The Mets face fewer questions than they did a year ago. Their needs seem clear: shortstop and leftfield.
But with a budget expected to remain in the $85 million-$95-million range, the Mets can't afford to simply buy a solution on the free-agent market. Nor can they trade for one, since any worthwhile upgrade would cost a Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard-type arm.
In short, don't expect a splash.
Based on conversations with team insiders, rival executives and talent evaluators around the league, here are five questions facing the Mets this offseason.
They all relate to answering just one:
How will the Mets work around their constraints?
Where can they make what general manager Sandy Alderson called "net-net" improvements?
That sounds like Sandy Speak for trying to upgrade with multiple smaller pieces as opposed to making one giant splash. For example, signing somebody such as Michael Cuddyer to play leftfield will likely prove too costly. But the Mets could acquire a platoon partner who could then be paired with a player already on the roster, such as Kirk Nieuwenhuis or Matt den Dekker. A righthanded corner outfielder could make a lot of sense, particularly one who could spell Lucas Duda at first against tough lefties.
What could they get for their veteran arms?
The Mets don't seem enamored with the free-agent class. Nor do they seem eager to bid high on Cuban talent. For all his flaws, second baseman Daniel Murphy remains a steady offensive producer as offense in all forms becomes harder to find. Yes, the Mets would move him, but only in the right scenario. So for trade chips, that leaves their veteran arms -- Bartolo Colon, Dillon Gee and Jonathon Niese, three relatively affordable, big league-quality arms who could bring back some value if they're packaged properly.
How well do the Mets scout and evaluate?
Sharp evaluation will be doubly important, given the hand the Mets will play this winter. This goes for their own players and those who may be undervalued or redundant on other rosters, since these are the types of pieces they're more likely to acquire in trades involving Colon, Gee and Niese. Creativity begins with solid and realistic information about what they already have in-house. For example, has Wilmer Flores shown enough that he could be part of a solution at shortstop? Being right is critical since the Mets likely won't plunk down cash to bring in free agents such as J.J. Hardy or Asdrubal Cabrera.
How much can the Mets depend on improvement from within?
The Mets won 79 games. Alderson wants them to win 10-12 more next season, or roughly 90. Sound familiar? But with the second wild card, getting even halfway to 10-12 would still meet the standard the Mets have set for themselves, a variation of the term "playoff contenders." Not a lock, mind you, but contenders. Conceivably, the Mets could do that by bringing back essentially the same team. But they must bank on minimal regression from deGrom, Duda, Travis d'Arnaud and Juan Lagares, not to mention bounce-backs from David Wright and Curtis Granderson.
What's a reasonable expectation for Matt Harvey?
The Mets have floated the idea of building in two-week, in-season rest periods for all of their starting pitchers. Such a measure would impact Harvey in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. Another factor: Pitchers coming off the long period of recovery time often complain about command issues. Harvey's ascent in 2013 was based primarily on command. Given these factors, pitching depth remains a priority, and the Mets must choose wisely when it comes to which veteran arms they'd part with in a deal.