luis Rojas has all but said outright that David Peterson will be the fourth starter behind Jacob deGrom, Stroman and Taijuan Walker, leaving one available rotation slot.

Until Wednesday, the Mets were deciding between Joey Lucchesi and Jordan Yamamoto for that role, but they optioned Yamamoto (as well as fringe candidate Corey Oswalt) to Triple-A Syracuse following Wednesday’s 3-0 loss to the Cardinals. In so doing, they effectively penciled Lucchesi in as their fifth starter, with the caveat that injuries can still change the situation over the next week.

Neither Lucchesi nor Yamamoto pitched much last season, forcing the Mets to rely on spring performances more than they usually do. They evaluated both players in Grapefruit League games, during which Yamamoto has posted a 1.08 ERA and Lucchesi has produced a 3.24 mark. They also watched the pair closely on the back fields, using cameras, Trackman data and in-person scouting to make additional reads during simulated games.

Both provide extremely different looks -- Yamamoto with a six-pitch mix that places less emphasis on his low-velocity fastball, Lucchesi with a bit more power from a funky left-handed delivery. Rojas talked at one point about potentially carrying both starters, “piggybacking” one after the other in a single game. He’s also discussed the possibility of using an opener in games that his fifth starter pitches. Lucchesi is now a prime candidate for that.

So even though the Mets appear to have made their choice, they still must figure out how best to deploy their starting five.

Who will round out the bullpen?

Given the discussion surrounding their rotation, the Mets still lack clarity on their bullpen. If Lucchesi and Yamamoto both make the team, that leaves one less spot for another pitcher.

Heading into the final week of camp, six pitchers are locks: Edwin Díaz, Trevor May, Jeurys Familia, Dellin Betances, Miguel Castro and Aaron Loup. That leaves two spots for some combination of Lucchesi, Yamamoto, Robert Gsellman, Jacob Barnes, Stephen Tarpley and Mike Montgomery. It's become increasingly likely that Barnes, who cannot be optioned to the Minors, will be included on the roster, which further tightens the situation.

One thing Rojas did make clear is that Betances, who has struggled with both his velocity and results for a second straight camp, isn’t at risk of losing his roster spot. Betances is under guaranteed contract for $6 million.

“This is a guy that, I think at this point, you’ve got to say that he’s part of our bullpen,” Rojas said. “But at the same time, we’ve just got to keep it open, knowing that there’s competition happening as well. We want to leave here with the best team to compete.”