The Mets’ season began with seemingly legitimate playoff hopes and strong words from manager Mickey Callaway.
“If we don’t do something special with the group we have in place, it’s going to be on the leadership,” Callaway said on the first day of spring training. “That’s going to be on me.”
The Mets’ season ended with Callaway preparing to watch the playoffs as a form of apparent masochism, and encouraging his players to do the same.
“We need to sit there and watch that,” Callaway said Sunday. “And let it hurt.”
Another losing season completed, the Mets’ attention turns fully to what could be a monumental winter for the franchise. They don’t have the answers yet, but here are five questions looming over the Mets at the outset of the offseason.
Who’s the boss?
The Mets need a new head of baseball operations, be it a president or a general manager or some other title. They will begin seeking permission to speak to candidates this week, and chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon and assistant GM John Ricco — passed over when the Mets hired Sandy Alderson eight years ago and not a candidate this time — will conduct first-round interviews.
The answer here is anybody’s guess, because the Mets’ preliminary search has been vast. Three names in the industry with plenty of buzz are Blue Jays executives: president/CEO Mark Shapiro, vice president of baseball operations/AGM Tony LaCava and vice president of baseball operations Ben Cherington. But the Mets don’t have a short list, so to speak, and Wilpon said Sunday they will consider nontraditional options.
Will the Mets spend big?
Put another way: Do they have any shot at the Manny Machados and Bryce Harpers of the world? For a big-market team that reasonably could fit either player onto the existing roster, the expectation should be that they at least try.
Wilpon pegged the Mets’ tendency to stay away from the highest tier of free agents to GM Sandy Alderson’s preference. If the new guy wants to make a run at Machado or Harper — or catcher Yasmani Grandal or closer Craig Kimbrel or reliever Adam Ottavino, who would all fill Mets needs — will ownership let him?
How will the Mets build a bullpen?
Of eight bullpen spots on the 2019 Opening Day roster, about three are guaranteed: Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman and Anthony Swarzak. The rest are up for grabs.
The final third of the season turned into a de facto audition for some of those jobs, and Drew Smith, Daniel Zamora and Tyler Bashlor were among those who impressed — but none were so good that they are guaranteed a spot come spring.
Along with catcher and centerfield, relief help is poised to be among the Mets’ greatest areas of investment once the hot stove heats up.
“I’m excited about the bones of it, but do feel we need to add a couple more guys to [have] the bullpen that we need to be a championship team,” Callaway said.
Will they trade a starting pitcher?
The Mets toyed with the idea of parting with a starter at the trade deadline but opted to stand pat, in line with what Callaway and pitching coach Dave Eiland desired. After the Mets had the best rotation in baseball in the second half — 2.97 ERA — that remains Callaway’s stance.
“We’re going to be built around starting pitching. I don’t think that’s a secret,” Callaway said. “It makes a lot of sense in this case to keep these guys together and go for it with them.”
It especially doesn’t make sense to trade Jacob deGrom after his Cy Young-worthy season. Trading Noah Syndergaard this offseason would be selling low. Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz would seem to be candidates, but Wheeler finally put it all together this year and Matz (3.97 ERA, 30 starts) would be a heck of a No. 4 starter. So it’s easy to understand Callaway’s perspective.
The flip side of this question: Can the Mets sign deGrom to an extension? It would cost them a lot more now than it would have just two or three months ago. The same is true of Wheeler.
Who’s on first?
Callaway made it clear that the Mets, when nobody in particular was making baseball decisions this summer, were looking at Jay Bruce as their 2019 first baseman. But they also have Peter Alonso, a top-100 prospect in all of baseball, and Dominic Smith, who a year ago was a top-100 prospect.
Bruce had a .243/.344/.467 slash line after returning from injury, about in line with his career numbers. Could the Mets eat some money and find a trade partner? It all comes back to the GM search, and it’ll be fascinating to see how much the new boss brings upheaval to what we thought we knew about the 2019 Mets.
“We haven’t done a GM search in eight years," Wilpon said. “By going back out in the marketplace to see what’s changed and what’s there now for us, there might be some really different ideas that come to fruition.”