NEW YORK -- Less than a week after watching his Mets lose the World Series to the Royals in five games, Sandy Alderson and his staff will fly to Florida for Major League Baseball's General Managers Meetings. Already, Alderson has seen nine of his players become free agents, including six on the World Series roster. Few, if any, will be back.
It is with that as a backdrop that Alderson will spend the next three months refining his pennant-winning roster. Though the Mets' core of young starting pitchers is set to return in its entirety, along with several key offensive pieces, many of those who played central roles in the Mets' revival will be gone.
Murphy and Cespedes, two stars of this season, are all but out the door already. Though the Mets are expected to make Murphy a $15.8 million qualifying offer, ensuring themselves Draft pick compensation if he signs elsewhere, his otherworldly postseason run erased any reasonable chance he might accept. A quirk in Cespedes' contract, meanwhile, prevents the Mets from offering him a qualifying offer. He would reject such an offer anyway, considering his stated plans to seek a six-year contract. The Mets, who are wary of committing to Cespedes beyond his 30th birthday, are not expected to pursue him with much vigor.
Topping the list of in-house free agents who could return is Blevins, a lefty specialist who provided value to the Mets before twice fracturing his arm. Clippard could also be back under the right terms, as could Johnson and Uribe. O'Flaherty and Parnell are expected to sign elsewhere.
Needs: With Cespedes good as gone, the Mets need a fifth outfielder to join Michael Conforto, Juan Lagares, Curtis Granderson and Michael Cuddyer on the roster. Ideally, that will take the form of a left-handed power hitter capable of platooning with Lagares in center. The Mets also need a backup third baseman to provide injury insurance for David Wright; Uribe could ultimately be that guy.
Potential targets:Colby Rasmus and Denard Span qualify as the types of free-agent outfielders who should intrigue the Mets. On a much greater scale, Jason Heyward would be an ideal fit for the team, but will command a multi-year megadeal. Unless the Mets significantly increase payroll, which to date they have shown no indications of doing, they'll need to think smaller. It's unlikely the Mets go after any big-ticket free agents this winter, sticking to the bottom half of the market and perhaps a creative trade or two.
Trade assets: Their starting pitching depth mostly gone, the Mets don't have much in reserve that they can deal. If they are committed to Wilmer Flores and Dilson Herrera in the middle infield, then prospect Matt Reynolds becomes an expendable chip. The Mets also have little use for catching prospect Kevin Plawecki, though he would not fetch anything significant on the open market. A more creative trade could center on Lagares, if there's a team out there that still believes in his upside.
Financial situation: Without adding significantly to the roughly $100 million they spent this season, the Mets do not possess much financial flexibility. Though they have just $60 million on the books heading into the offseason, arbitration increases for Matt Harvey, Lucas Duda, Jeurys Familia and others will add millions more. Tack the minimum salaries required to round out a roster, and the Mets will approach $100 million without signing a single new player. Remember, the team added payroll at the non-waiver Trade Deadline this season only after recouping dollars from Jenrry Mejia's suspended contract and an insurance policy on Wright; they have yet to demonstrate a heavy willingness to spend.
Bottom line: Barring a creative trade, don't expect the Mets to do much beyond the margins this winter. And that's OK. With starting pitchers Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz all returning, and Zack Wheeler due back around midseason, the Mets feel they have the core in place to compete regardless of what else happens.