Mets Payroll: What a lost 2020 season means for this year and beyond

The future of the 2020 MLB season is still unknown and with it comes plenty of payroll questions for the New York Mets this year and beyond.

Before sports around the world came to a stop, the New York Mets projected 2020 Opening Day payroll was the largest in franchise history.

Now with the increasing possibility of a canceled MLB season, the question of funds arises for fans of the orange and blue heading into 2021: Who stays, who goes, and how will management judge who comes in?

The Mets payroll hovered around $162.4 million heading into this season while their 2021 projected payroll currently stands at ~$76.1 million committed dollars. Therefore, the possibility of a shortened season (or no season at all) not only alters the large number of funds they owe their players in 2020, but it also disrupts their future spending plans this offseason.

Per spotrac.com, here’s how the contracts of the Mets 26-man roster break down after the 2020 season:

Pre-Arbitration: Amed Rosario, Tomás Nido, J.D. Davis, Dominic Smith, Luis Guillorme, Jeff McNeil, and Pete Alonso (who received a raise for his historic rookie year: Home Run Derby Champion, shattered Mets single-season HR record, and set MLB home run Rookie Record).

Arbitration Eligible: Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, Brandon Nimmo, Steven Matz, Edwin Díaz, Michael Conforto, and Noah Syndergaard

Notable Free Agents: RP Dellin Betances (2021 $6 million player option includes a $3M buyout if declined), RP Brad Brach ($1.25 million player option), OF Yoenis Céspedes, 3B Jed Lowrie, OF Jake Marisnick, SP Rick Porcello, C Wilson Ramos (2021 $10 million Club Option includes a $1.5M buyout), SP Marcus Stroman, SP/RP Michael Wacha, and RP Justin Wilson.

Remaining under contract: Jacob deGrom, Robinson Cano, Jeurys Familia are the only players under contract for the 2021 season – not counting the pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players.

Judging by these figures, the Mets have close to $90 million coming off the books after this season. Interestingly, the majority of talent on this list are aging athletes who were never expected to ‘carry the team’ in any capacity during the 2020 season.

While the money coming off the books should be put toward replacing their roster spots with young, ready-to-contribute talent, it’s important to note that the expired contracts of Céspedes, Lowrie, and Ramos alone (roughly $48 million dollars) are enough to reallocate toward at least two impact players.

This opens up an interesting situation position for the front office to completely reimagine their 26-man roster, and reinforce their corps set of dynamic players. But we knew this already! The Mets won’t be saving money if there is no baseball played this year unless you count the incentives written into the recently tendered contracts from this past winter.

When MLB reached an agreement with the MLBPA to pay players for their service time in 2019, this ensured that players who were set to become free agents will hit the open market come the winter. This is the problem.

Without the ability to evaluate their talent over the course of a season (in addition to other talent around the league), it will be challenging for management to make decisions on contracts scheduled to come off the books this winter – just like the one-year prove-it deals tendered to Betances, Porcello, and Wacha on their pitching staff. But that’s not all.

More familiar question marks emerge: Is Rosario going to be the shortstop for the next ten years, or will he be worked out in centerfield because of top shortstop prospects, Ronny Mauricio (18yo) and Andrés Giménez (21yo) who turned heads during training camp – Mauricio for his impressive plate discipline at such a young age and Giménez for the improved pop in his bat, following a sluggish 2019 season.

Also, will they extend Stroman and/or Conforto based on their 2019 totals; regardless of not seeing them perform for a whole year? And what about Syndergaard, whose hopes of a contract extension was already put on hold due to his recent Tommy John surgery. His situation seems unlikely to change much, as he was already set to miss all of this season and part of next year to recover.

While I would hold off on offering him an extension until he’s back on the field (and do my due diligence on extending Conforto), there cannot be any doubt that the Mets must re-sign Stroman. Not only is he a worthwhile replacement to Zack Wheeler (as well as the only excuse for not perusing this talented right-hander in free agency), the front office also traded their top two starting pitchers in LHP Anthony Kay and RHP Simeon Woods-Richardson to get him last summer. Plus, he’s an excellent third starter to have in their rotation.

But without seeing these players perform, it will remain a difficult decision for the front office to make. And while canceling the whole rest of the 2020 season isn’t a sure thing, a return to play is far from a guarantee.

As things currently stand, the Mets have only $76.1 million committed to payroll for 2021. That number drops to $40.7 million in 2022 and 2023, and $0 committed to payroll for 2024 and beyond.  Even after coming to terms on arbitration for their young corps of players, there should still be plenty of resources to reallocate funds toward fresh, young, and dynamic additions next offseason to include: C J.T. Realmuto (who has yet to come anywhere close to an agreement with the Phillies); or … maybe even Mookie Betts, who’s price tag might not scare the potential new owners of the Mets by 2021.

Next offseason is an opportunity for Brodie Van Wagenento truly make the Mets roster his. And regardless of the little-to-no sample size his front office will be able to base any new contracts off of later this winter, the amount of low funds committed in the next three years gives him a lot of flexibility with the roster.

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With the Mets in win-now mode and possible new owners emerging in their near future, now is the time for Brodie to not only build a postseason contender, but also audition for his potential new bosses.