It was a productive Black Friday for owner Steve Cohen and the New York Mets. In the span of eight hours or so the Mets signed three significant free agents -- Mark Canha, Eduardo Escobar, and Starling Marte -- for a combined $124.5 million. Canha and Escobar each received two-year deals. Marte landed a four-year pact. All three were ranked as top 50 free agents.
One day and three signings does not make an offseason, and the Mets still have a lot of work to do before spring training. A surprising amount, really. They likely aren't close to done following a season that saw them spend 114 days in first place yet finish 77-85. They were the first team in history to spend that many days in first place and still finish under .500.
What's next for the Mets following their Black Friday free agent deals? Let's take a look.
1. Add to the rotationJacob deGrom
This is now priority No. 1 and 2. Realistically, the Mets need two starting pitchers, not one, and ideally they would be high-end starters who wouldn't look out of place starting a postseason game. This is the current state of New York's rotation depth:RHP Jacob deGrom (did not pitch after July 7 because of numerous injuries)RHP Taijuan Walker (allowed 53 runs in 64 1/3 innings in the second half)RHP Carlos Carrasco (allowed 39 runs in 53 2/3 innings around numerous injuries)RHP Tylor Megill (allowed 38 runs in 54 1/3 innings in his final 11 starts)LHP David Peterson (did not pitch after June 30 because of a foot injury)RHP Trevor Williams (spent much of 2021 either in Triple-A or the bullpen)RHP Jordan Yamamoto (missed most of the year with a shoulder issue)LHP Thomas Szapucki (did not pitch after July 11 because of a nerve issue)
LHP Joey Lucchesi (had Tommy John surgery in June and is likely to miss 2022)
There are red flags abound, even with the great deGrom. It is no surprise then that the Mets are seeking multiple starting pitchers this offseason and are looking at the top of the market, according to MLB Network's Jon Heyman and the New York Post's Joel Sherman. Free agents Kevin Gausman, Jon Gray, Robbie Ray, and Max Scherzer are all on their list.
The fact Scherzer would not accept a trade to the Mets at the deadline could be an obstacle, but a) why would he want to go to the Mets at the deadline when the contending Dodgers wanted him too?, and b) money has a way of changing minds. If Scherzer still doesn't want to join the Mets as a free agent, then fine, but the Mets should make him turn down a lot of money first.
As for the trade market, the Athletics are expected to tear things down and they have three arbitration-eligible starters to peddle in Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea, and Frankie Montas. The Reds are willing to trade Sonny Gray (but not Luis Castillo or Tyler Mahle), though Gray's previous stint in New York didn't go well, which may give the Mets pause. John Means is said to be available too.
Point is, the Mets need multiple starting pitchers and in a perfect world they would be pitchers they could reasonably pencil in for 30 or so starts given the questions elsewhere in the rotation. Durability is difficult to predict, especially with pitchers, though there are some guys you can more reasonably count on to give innings than others. The Mets need a few of them.
2. Figure out the Canó situation
After serving a 162-game performance-enhancing drug suspension in 2021, Robinson Canó has been reinstated from the restricted list and is set to rejoin the Mets in 2022. The Mets owe the just-turned 39-year-old $20.25 million in 2022 and again in 2023. Canó went 7 for 24 (.292) in six winter ball games in the Dominican Republic this month before going down with a minor back issue.
When Canó last played in 2020, he was very effective, hitting .315/.352/.544 with 10 homers in 49 games in the shortened season. His range at second base was greatly diminished, however, and 39-year-old ballplayers have been known to decline suddenly and drastically. What do the Mets have in Canó right now? I don't think anyone knows the answer to that. He's a mystery.
Realistically, the Mets have three options with Canó:Keep him and hope he produces next year, in either a full-time or part-time role.Eat the $40.5 million they owe him from 2022-23 and simply release him.Trade him, likely by eating money and/or attaching a prospect(s).
No. 3 seems very unlikely. We've seen teams attach prospects to an unwanted player to dump his salary plenty of times over the years, though Canó's money is significant. We're not talking about a player with, say, one year and $8 million remaining on his contract like Adam Ottavino, who the Yankees salary dumped on the Red Sox last year.
One potential x-factor with a trade is the upcoming collective bargaining agreement, which could include a salary floor (MLB has proposed a $100 million floor). I wouldn't call a salary floor likely, but it is possible, and in that case Canó could have value to a team that needs to get to the floor. It's a long shot, though it's not completely impossible either.
No. 2 would be the cleanest break and possibly the best baseball move. Canó complicates the roster with no guarantee of being productive. He's a sunk cost. The Mets owe him the money no matter what, so they could either dump him and focus on building the best possible roster, or keep him and potentially make things worse by trying to squeeze something out of that money.
No. 1 has its pros and cons. Pro: Canó could return and mash, and with the upcoming collective bargaining agreement expected to bring the universal DH, it would give the Mets an extra lineup spot to play with. Con: Canó could be completely toast at this point, in which case the Mets are tying up a roster spot on an player with no offensive or defensive value.
One way or another, the Mets have to figure out what they're doing with Canó next season. My sense is most Mets fans do not want him back and I don't think the Mets themselves want him back either. In that case, a release would be in order. At the same time, seeing whether Canó has anything left as a DH in 2022 would be defensible. It's quite the pickle.
3. Add to the bullpen
Particularly a left-hander. The Mets have only three lefty pitchers on the 40-man roster and all three are starters who finished 2021 injured: Lucchesi, Peterson, and Szapucki. Ace lefty reliever Aaron Loup signed with the Angels recently, leaving the Mets without a southpaw reliever in a division that features Juan Soto and Bryce Harper (plus potentially Freddie Freeman as well).
As things stands, New York's bullpen looks like this:
Díaz, Lugo, and May (and Castro) are a pretty strong end-game unit. The middle relief is a little sketchy and the Mets can improve there. Mostly though, the Mets need an ace lefty reliever to combat the Sotos and Harpers (and Freemans), and free agency offers plenty: Andrew Chafin, Jake Diekman, Sean Doolittle, Andrew Miller, on and on it goes.
My suggestion: Brooks Raley, most recently of the Astros. Since returning from Korea two years ago Raley has held lefty hitters to a .173/.242/.218 line with a 40.5 percent strikeout rate. He holds his own against righties, he's posted the lowest average exit velocity allowed in baseball the last two years (both years, by a lot), and he has elite spin rates even after the foreign substance crackdown.
Either way, the Mets have a clear need for a left-handed reliever, and bullpen depth in general. I suggest throwing money at the problem rather than trading prospects for relievers given their inherent volatility. Money is the Mets' greatest resource. Make a bad signing and who cares? It's just money. But trade a prospect for a reliever who doesn't work and it's a tougher pill to swallow.
4. Figure out the bench
Following the Black Friday signings the Mets are in the enviable position of having more good players than starting lineup spots. If the season started today, which is most certainly does not, this would be their position player group (focus on the names, not so much the batting order as it's laid out):CF Starling MarteRF Brandon NimmoSS Francisco Lindor1B Pete Alonso2B Robinson Canó3B Eduardo EscobarLF Mark CanhaC James McCann
That puts JD Davis, Luis Guillorme, Jeff McNeil, and Dominic Smith on the bench alongside backup catcher Tomás Nido. All except Guillorme are in their arbitration years (MLB Trade Rumors projects the other four to make a combined $10.4 million in 2022) and on one hand, you're the Mets, who cares how much the bench costs? On the other, almost no team has a bench that expensive.
Depth is important and having Davis and McNeil and Smith available as bench options would be a luxury, plus the universal DH will help create at-bats for everyone. At the same time, there's an obvious opportunity to use one or more of these players as a trade chip to address other needs. Being a bench player is hard and making career regulars bench guys doesn't always go smoothly.
McNeil would seem to have the most trade value of the group given his career to date and versatility, though his place with the team is likely tied to the Canó decision. Release Canó and McNeil is the second baseman. Problem solved. Smith was great in 2020 and has pedigree as a former top prospect. Davis has been productive at times and offers a little versatility. They all have their pluses.
It feels like one of these guys is going to be playing elsewhere in 2022. I don't know who and I don't know where, and I guess that will depend on what kind of trade offers the Mets receive. An crosstown trade is unlikely but Smith would fit well with the Yankees. Davis would help the Mariners. McNeil could fit just about anywhere, though I'd be all over him if I were the Blue Jays.
The Black Friday signings pushed New York's luxury tax payroll north of $223 million according to Cot's Baseball Contracts, and that's before the Mets add any pitching. It's entirely possible the Mets will run a $280 million or so payroll in 2022, in which case great, keep everyone. These "too many good players" roster issues have a way of working themselves out.
That said, the current bench is expensive and an area the Mets can trim (or reallocate) payroll, and it can be done productively. Davis, McNeil, and Smith all have trade value and could be used to import other players who better fit the roster. I'm not sure what the right answer or the best course of action is here. It's something the Mets will have to figure out at some point.
5. Hire a manager
Oh by the way, the Mets don't have a manager. Or much of a coaching staff, for that matter. After the club parted ways with former manager Luis Rojas last month, they reassigned several coaches and gave others permission to seek jobs elsewhere. The club brought back pitching coach Hefner and so far that's it. They essentially have to build an entire coaching staff.
The Mets are the only team in baseball without a manager at the moment and you can view that as a blessing (they have their pick of the available candidates) or a curse (most of the best candidates have been hired already). I think it's the former because there are more qualified managerial candidates than manager jobs. Finding good candidates can be tough, but they're out there.
My suggestion: Buck Showalter. The Mets badly need an adult in the room and their whole has been less than the sum of the parts the last few years. Showalter is an instant respect guy with experience (20 years as an MLB manager), familiarity with the New York market (Yankees manager from 1992-95), and drive (still looking for his first World Series title). He fits their needs well.
The collective bargaining agreement expires at 11:59 p.m. ET on Dec. 1 and all signs point to the owners locking out the players at that point. Once that happens, transactions involving 40-man roster players will come to a halt. The Mets will still be able to hire a manager and coaches, however. No dealings with the MLBPA to worry about there. A manager could be the team's next big signing.