NY Mets: Making sense of the Sam McWilliams signing

The New York Mets are showing a willingness to invest more money in low-level talent by signing Sam McWilliams to a major league deal despite no previous MLB experience.

Although the New York Mets are focused on signing a couple of the major free agents on the market, they have spent the first month of the offseason making minor moves to fill out their 40-man roster.

One atypical deal they made was signing Sam McWilliams to a one-year deal, as reported by the New York Post. Although the agreement sounds innocuous enough, what makes this deal unusual is that he signed a major league deal and is set to earn a $750,000 salary. Considering he has yet to make his major league debut, the fact that the Mets would offer McWilliams a deal for more than the minimum and give him a major league contract instead of a minor league deal is an outré move.

This deal also raises eyebrows because he came off a 2019 season in Triple-A (the minor leagues did not play in 2020 due to COVID-19) during which he pitched to an 8.18 ERA. That’s not the type of season that would warrant a team to offer a major league deal to an unproven pitcher.

Exploring why the Mets would offer McWilliams a higher than the league minimum deal is an excellent case study that evinces the team’s eagerness to spend and invest money across the board.

By displaying an outward willingness to invest in their players and increase the team’s salary cap despite the pandemic, the Mets’ ownership is signaling to free agents that the talk of spending in free agency and investing in talent is not vainglorious bluster: The Mets want to compete, and they are willing to spend and invest in order to win now and in the future.

Understanding this organizational philosophy may partly explain why Sam McWilliams became the unexpected beneficiary of this new fiscal strategy. The next question is why the Mets gave him a major league deal. After all, a close examination of McWilliams’ career trajectory reveals a player who has hit an invisible roadblock.

He is stuck in baseball purgatory—good enough to continue to pursue professional baseball, but not magnificent enough to establish himself as a Major League relief pitcher.

Selected by the Phillies in the eighth round back in 2014, McWilliams thrived in Single-A with both the Phillies and Diamondbacks organizations. His best year was in 2017 when he was in the Diamondbacks organization as a member of the Kane County Cougars when he pitched to an 11–6 with a 2.84 ERA.

McWilliams has the tangibles and skills to become a good MLB pitcher—he’s 6’7”, throws hard, and doesn’t give up many home runs. In a league that is watching the renaissance of the long ball at the expense of small ball, the home run is how teams are manufacturing the majority of their runs over the course of a season. Therefore, pitchers who do not allow many home runs are more valuable than ever.

Sam McWilliams is also still a young pitcher. Being only 25 years old, the Mets are surmising that he has not reached his peak yet. Despite his struggles in Triple-A, McWilliams has pitched well in Single-A and Double-A.

Giving a 40-man roster spot to McWilliams is a bold move, albeit an uncanny one, but the Mets must feel that McWilliams has a chance at making his major league debut in 2021 to use one of their remaining 40-man roster spots on him. Even if McWilliams does not get called up in 2021, the deal indicates that the new Mets ownership is willing to invest in their players at the lower-level.

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If the 2017 Houston Astros and the 2016 Chicago Cubs taught us anything, it’s that the best way to build a winning team is to invest in talent at the minor league level and hope the most talented prospects all blossom around the same time. If my analysis in this article turns out to be correct, then Sam McWilliams will be the first of many low-level prospects who receive a contract like the one he just signed.