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Mets mailbag: Rotation depth, the DH and 2020 optimism

Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes during a spring training

Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes during a spring training workout on Feb. 17, 2020 at Clover Park in Port St. Lucie, Florida. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Newsday's Mets beat writer Tim Healey answers your questions in this Twitter mailbag.

@AmazinsNews asks: Is Conforto going to be ready for the season, and how would a universal DH in 2020 impact our lineup?

Barring further injury, yes, Michael Conforto should be good to go for the season. He suffered a strained right oblique on March 7, and that made him questionable for the original Opening Day. But with all this forced time off, that shouldn’t be an issue if and when things start up again.

The universal DH — which is a part of at least some of MLB’s unorthodox contingencies plans — would benefit the Mets greatly. It would be an extra 650 plate appearances (in a normal season) to spread around. The Mets have more starting-quality position players than they have positions available, and that is even more true if Yoenis Cespedes is healthy.

Having a DH would allow the Mets to start Cespedes regularly. Or get Dominic Smith and J.D. Davis in the same lineup, one in left and one at DH. Or give Robinson Cano occasional half-days off. Or give Pete Alonso occasional half-days off. Or play defensive ace Jake Marisnick in center, shift Brandon Nimmo to left and still get one of Davis/Smith/Cespedes at-bats via the DH. In reality, it would be a combination of all of those things.

What was true last year is true again this year and will be true for the foreseeable future: The Mets are built to have a DH. The sooner the National League adopts the DH, the better off they will be.

@hokutonando asks: What are the odds we have baseball some time before August?

I have no idea. Anybody who tells you one way or another is guessing.

But this does bring me to a personal point of optimism when I wonder if there will be a 2020 baseball season. Work backwards and reserve November for the playoffs at warm neutral cites (hello, Marlins Park). Play a half-season (81 games) in August-October, perhaps in an all-Arizona or Arizona/Florida setup as have been reported as possibilities. Maybe bump it up to 100 games if you can start in mid-July. Do a “spring” training in June/July.

I’m not a public health expert. I’m not a Major League Baseball official. But doesn’t that seem doable? It depends on a million other things, of course, but with coronavirus numbers starting to trend downward in many areas, I’m hopeful.

@thejeremybell asks: If there’s no MLB season *or a shortened season*, how will that effect players salaries, performance based incentives, service time, team control, etc?

@CaseyJLynn asks: If the the season gets cancelled does this count as year one on Luis Rojas’ contract?

If MLB plays a shortened season, salaries, bonuses and service time are all expected to be pro-rated.

Let’s use Noah Syndergaard as an example (even though he won’t play because of his elbow injury). He has a $9.7 million salary for 2020, so if the season is 100 games instead of 162, he’ll make about $6 million. And he will get a full year of service time, which means he remains on track to be a free agent after the 2021 season.

(Further adjustments are possible on the salary front, depending on negotiations between MLB and the players’ union. If they play a season with no fans in the stands, teams’ revenues will be way down. So it is possible teams ask players to take less money for the sake of having a season. It’s all very fluid and TBD.)

If MLB cancels the season, time runs off everybody’s contracts — including, yes, that of manager Luis Rojas, who has a two-year deal with team options — and players are credited for the same amount of service time they earned in 2019.

For the Mets, that means all of their pending free agents will still be free agents. Among them: Marcus Stroman, Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha. Dellin Betances, Wilson Ramos and Brad Brach all have options for 2021.

And while the Mets would probably like to skip out on one of Robinson Cano’s $24 million years, losing 2020 also would mean losing a valuable year of Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith being extremely inexpensive pre-arbitration players. That would stink for the Mets.

@MetsDaddy2013 asks: How does the delayed start affect the clauses in Cespedes’ revised contract?

Performance-based bonuses are expected to be pro-rated down for all players.

That includes Yoenis Cespedes, who in a normal 2020 season would have had a base salary of $6 million and could have made up to $20 million if he was healthy and got a full season of plate appearances. In a shortened season, the salary and specific bonuses will be adjusted based on how many games the Mets play.

The Mets’ other major incentives-laden contract belongs to Michael Wacha, who has a $3 million base salary and an additional $7 million in bonuses. That, too, will be adjusted appropriately. The specifics are to be determined.

@Paranormal_Bass asks: Do you think the Mets will benefit the most with the delayed start? Having players like Cespedes and Lowrie potentially 100% to start the season?

I do not think the Mets are an obvious choice to benefit the most from a delayed start to the season. I’m not sure they’ll benefit at all. As I have written previously, a more-doubleheaders-and-fewer-off-days schedule for a shortened season could expose the Mets’ lack of rotation depth in the absence of Noah Syndergaard.

Fewer games means a given bad stretch or a given good stretch — the Mets had their share of both of those last year — will weigh heavier on the season. More so than a normal season, a slow start could doom a team. A hot start could be the difference between playoffs and no playoffs. Who can capture lightning in a bottle to start out?

It would help to have a full healthy roster from the start, of course. My stance on Cespedes and Jed Lowrie remains the same as it was during spring training: I will believe they can be valuable, reliable major-league players when they are on the field being valuable, reliable major-league players. They have both been through so much medically, with so many stops and starts, that it is hard to plan for them to give you anything.

@rdoud12 asks: Do you see any chance the Mets sign Stroman to an extension? Or say Wilson Ramos even though he has club option for next year?

The best/only precedent we have for general manager Brodie Van Wagenen negotiating a contract extension during a season is Zack Wheeler last year. The sides periodically touched base, especially around the trade deadline but weren’t close in their desires. (That remained the case in the offseason, when Wheeler signed with the Phillies.)

It stands to reason, then, that the Mets will do the same with Stroman: at least check in. Will Stroman be interested? He is outwardly a supremely confident individual, with little to no loyalty to a Mets organization he joined nine months ago, so I’d bet he is comfortable taking his chances on the open market.

“I'm not too focused on that right now,” Stroman said in February regarding his pending free agency. “Free agency will take care of itself. It's all been manifested already and it will all play out how it's supposed to play out.”

A wild card in the entire free-agency system this year: With teams’ revenues down, they likely won’t be as willing to spend big this offseason. What will that mean for expectations by Stroman and other players?

And the Mets shouldn’t be in any hurry to extend Ramos. He is 32. He took a step back offensively and didn’t inspire confidence defensively last year. And they already have that $10 million team option on him for 2021.

@SHalpin7 asks: What will the Mets plan be when they don’t play this season and have just DeGrom and Matz in their rotation for 2021?

@TheAlonsoBet asks: With Syndergaard hurt, who do you see the Mets going to as their sixth starter in the case of another injury? Will it be someone out of the pen (like Lugo) or someone on the farm (like Peterson)?

Let’s group these rotation questions together.

With Syndergaard out for the entire 2020 season due to Tommy John surgery, the Mets’ rotation depth took a hit. They don’t have a clear-cut No. 6 starter, a next man up in the event of another injury or for a doubleheader (which could be common in a shortened season). Instead, the Mets can pluck from the group of Walker Lockett, Corey Oswalt, David Peterson, Erasmo Ramirez, Franklyn Kilome and potentially others. Who gets the call for a specific game can be based on who is pitching well or who will be rested for that day.

But 2021 is another beast. Whether or not there is baseball in 2020, the Mets right now have just two starters who are healthy and under contract for 2021: Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz. (Syndergaard is expected to return midseason.)

They will have a whole offseason to plug the holes, of course, and extending/re-signing Stroman is an option. Maybe one of the depth starters mentioned above emerges as an option. But I can’t help but wonder — with three spots to be filled — if 2021 is finally the year Seth Lugo gets another shot at making the rotation. He has been persistent but professional in expressing his preference to be a starter the past two years, during which he has been one of the best relievers in the majors, posting a 2.68 ERA in 115 games (just five starts).

If the bullpen around Lugo stabilizes between now and Opening Day 2021 — via bounce backs from Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia and/or offseason additions — it could free up Lugo to move back to the rotation. Lugo would have made $2 million in a full 2020 season, so he would be an inexpensive rotation option for 2021.

Follow @timbhealey on Twitter for more Mets coverage.

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