After Max, what's next on the Mets' to-do list?

November 30th, 2021

NEW YORK -- The Mets’ franchise-changing agreement with on Monday moved the team significantly closer to its goal of World Series contention in 2022, but there’s still plenty left to do. Heading into the offseason, the Mets expected to be busy. And while they have been precisely that, they have yet to accomplish everything on their list.

Here’s a look at where the Mets stand following the pending acquisition of Scherzer:

What does the Mets’ rotation look like with Scherzer in it?
As currently constituted, New York is working with the following starting five:

1. Jacob deGrom
2. Max Scherzer
3. Carlos Carrasco
4. Taijuan Walker
5. Tylor Megill/David Peterson

But that won’t necessarily be the rotation with which the Mets break camp in February. It’s entirely possible the team will acquire another starting pitcher who could push Megill and Peterson either to the bullpen or Triple-A Syracuse. The Mets understand they still need rotation depth, particularly considering the recent injury histories of deGrom, Scherzer and Carrasco. This rotation probably has enough upside to compete with any team in baseball, but it requires more depth to fortify against injuries.

What else might the Mets pursue this winter?
Bullpen help is the obvious top remaining priority -- particularly a left-hander to replace Aaron Loup, who went to the Angels on a two-year, $17 million contract. The top lefty available is probably Andrew Chafin, who produced a 1.83 ERA over 68 2/3 innings for the Cubs and A’s last year, holding same-sided hitters to a .170 average. But as of Monday afternoon, the Mets had not had serious talks with Chafin, according to a source.

Another option is Brad Hand, whom the Mets pursued multiple times before finally landing him in a waiver claim last September. Working with Mets pitching coach Jeremy Hefner, Hand performed well in a small sample after joining the Mets, with a 2.70 ERA and 14 strikeouts over 13 1/3 innings. If you’re going to bet on a bullpen acquisition, this is a pretty good place to start.

Other possibilities include Jake Diekman, who featured reverse platoon splits last year but managed to strike out 83 batters in 60 2/3 innings, and Daniel Norris, whose ugly ERA (6.16 in 2021) masked the fact that he was generally effective against left-handed hitters. Veteran closer Sean Doolittle is available, as is old friend Chasen Shreve, though the latter might not be eager to return to the Mets after they non-tendered him last winter. Then there is the ageless Tony Watson, who held lefties to a .195 average during his age-36 season.

The Mets also can -- and probably will -- add right-handed bullpen help, but with zero lefties currently in their bullpen, they would do well to acquire at least one.

What about Javier Báez or Kris Bryant?
New York’s outfield is likely set at this point with Brandon Nimmo, Starling Marte and Mark Canha in some alignment, and the odds of the infield changing reduced this week as Báez neared a deal with the Tigers. Bryant, meanwhile, always seemed less possible considering how much the former MVP would cost to bring aboard. While Steve Cohen may have the biggest wallet in baseball, he doesn’t want to torch the Mets’ payroll flexibility in future seasons. To that end …

Is there payroll space for all of this?
Money does not seem to be much of an object for Cohen, MLB’s richest owner. In the past, Cohen has said that if the Mets are going to go past the league’s luxury-tax threshold, they would do so by a significant margin. And while no one knows where the CBT threshold will end up following collective bargaining agreement negotiations, the Mets are already looking at a payroll exceeding $240 million. That's currently the largest payroll in MLB, and it stands a good chance of remaining so on Opening Day, which would mark the first time the Mets have led the league in that department since 1989.

Long-term, like all teams, the Mets don’t want to find themselves in a situation where they’re annually exceeding the tax. But most of the large contracts on their books expire after 2023, so the Mets could conceivably exceed the tax in a big way for one or two years before dipping back below it longer-term.

What about a manager?
Team president Sandy Alderson and general manager Billy Eppler will continue monitoring managerial candidates, but there hasn’t been a ton of movement on that front, simply because the Mets have been so busy negotiating with free agents. Expect the managerial interview process to pick up speed in early December, with a resolution perhaps before the holidays. That’s a rough guesstimate; there’s no hard-and-fast timeline at play here.