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Here’s an inside look at some issues facing the Mets as the 2021 season approaches:
Best position battle: There isn’t a glaring job competition heading into camp, but the back of the end of the rotation — behind Jacob deGrom, Carlos Carrasco and Marcus Stroman — appears unsettled. The Mets still could add another starter through a trade or free agency, but for now they have David Peterson, Joey Lucchesi and Jordan Yamomoto in the mix.
Most intriguing minor leaguer: The Mets were fascinated enough by right-handed pitcher Sam McWilliams’ potential to offer the journeyman minor leaguer a major league contract this offseason. McWilliams struggled at Triple-A in 2019 with an 8.18 ERA, but saw an uptick in velocity in the Rays’ alternate site camp last season. McWilliams is viewed by the Mets as a potential multiple-inning reliever.
Story to watch develop: Shortstop Francisco Lindor and right fielder Michael Conforto can both become free agents after the season and have stated a desire to conduct all negotiations on possible contract extensions before Opening Day. Lindor could be looking toward a long-term payday in the $300 million neighborhood. Conforto held brief extension talks with the Mets last spring that never resumed after the season was delayed by the pandemic. Conforto is represented by Scott Boras, whose clients traditionally opt for free agency.
Manager’s toughest challenges: Unless the universal DH is approved, Luis Rojas faces a juggling act trying to put a solid defensive team on the field without sending a significant bat to the bench. That means Dominic Smith in left field with Brandon Nimmo in center — hardly a dynamic defensive alignment. Albert Almora Jr. can provide late-inning defense in center, pushing Nimmo to left, but hasn’t shown he can produce enough offensively to warrant regular playing time.
Most intriguing newcomer: Lindor is an elite talent who will add a big bat to the lineup from both sides of the plate, with Gold Glove defense at shortstop. He also brings an infectious personality, as evidenced by his nickname, “Mr. Smile.” The trade that brought Lindor from Cleveland with Carlos Carrasco could be franchise-transforming, in the same manner as the deal that brought Mike Piazza to Queens in 1998.
Most notable absence: Second baseman Robinson Cano was suspended for the entire season in November, after testing positive for a banned performance-enhancing drug for the second time in his career. The suspension will save the Mets about $20 million for this season and allows Jeff McNeil to play second base. Cano, 38, will still have two years remaining on his contract when he returns from the suspension.
Don’t be surprised if it becomes an issue: The Mets are thin on outfield depth, both on the major league roster and at the upper levels of the minor leaguers, and they would be exposed if Nimmo or Conforto were sidelined for an extended period. Jackie Bradley Jr. still could make sense as a free-agent option if the DH is implemented — MLB and the MLBPA have been negotiating throughout the winter.
Biggest comeback: Right-hander Noah Syndergaard’s anticipated return from Tommy John surgery rehab looms large for a rotation that still needs arms. Ideally, the Mets will have Syndergaard back by June, giving them a pre-trade deadline acquisition of sorts. Syndergaard will certainly be motivated, as he looks to show he’s still a dominant force heading to free agency.
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