CARLSBAD, Calif. — The biggest question for the Mets every winter is their biggest question again this winter: How much money are they willing to spend?
General manager Brodie Van Wagenen wasn’t interested in discussing the Mets’ 2019 payroll even in general terms Tuesday at the GM Meetings — “I’ll leave that to ownership to discuss that,” he said — but reiterated the Mets’ open-mindedness regarding how to improve.
Anything is on the table, Van Wagenen says. He added that the Mets are “open for sure to moving money off the roster” but “willing to add money as well.”
“Right now, [ownership has] given me the support to evaluate all options right now,” Van Wagenen said. “We’ve had preliminary discussions, but the support is to go ahead and try to win as many games as we can in ‘19 and explore ways to do that.”
The Mets’ list of needs has plenty of bullet points: at least a couple of relievers, a centerfielder, maybe a catcher and maybe an infielder.
At the same time, the Mets’ payroll for next season is already sizeable. They owe seven players, including the injured David Wright and Yoenis Cespedes, a combined $92.5 million. Factoring in league-minimum contracts and estimated raises via arbitration for the likes of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Michael Conforto and others, the Mets are already in the $140 million range.
Their Opening Day payrolls the past two seasons were $150.5 million and $154.4 million, according to Cot’s Contracts. Those were the largest in franchise history.
It’s not clear how much flexibility Van Wagenen has to work with.
“We have not talked specifically about payroll other than the fact that we are going to be open-minded to assessing every opportunity that we can to improve the club,” Van Wagenen said.
Does the Mets’ open-mindedness mean they’re in on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, the stars of this free-agent class? Either could fit within the existing Mets roster.
Asked about the possibility of adding a big-money player — a $30-million-per-year player — Van Wagenen referenced the existing contracts of Cespedes ($29 million in 2019) and Wright ($15 million).
“We have some high-payroll guys on the books. One of them happens to be on the disabled list right now, actually two of them do,” Van Wagenen said. “I think that for us I’m going to be looking for players that can impact us at a dollar figure that makes sense based on what their talent is. We’re going to focus on talent, we’re going to focus on character, we’re going to focus on collaboration and what’s going to go into that clubhouse and what we’re looking for on the field as well.”
Complicating factors: insurance money coming back to the Mets for Wright, who is not expected to play again, and Cespedes, whose twin heel surgeries are expected to keep him out for at least a couple of months into 2019 and perhaps longer.
Van Wagenen said the money owed to Wright, who is technically not retired and remains on the 40-man roster, “always counts to the bigger payroll picture.”
“He’s on payroll,” Van Wagenen said. “Whether there’s an offset of money coming back from insurance, we’ll cross that bridge down the road. But he’s certainly on the roster right now.”
Notes & quotes: Van Wagenen said the Mets hope Travis d’Arnaud (Tommy John surgery) will be ready for Opening Day and Wilmer Flores (some sort of arthritic knee issue) is expected to be healthy. “We’ll be counting on him,” Van Wagenen said of Flores. Van Wagenen declined to say whether the Mets will tender d’Arnaud and/or Flores a contract for 2019. … Mets GM for about a week, Van Wagenen said he has spoken with or reached out to most of the Mets’ players, including Wright, who he hopes to talk to again this week about how Wright can contribute to the Mets moving forward. … Regarding competing in the NL East, Van Wagenen said, “There's some opportunity in the division.”