Their three-year, $ 39 million contract to Jay Bruce notwithstanding, it’s been a pretty much typical winter for Mets ownership, deflecting “cheapskate” flak from their critics amid speculation they were intending to reduce their $ 154 million payroll of last year.
Recently, however, both COO Jeff Wilpon and GM Sandy Alderson have sought to quell that speculation, promising there are more moves to come, but that when it comes to free agent contracts their primary consideration is going to be value for their bucks. In that respect, it would seem they are no different than the 29 other clubs in this deep freeze of a free-agent market. Everyone is still waiting to see how much the market is going to come back to them.
Right now, the Mets’ payroll is at about $ 141 million. It’s going to have to go up because this Mets team, as presently constituted, is not good enough to contend. They need another infielder and another starting pitcher, and in both cases the operative word is “proven.”
But by “proven” we’re talking about players who are 30 years or older — and they are the ones who are suddenly becoming most affected by this new world order in baseball in which the new breed of analytically driven GMs have convinced their owners that in almost any deal they enter into for older players they will be paying for past performance.
That’s why, now, it’s all about projection and why the “big three” over-30 free agents, J.D. Martinez, Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish, all of whom started out this offseason seeking seven-to-eight year deals, will all likely wind up with five years. The trickle down from that will be starting pitchers Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb, whose initial asking prices were said to be in the five-year, $ 75 million range, now probably will have to settle in the neighborhood of three years, $ 60M.
Nobody from the Mets asked me but, as I’m watching this looming market correction, I’m thinking I could sign Eduardo Nunez to address my second (or third) base situation and Lynn to fit in nicely behind Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard to fortify my starting rotation, and probably not have to go a whole lot beyond last year’s $ 154 million payroll.
In a previously typical market, Nunez, 31 in June, who averaged $ 4.5 million on a two-year free-agent deal signed with the Giants in 2016, could probably have expected to get a three-to-four-year deal worth $ 6-7M per this time around after a standout (.313/12 HR/24 SB/.801 OPS) season with SF and the Red Sox in ’17. But a knee injury that sidelined him nearly all of September and limited him to just one at-bat in the ALDS is a red flag, and even though there are a number of teams besides the Mets said to be interested in him, I’m thinking his market could wind up being more like two years (and an option?), at $ 5-6M per.
Lynn, 31 in May, has never gotten the appreciation he deserves as one of the most consistent starting pitchers in baseball. He doesn’t have the sexy, overpowering, high strikeout repertoire of a No. 1 or 2, but he made 31 or more starts and had double-figure win totals in all five of his full seasons with the Cardinals around the obligatory Tommy John surgery in 2016.
He made $ 7.5 million in his final year of arbitration last season and it’s understandable if he thought he’d be able to double that in a five-year deal as a free agent. Not gonna happen. I don’t know what the analytical projection for him is, but my guess is he winds up getting three years (and an option?) for around $ 12M per.
Again, I don’t know what the Mets high command is thinking, other than waiting to see just how low all these player markets are going to fall, but if I could sign Nunez and Lynn, for an additional $ 18 million in payroll but with no commitments beyond 2020, I’d feel good to go.
It’s a reasonable price for assurance that the team on the field would then be good enough to compete with the Nationals.
Wilpon himself admitted last week the fan perception that the Mets are not willing to spend what it takes to win has not been lost on him. At the same time, the widened gap between the Nationals and Mets and the prospect of tens of thousands of empty seats at Citi Field next summer is also not lost on him. He knows what he has to do to be competitive again. He just doesn’t know when the market correction will become official to help make that happen.