How this year’s $18.4 million qualifying offer will impact Mets’ impending free agents

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This year’s qualifying offer figure is out, and it’s critical to what the Mets will do next with free agents Michael Conforto and Noah Syndergaard.

MLB clubs were informed Tuesday that the qualifying offer for free agents this offseason is set at $18.4 million, according to a report by ESPN. That figure is down from last winter’s $18.9 million qualifying offer, and several baseball pundits previously believed the number would be higher — somewhere around $19-20 million. (The offer is worth the mean salary of MLB’s 125 highest-paid players.)

Free agents who are extended the qualifying offer will have until Dec. 1, when the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires, to accept or reject. Any team that signs a player who has rejected a qualifying offer is subject to the loss of one or more draft picks.

For the Mets, they must now consider whether they want to extend that $18.4 offer to their eligible free-agents-to-be in Conforto and Syndergaard. Marcus Stroman and Javier Baez, who will also be free agents, are ineligible for the offer this offseason because Stroman accepted the Mets’ qualifying offer last year and Baez arrived in Queens via a trade.

Beginning with Conforto, multiple sources have said the Mets are likely to extend him the qualifying offer, and he is just as likely to reject it. The release of this winter’s offer of $18.4 million only increases that likelihood because: 1) Conforto and his agent, Scott Boras, will likely be seeking much more than a one-year deal worth $18.4 million for the outfielder, despite his down year and poor numbers in 2021; and 2) the Mets will be happy to take Conforto for another season at that price, but if he rejects the offer and signs elsewhere, they will be happy to receive the draft-pick compensation.

Next is Syndergaard, who the situation gets a bit trickier with.

The right-hander pitched just two outings, one inning each, this past season after rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. The Mets saw Syndergaard pitch a clean first inning against the Marlins (strikeout, strikeout, groundout) in his season debut, and a choppy first inning against the Braves (home run, double, RBI single) in his final outing. Those two innings were hardly enough for the Mets to get a read on Syndergaard’s stuff, 18 months removed from surgery. But it showed them he was healthy and committed to being successful again.

If the Mets extend Syndergaard the qualifying offer, it will say a lot about how healthy and effective the organization believes he can be for them next year. Syndergaard was unable to throw his signature slider, or curveball, in his return to the mound this year and his fastball velocity was, as expected, lower than his typical upper 90s heaters. It’s also hard to imagine the Mets compiling a strong rotation for next year without Syndergaard.

Jacob deGrom’s health is an enormous question mark after dealing with a handful of minor injuries in the first half of 2021 before sitting out the entire second half with what Sandy Alderson called a partial tear in his right elbow. Stroman’s future with the club is undecided as he approaches free agency. Taijuan Walker struggled after the All-Star break with an increased workload but is a good candidate to bounce back in terms of effectiveness next year.

With or without Syndergaard, one of the Mets’ top priorities this offseason should be acquiring significant pitching depth.

Syndergaard said he would be grateful if the Mets extended him a qualifying offer and that he loves playing in New York. While he added last month that he was “fairly certain” he’d remain in Queens at least for another year, Alderson hedged when asked if the team was already in talks with his camp, CAA Sports, on working out a deal.

It’s important to keep in mind even if the Mets extend qualifying offers to Conforto and Syndergaard and they both reject, the club could still sign them to contracts in free agency. The Mets don’t have to decide on qualifying offers until after the World Series, and they can speak to Conforto and Syndergaard in the meantime to get a better idea of what each player wants.

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