CARLSBAD, Calif. — Eventually, after or while they hire a general manager and manager and a whole bunch of coaches, the Mets can get to the fun part of the offseason: Bringing in really good baseball players in an attempt to form a really good baseball team.
In trying to reach that goal, the Mets will have "lots" of payroll flexibility in the coming months, team president Sandy Alderson said at the GM meetings this week.
The bluntness of that response is good news for an organization that rarely has played in the deep end of the free-agent pool over the past decade-plus, including while Alderson was GM under previous ownership. And Alderson’s sentiment reiterates what owner Steve Cohen expressed in June in the context of the trade deadline: If the Mets are going to go over the luxury-tax threshold, they may as well go way over it.
Already, the Mets’ 2022 payroll commitments are at or near the current threshold of $210 million. That figure is not locked in for next season; it will be decided during collective bargaining agreement negotiations between MLB and the players’ union.
But if the Mets want to add multiple expensive players and/or keep multiple of their own expensive free agents, the "lots" of flexibility is mandatory.
"You're right to say we'll probably be brushing up against it if not beyond it, just given what we have and given the qualifying offers that are outstanding," Alderson said. "If they're both accepted, we're over."
Michael Conforto does not plan to accept the one-year, $18.4 million qualifying offer. Noah Syndergaard’s answer is uncertain. Javier Baez and Marcus Stroman are the Mets’ other high-profile free agents.
Regarding that big four, Alderson had varying degrees of enthusiasm about the players and his interest in keeping them.
On evaluating Syndergaard after he missed almost all of the past two seasons: "It’s fair to say that what he will give any team during 2022 is up for debate. He’s coming off of two years of not performing. Seems to be fully healthy at this point. There’s still going to be issues about him until he’s on the mound and he’s on the mound consistently over a period of time."
On his interest in retaining Stroman: "We’ll see. Part of it will depend on his level of interest. He pitched really well for us this year, was very durable, unlike the rest of our starting pitching. So he did a nice job for us, and I think on that basis we have to have some interest."
On the impression Baez made in his two months with the Mets: "His impression on me was very positive. I thought he played exceptionally well. He’s obviously a multi-talented player. I think he would fit in well in New York. Nothing seems to faze him in terms of the size of the stage. He can help the team in a number of different ways. And he’s an entertaining player. He goes beyond just contributing to a winning team. So lots of positives there."
One potential restriction on the Mets’ ability to bring in some of the top available free-agent players is their preference to keep both of their first-round picks in the 2022 draft, Nos. 11 and 14.
That would mean staying away from free agents who declined the qualifying offer, the signing of whom comes with the penalty of losing a draft pick. (The Mets can sign Syndergaard and Conforto without that penalty).
The other dozen qualifying-offer players: Brandon Belt, Nick Castellanos, Carlos Correa, Freddie Freeman, Raisel Iglesias, Robbie Ray, Eduardo Rodriguez, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Trevor Story, Chris Taylor and Justin Verlander.
"Our first instinct would be to protect those draft picks," Alderson said. "As I've said, Steve's said, we're in this for the long haul. We want to improve the team to the point that it's sustained success once it's achieved. We've got to be careful."