Trade deadline, Jacob deGrom among pressing issues facing Mets

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For all their recent struggles, they are still the first-place Mets. Whether that four-game NL East lead shrinks or grows could hinge upon the answers to these five questions:

What are the Mets’ needs headed to the trade deadline?

Joey Lucchesi is finished for the season after tearing his UCL, and the starting pitching depth the Mets thought they had is virtually nonexistent — as Carlos Carrasco, Noah Syndergaard and Jordan Yamamoto aren’t close to returning from injuries. And even if Carrasco were to return by the end of July, should the Mets feel confident enough that he and the other members of the rotation will remain healthy?

Fortunately for the Mets, at least a dozen teams figure to be sellers heading to the July 30 trade deadline. Many of them will be looking to shed contracts, which would lessen the cost in prospects for the Mets.

For luxury-tax purposes, the Mets are sitting with a $200 million payroll, according to Spotrac. That leaves them with roughly $10 million of additional space before penalties would kick in. Last weekend, team owner Steve Cohen intimated the Mets would either stay under $210 million or blow past it, with the third option — just going over the threshold by a few million — not really palatable.

Could the Mets engage the Twins about Jose Berrios, who has worked previously with pitching coach Jeremy Hefner? On the higher end, Hyun Jin Ryu isn’t even midway through the four-year contract worth $80 million he signed with the Blue Jays before last season. That move without any others would put the Mets into the area Cohen looks to avoid, perhaps just a smidge above the luxury-tax threshold.

Names such as Matthew Boyd, Merrill Kelly and Luis Castillo could also be appealing to the Mets.

The perfect storm might be finding a veteran who a non-contending team is looking to unload to save money, who also wouldn’t push the Mets up against the luxury-tax threshold. One name to watch is Wade Miley. The Reds left-hander is earning $8 million this year (he’s got a club option for 2022) and is seventh among pitchers with a 3.4 bWAR this season.

If the Mets try to upgrade the lineup, third base would likely be the spot. J.D. Davis’ hand injury has frustrated team officials, and there is still the question of what he will be defensively when he returns.

When will Jacob deGrom be fully unleashed?

The best pitcher on the planet hasn’t topped 85 pitches in a start since April 28, when he threw 93 against the Red Sox. Only once this season has he reached 100 pitches.

Part of the reduced pitch load can be explained by shortened starts because of discomfort (elbow, shoulder) and caution in returning from a side injury. But it’s also clear the Mets are looking to preserve deGrom’s bullets and have concern about his health.

The way deGrom has pitched, it isn’t inconceivable that manager Luis Rojas will soon face the stomach-churning decision of leaving his ace in the game to chase a no-hitter or removing him in the late innings on the side of caution.

How daunting is the upcoming schedule?

It should be a grind for the Mets over the next two weeks, with the Phillies, Braves, Yankees and Brewers on the schedule. But heading into the All-Star break and coming out of it, the Mets get something of a reprieve — with 13 straight games against the Pirates, Reds and Blue Jays. That stretch could offer the Mets an opportunity to build some equity before returning to the NL East fray.

Who bats leadoff, Brandon Nimmo or Jeff McNeil?

Just the fact this question can be asked should be a Mets cause for celebration. McNeil returned this week from a month on the injured list, and the expectation is Nimmo will rejoin the team during the Mets’ next road trip, meaning as soon as Monday. Over the first month of the season, Nimmo was among the few players producing, with an .870 OPS. He does his best work from the leadoff spot, so the debate should end there.

What will become of the Bench Mob with the regulars returning?

The front office faces tough decisions. Jose Peraza has given the team a boost defensively and shown pop, but he’s got a minor league option remaining and essentially fills the same role as Luis Guillorme (who also has an option). Billy McKinney and Albert Almora Jr. are likely competing for one spot. McKinney, who is out of options, has faded after helping carry the team in early June. Almora Jr. (who has an option) is highly regarded for his defense.

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