With owner Steve Cohen at the helm, the New York Mets have delivered a cannonball of splashy entrances to Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings over the last two years.
Last season, the departure of Jacob deGrom led to the immediate pivot and signing of Justin Verlander at the beginning of the meetings. Then came the roller-coaster ride of emotions in the quest to land Carlos Correa.
With this season's installment of the Winter Meetings set to get underway from Nashville on Monday, Mets' new president of baseball operations David Stearns has cautioned a more calculated approach to filling out the team's roster in spite of Cohen's deep pockets. But certain free agents might be worth putting pen to paper.
Here is where the Mets stand heading into the Winter Meetings and as free agency begins to heat up:
State of the Mets: What will their 2024 payroll be?
While the Mets cut loose five players at the non-tender deadline, including Daniel Vogelbach and Luis Guillorme, that left a number of gaps on the team's 40-man roster. After the Mets signed relief pitcher Cole Sulser to a minor-league deal, they now have 12 gaps to fill on their roster before the 2024 season begins.
While their active payroll is roughly $142.6 million, according to Spotrac, the arbitration salaries of Pete Alonso, Joey Lucchesi, David Peterson and Drew Smith have yet to be factored in. Additionally, the team still owes around $65.3 million on the salaries of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, James McCann and Darin Ruf in this upcoming campaign.
Each of those financial obligations, along with projected pre-arbitration deals, put the Mets' total payroll at roughly $262.5 million, already above MLB's competitive balance threshold of $237 million. The tax penalty is 30 percent for exceeding the minimum threshold for a second straight season.
With three more tax thresholds and a repeater tax present, the Mets front office could temper their long-term spending for the upcoming 2024 season. The big question that looms for Cohen and Stearns is how they plan to spend for a roster while remaining a playoff contender and aiding their financials in the future.
Mets' winter needs: What are their top priorities?
The most pressing need for the Mets comes on the mound to begin each game. They currently have two surefire contributors in Kodai Senga, who finished seventh in NL Cy Young voting after his rookie season, and Jose Quintana, who made 13 starts after the All-Star break following his return from bone graft surgery.
The back end of the rotation took a hit when left-hander David Peterson underwent hip surgery earlier this month. He will be out until early May or June. Meanwhile, Tylor Megill, Lucchesi and Jose Butto could factor in here.
That leaves at least two holes to fill in the rotation: one near the top and another in the middle. It is likely to be one of the Mets' pricier agenda items this winter.
The bullpen will get an immediate boost with the return of Edwin Diaz, who nearly made a dramatic return from his torn patellar tendon in his right knee late in the 2023 season. However, the Mets must make up for the loss of a high-leverage choice after Adam Ottavino declined his $6.75 million player option.
Corner outfield/designated hitter
The Mets re-signed DJ Stewart to a one-year, $1.38 million deal to provide outfield depth after his strong conclusion to the 2023 season. But the Mets could still stand to use more production at this position following the trade of Mark Canha at last season's deadline.
Jeff McNeil has proven to be a reliable option when shifting from second base, but there are also questions about Starling Marte's health after he had lingering discomfort in his groin following surgery in the offseason in 2022.
Mets' potential free-agent targets
In the previous two offseasons, the Mets have landed one of the most sought-after prizes in Scherzer and Verlander. That quest figures to continue this winter with another hole atop the team's rotation.
At 25 years old, Yamamoto still has room to grow despite his massively high ceiling after he has won Nippon Professional Baseball's pitching triple crown in each of the past two seasons. He's likely to command the biggest contract of any free agent pitcher — sans Shohei Ohtani — but his command, potential and wide arsenal make him an appealing investment.
In some sense, Montgomery would be a consolation prize if the Mets could not land Yamamoto, but at 30, he's one of the youngest among the next crop of top-end free-agent starters. Montgomery also showcased how strong of an option he can be when he moved to the Texas Rangers at the deadline.
In 11 games with the Rangers, the southpaw notched a 4-2 record with a 2.79 ERA. And he showed up when the lights were brightest, going 3-1 with a 2.90 ERA across six appearances in the postseason. He's also familiar with New York after spending parts of six seasons with the Yankees.
The addition of Hernandez would fill a pair of needs because he brings a power bat and an ability to play the outfield. Last season with the Mariners, Hernandez ripped 26 home runs, drove in 93 runs and doubled 29 times. He has collected 25 home runs or more in four of the last five seasons.
Hernandez's power came at the expense of a career-high 211 strikeouts last season.
Mets' potential trade targets
The Rays are known as one of the most cost-conscious clubs in MLB, which makes Glasnow's $25 million salary for the upcoming year an extreme outlier.
With only one year left on his deal, the 30-year-old righty could fill a need while not hampering the team's spending in the future. Glasnow, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2023, has been dominant when he can stay on the field. Last season, he was 10-7 with a 3.53 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 162 strikeouts in 120 innings.
It could be worth an inquiry if the Mets do not have to give up one of their top prospects.
Carlson could provide strong upside at a very manageable cost. He's entering his first season of arbitration and is expected to make just north of $2 million this season. The former first-round pick posted a .651 OPS in 76 games this season but finished third in Rookie of the Year voting in 2021 with 18 home runs and 65 RBI.
Burnes is a player that Stearns knows well as one of the Mets president's first draft picks in 2016. Burnes has one more year left on his contract with the Brewers and holds a lot of value as an expiring contract heading into the 2024 season.
Burnes, who won the NL Cy Young in 2022, is coming off a 10-win season with a league-best 1.07 WHIP to go along with his third straight 200-strikeout season and a 3.39 ERA. Burnes would come at a lofty cost but be an immediate ace atop the rotation.
Mets' own trade chips
Stearns has said he expects Alonso to be the Mets' Opening Day first baseman, but that does not negate his trade value. If the Mets made him available, he would fetch a hero's ransom, particularly before the season got underway.
Alonso is entering the final season under team control and will become an unrestricted free agent next offseason. The five-year veteran will be 29 next season and will be seeking a massive deal after chipping in four seasons with at least 37 home runs.
If the Mets were looking to cut costs, McNeil, who is entering his second season of a four-year, $50 million deal, could save them some money. He is a season removed from winning the club's second National League batting title and finished 2023 with a .711 OPS.
While a team could seek a resurgence, the Mets would be hard-pressed to lose McNeil's versatility and durability, which he has particularly showcased over the last two seasons.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: NY Mets Trade, free agency rumors ahead of MLB Winter Meetings