The annual general managers' meetings signal the unofficial beginning of baseball's hot stove season. And with the meetings officially starting Monday, the Mets find themselves with options as they begin retooling a roster that brought home the franchise's first pennant in 15 years.
Despite their first successful season on the field in years, there has been little indication that the payroll will grow significantly past last Opening Day's $103 million. So the Mets could take a straightforward path, making a few modest additions via free agency to augment a roster that is anchored by a brilliant young pitching staff.
"That's the foundation of our team right now," GM Sandy Alderson said this past week.
Or the Mets could entertain trading Zack Wheeler, who could bring in an impact player without the kind of long-term free-agent deals that Alderson has long been averse to giving.
Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz essentially are off limits.
"We're fairly resolute about what we're going to do and not do with regards to those four, but we'll see what happens," Alderson said.
But in Wheeler, the Mets could tap into a market of teams in search of a potential top-of-the-rotation starter, even if it means taking a risk on a player recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Juan Lagares signed a backloaded five-year, $23.6-million extension last spring, a contract that also could be moved in the right circumstance.
Whether through free agency or trades, the Mets enter the offseason with clear goals: find a platoon partner to combat righthanded pitching and to pair with Lagares in centerfield, add a shutdown arm for the back of the bullpen, and acquire a versatile utilityman to help fill a void at second and serve as insurance at third.
The Mets must find enough offense to help endure the losses of Yoenis Cespedes and Daniel Murphy, both of whom almost certainly will find greater riches elsewhere via free agency.
Yet in some ways, the Mets have relatively little work to do. David Wright, Lucas Duda, Curtis Granderson and Travis d'Arnaud are locks at their spots, and the Mets appear content at shortstop.
Even if Cespedes and Murphy are gone next season, the Mets have in-house options such as Michael Conforto and Dilson Herrera to fill in the gaps in the outfield and at second base.
Conforto will play every day next season and highly regarded prospect Herrera could be ready by Opening Day. Both would help to make up for some of the production they'll be missing when Cespedes and Murphy walk.
If that's not enough, the Mets again could get aggressive at the trade deadline, just as they did last season when injuries ravaged the lineup.
As has been the case in recent years, the Mets don't appear to be in the mix for top-shelf talents such as Justin Upton or Jason Heyward, both of whom almost certainly would demand large multiyear deals. Said Alderson: "It's not something we like to do."
However, early indications are that the Mets will target free-agent centerfielder Denard Span, who was not given a qualifying offer after an injury-plagued year with the Nationals. That means if signed, he will not cost his new team a draft pick.
The Mets also have their eye on Gerardo Parra, whom they nearly traded for at last July's trade deadline, and Dexter Fowler. Span, Parra and Fowler appear to be preferred internally over other potential fits in centerfield such as Colby Rasmus and Will Venable.
The club has interest in sidearming righthander Darren O'Day, who is coming off a dominant season for the Orioles in which he posted a 1.53 ERA in 68 appearances.
O'Day, 33, fits a clear need for the Mets, whose shaky bullpen was exposed during the postseason. But he is perhaps the best option in a relatively thin market for back-end arms, meaning he'll command a hefty multiyear deal.
Because the Orioles did not extend him a qualifying offer, the team that signs O'Day won't be required to part with a draft pick, which will make his market even more competitive.
At the very least, the Mets have plans to round out the rest of the bullpen.
In a change of course, they intend to bring back setup man Addison Reed, who is due a raise via arbitration. He pitched well after his acquisition from the Diamondbacks.
There is mutual interest in a reunion with lefty specialist Jerry Blevins, who missed almost all of last season with arm injuries.
At shortstop, the Mets likely will stick with the combination of Wilmer Flores and Ruben Tejada, partly because the free-agent market is short on clear upgrades.
Ian Desmond leads the free-agent market, but he's coming off a down season with the Nationals in which his defense took a step back. He made 27 errors and hit .233.
Desmond, 30, could command a multiyear deal and would require the Mets to forfeit a draft pick -- all for a higher-priced, arguably lesser version of what the Mets already have in Flores.
Ben Zobrist, a Mets target at the trade deadline, also is on the free-agent market. He's coveted for his versatility. But the Mets could go with a less costly alternative by simply retaining Kelly Johnson.
Internally, the Mets have discussed re-signing Johnson, who would provide a bridge for Herrera in case he's not ready to begin the season in the big leagues. Johnson also has enough defensive versatility to serve as an insurance policy for Wright, who will begin his first full season managing his spinal stenosis.
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