Mapping out Mets' ideal 2021-22 MLB offseason: Free agent signings, trades, and more

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Javier Baez Steve Cohen Kris Bryant Mets treated art
Javier Baez Steve Cohen Kris Bryant Mets treated art

Before the Mets can go full steam ahead this offseason as they reshape a roster that badly underperformed in 2021 as the team went from first place to also-ran during a second-half swoon, they'll have to do a few extremely important things.

Those things?

Find a new president of baseball operations, find a new GM, and find a new manager.

The order in which those hires are made remains to be seen, and what the exact front office structure will be is also not yet known.

For example, will the top baseball executive report to Sandy Alderson or Steve Cohen?

But no matter how the front office rebuild turns out, the Mets are about to embark on one of their most challenging and compelling offseasons in recent memory.

Here is what an ideal offseason could look like...

Qualifying offers

Michael Conforto and Noah Syndergaard are the Mets' only qualifying offer candidates, and extending the QO to Conforto is a no-brainer.

Conforto is coming off a down year, but looked a lot more like himself over the final 54 games of the season.

And while some fans can undervalue what Conforto has provided and overvalue what some potential external additions might bring to the table, Conforto is an extremely valuable player.

Michael Conforto
Michael Conforto

If he accepts the QO, the Mets have a very good corner outfielder for 2022. If he rejects it, the Mets get draft pick compensation.

The situation with Syndergaard is a bit trickier, and the Mets will need to evaluate his potential market to see if it's worth making him the QO.

If they deem that it isn't, they should instead work to bring him back on a two-year deal at a lower average annual value.

Non-tenders

The Mets have 16 players who are eligible for arbitration.

Those players are Pete Alonso, Miguel Castro, J.D. Davis, Edwin Diaz, Robert Gsellman, Luis Guillorme, Joey Lucchesi, Seth Lugo, Jose Martinez, Jeff McNeil, Brandon Nimmo, Tomas Nido, Jose Peraza, Dominic Smith, Drew Smith, and Trevor Williams.

Of all the players above, the most obvious non-tender candidates are Gsellman, Martinez, Peraza, and Williams.

Here's why.

Who to re-sign

We've already touched on the Mets futures of Conforto and Syndergaard.

Of their other free agents, the ones New York should work hardest to bring back are Javier Baez, Marcus Stroman, and Aaron Loup.

When it comes to Baez, it's possible a deal with the Mets comes together quickly after Baez endeared himself to the team (and became more selective at the plate) following his trade deadline acquisition last season.

Javier Baez and Francisco Lindor
Javier Baez and Francisco Lindor

When it comes to Stroman, who could be seeking a five- or six-year deal worth $25 million or so annually, the Mets keeping him could be easier said than done. But they need to make a strong effort to do so.

External free agents to target

Of all the free agents expected to be on the market, the Mets -- who need to add a jolt to their offense -- should make Kris Bryant one of their top targets.

Bryant, who is entering his age-30 season, would give the Mets that jolt while also providing a ton of defensive versatility. Aside from being able to play third base and first base, Bryant can play all three outfield spots.

Beyond Bryant, the Mets -- depending on how things resolve with Conforto -- might want to think about a pursuit of Starling Marte if he can be had on a shorter-term deal.

On the mound, in addition to attempting to retain both Stroman and Syndergaard, the Mets should be looking for one more starting pitcher of significance.

Could that be someone like Kevin Gausman, who won't be tethered to the QO? What about a high-risk, high-upside play on Justin Verlander (if he isn't attached to a QO)?

Another late-inning reliever should also be targeted.

External free agents to avoid

My opinion on this a month or so ago set lots of people off, but I'm going to say it again anyway...

The Mets should avoid signing free agents this offseason who are attached to the qualifying offer.

In the event the Mets do sign a free agent who has a QO attached, they will have to forfeit the No. 14 pick in the 2022 MLB Draft -- and their second pick in the draft is only that high because they failed to sign Kumar Rocker last season after selecting him.

Ordinarily, the Mets would be looking at losing a second-round pick for signing a player attached to a QO. That is not the case this offseason.

It also needs to be pointed out that this is not an argument that whoever the No. 14 pick turns out to be will be better than Carlos Correa or Robbie Ray or Nick Castellanos (who isn't a fit anyway because of his defensive limitations), or another player on a QO.

Cincinnati Reds right fielder Nick Castellanos
Cincinnati Reds right fielder Nick Castellanos

Rather, it's an argument that the Mets should simply sign other very good players this offseason who won't cost them that pick.

Who (and who not) to trade

There are some Mets fans who (understandably) want the team to make wholesale changes this offseason, but I don't think a scorched-earth approach is needed.

Instead, I think the Mets can make the necessary changes by adding some high-impact players (outlined above), keeping players they think can be part of the future, and trading some others.

One player the Mets should be looking to deal is J.D. Davis, whose down season was due in part to playing through a hand injury, but who remains a man without a position on the Mets.

New York should also explore the possibility of trading Dominic Smith, who profiles as a DH and is blocked at first base by Pete Alonso, who wants to continue playing there even if the DH is added.

If the NL adds the DH, perhaps the Mets hold on to Smith. But there are other DH options who could soon arrive from the minors (more on them below).

As far as who the Mets should keep, I would have Jeff McNeil on that list. It would be unwise to move on from him following three very good seasons and one down one that was likely an aberration.

Jeff McNeil
Jeff McNeil

The Mets should also keep Edwin Diaz, who is entering his final season of arbitration.

Additionally, they should keep (and try to extend) Brandon Nimmo, who is also entering his final year of arbitration.

Prospects who should be untouchable

The Mets' farm system is improving, and there are some incredibly talented players near the top of it. But New York still lacks overall system depth and needs to be extremely careful when it comes to trading any of their best prospects.

That means catcher Francisco Alvarez, infielder Brett Baty, and right-handed pitcher Matt Allan should be untouchable.

The Mets should also hold on tight to infielders Mark Vientos and Ronny Mauricio, and right-hander J.T. Ginn.

Baty and Vientos got some time in left field this season, and could also be DH candidates if the NL adds it.

Francisco Alvarez, Ronny Mauricio, Brett Baty, Mark Vientos
Francisco Alvarez, Ronny Mauricio, Brett Baty, Mark Vientos

Under Steve Cohen's ownership, the Mets should have the ability -- especially this offseason -- to fill most of their needs via free agency.

That should allow them to let their top prospects -- some of whom are getting close to the majors -- continue to grow here instead of including any of them in trades to fill holes on the major league roster.

***

It should be noted that in order for the Mets to have the kind of offseason outlined above, they will almost certainly have to not only exceed the luxury tax but go well past it.

What the threshold will be won't be known until the new CBA (which expires on Dec. 1) is agreed upon.

Either way, now is the time for the Mets to exceed it.

And now is the time for the Mets, no matter who winds up running baseball operations, to once again go for it as they try to win their first World Series since 1986.

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