SAN DIEGO — The thing about the winter meetings is that at almost any hour of the day, all hell can break loose.
Baseball’s annual industry convention, which this year is in San Diego from Sunday through Thursday, is a breeding ground for productivity and creativity and potentially chaos, even if that doesn’t always manifest itself in actual transactions. The inner circle of every major-league front office — and lots of underlings — plus virtually every player agent and even a handful of players descend on one location for five days, making this the main event of the offseason.
For the Mets, the agenda seems simple: Fill the holes on the pitching staff — one in the rotation, at least one in the bullpen — and maybe add a defensively talented backup catcher. But you only need to look at general manager Brodie Van Wagenen’s early track record of pursuing the unexpected, such as last year’s Edwin Diaz/Robinson Cano trade or last summer’s acquisition of Marcus Stroman, to know the next few days might not be so straightforward.
Hanging over it all is the Wilpon family’s pending sale of a majority stake of the Mets to hedge-fund billionaire Steve Cohen. Cohen, if the deal is finalized, is expected to bring major change to the organization, notably in the form of increased spending and targeting of top free agents. As one person who knows Cohen put it this past week: “Stevie gets what he wants.” But with the sale still being negotiated and Cohen still limited to minority owner, it seems that looming paradigm shift won’t influence the goings-on at the winter meetings.
And so the Mets’ pitching solutions may be more modest — such as the addition of Jake Marisnick, the centerfielder acquired via trade with the Astros this past week, who is slated to make about $3 million via arbitration.
On the starting-pitching front, the Mets seem comfortable adding a back-end type of arm to replace Zack Wheeler, who agreed to join the Phillies for five years and $118 million. The Mets reportedly are interested in free-agent righthander Rick Porcello, who has a 4.79 ERA in three seasons since winning the American League Cy Young Award.
In the bullpen, the Mets already re-signed reliever Brad Brach, who had a 3.68 ERA in 16 games for them last season, to a one-year contract for $850,000. Many relievers remain available on the open market, including Dellin Betances, Blake Treinen, Sergio Romo, Steve Cishek, Joe Smith, David Phelps and Luis Avilan.
But for the budget-conscious Mets, the trade route should not be discounted. Last month, while discussing his willingness to trade more prospects, Van Wagenen mentioned — unsolicited — potentially dealing pre-arbitration players from the major-league roster. The Mets have two players who fit that profile and who seem not to be locked into 2020 roles: first baseman/leftfielder Dominic Smith and third baseman/leftfielder J.D. Davis.
Davis is penciled in to compete for time at third with McNeil and Jed Lowrie and time in leftfield with Smith, McNeil, Brandon Nimmo and an if-healthy Yoenis Cespedes.
Smith has even less of a path to regular playing time, with Pete Alonso at first and the group above in left. After a 2019 season in which he had a .282/.355/.525 slash line while trying to learn the outfield and becoming a welcomed clubhouse presence, Smith’s trade value is much higher now than it was a year ago.
The baseball environment in which the Mets are operating suggests they will at least do something — if not check off every box on their to-do list — this week. Compared to recent offseasons, teams are signing free agents and making changes at a greater pace, turning the hot-stove season into a more applicable name again.
That includes the NL East. The Braves have been as active as any team in baseball, the Phillies added Wheeler and even the Marlins upgraded with Jonathan Villar and Jesus Aguilar. The World Series champion Nationals have been quiet aside from retaining Howie Kendrick, but they still are talking to their own high-profile free agents, Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg.
The Mets’ offseason haul — at this relatively early juncture — is Marisnick and Brach (plus new manager Carlos Beltran). But now it’s time for the winter meetings, where anything can happen.