When legendary labor leader Marvin Miller devised the free agent system that Major League Baseball still uses today (with some tweaks along the way), the framework of the system created an “exclusive rights” period during which teams could negotiate with their players to whom free agency was an option. Originally, a 10-day window, this year it is a narrow five-day period, commencing the day after the conclusion of the World Series – November 7. 2023. Coinciding with this period is the opportunity for the team’s front offices to make qualifying offers – giving players an additional 10 days to accept or reject a one-year contract extension. Other deadlines relating to arbitration and non-tenders are also on the horizon. This interim period is much like the winter solstice: dark times are ahead without baseball, but once winter officially arrives, the days actually start getting longer, portending a brighter future.
For fans of our great pastime, this is where we all get to play General Manager. We can scour the internet for the latest rumors as to where players are most likely to sign – and hopefully have much to converse about with like-minded family and friends over the holidays. As for our Mets the big questions that have to be answered are: starting pitching, a solid Designated Hitter, whether Pete Alonso will sign a contract extension and the identity of the person who will be filling out the 2024 line-up card.
As for our new field manager: if not Craig Counsell, then who? Candidates such as Joe Maddon and Joe McEwing have been mentioned as possibilities. I’m not sure why Carlos Beltran’s name has been omitted from much of the conversation, especially since the organization hired him to fill an unspecified role last season. McEwing was a fan favorite when he played for the team as a utility player, pinch hitter and human rain delay (he would strike out without a throw in today’s game). McEwing was in the running when the Mets hired Mickey Callaway to manage the team in 2018. Worse decisions have been made in baseball history, like when the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth. Joe Maddon seems to me like a man in search on one last pay-day. His stewardship of the Rays and Cubs was the stuff of legend, but I have a hard time imagining what piece of the puzzle he brings to the team that other candidates won’t.
Alonso’s new relationship with Scott Boras may have already answered the question of a contract extension. Rarely does a Boras client accept an incumbent team’s offer without first testing the free-agent waters. One need look no further than Michael Conforto to see that Boras doesn’t always ring the bell – but players keep going to him because his advice usually pans out. It’s unlikely that the Mets will make a substantial enough offer to entice Alonso/Boras to take what the Mets suggest, guaranteeing a bidding war next winter.
My candidate for DH is Cody Bellinger. The 2023 NL Comeback Player of the Year at age 28, Bellinger can spell any of the Outfielders and/or Alonso at 1st, while primarily holding down the fort in the DH spot. His .881 OPS, 26 HRs and 20 steals would have come in mighty handy for the Mets in the 2023 campaign. He will command a king’s ransom – but his age (he won’t be 29 until July 2024) and his versatility are alluring qualities for a Mets team that could/should be a competitive squad.
Baseball starts on the mound and these Mets need two quality starters to make themselves relevant next year. Most teams that go to the post-season have one or two break-through stars who no one counted on to perform when the season began. In 2014/15 it was Jacob deGrom for the Mets. He was an afterthought in 2013; a Rookie of the Year in 2014 and a Cy Young Candidate in 2015. The 2024 Mets will need such a pitcher. Unfortunately, when the team re-stocked the farm system at the 2023 trade deadline, they didn’t land a top pitching prospect. As for in-house options, Matt Allan is coming off Tommy John surgery, so he’s out of the equation. Perhaps someone like Mike Vasil can realize his potential and fill a gaping hole in the starting rotation.
On the free agent front, Yoshinobu Yamamoto is the pitching prize of the off-season. (Shohei Otani’s UCL won’t permit him to take the mound next season and any team that gambles on his return to form as a pitcher might as well hire Christopher Walken as their GM so he can reprise his role in The Deer Hunter.) The Mets may have a leg up on the competition for Yamamoto because of his friendship with Kodai Senga.
Thinking about the dreary days ahead can be made brighter by tossing around these scenarios. The fun part of baseball is that each team begins the season with the same record. Well, the season started last week and the Mets are 0 – 0.