As the New York Mets put the finishing touches on their first offseason of the Steve Cohen era, the attention shifts from adding talent to figuring out how to keep their own. With pitchers and catchers set to report later in the month, President Sandy Alderson and acting General Manager Zack Scott will have to figure out how the Mets will navigate the general extension period for their pending 2022 free agents.
The average team will have one or two big-name players hit the market, but the Mets are scheduled to have four starting players between the starting rotation and opening day lineup eligible for free agency next offseason – outfielder Michael Conforto, starting pitchers Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard, and recently acquired shortstop Francisco Lindor.
And outside of Jacob deGrom, whose contract extension looms over the Mets in the near future, the Mets are a team with very few commitments over the next three seasons. Ideally, the Mets should try to keep all four players, go above the “salary cap” (more on that in a bit), and then add good players on top of that, but realistically, the Mets should attempt to keep three of the four.
How should the Mets take care of the top four extension candidates? Let’s discuss the four free agents, how much they could receive, and just how much of a chance the Mets have at retaining the player.
Before we jumped into a proper discussion of the top four players, I want to mention a few things the Mets would be wise to consider before heading into the conversation:
Robinson Cano’s return
While Cohen and Alderson expressed an interest in being aggressive in free agency, the one thing they’ve remained non-committal towards is the luxury tax, which has begun to double as a salary cap for some teams. Until the Mets break that barrier, it’s fair to assume that the competitive balance tax, estimated at $210 million for 2021, is a cap.
As soon as the 2021 season ends, Robinson Cano’s money will be placed right back on New York’s books. Yes, the Mets will get a solid hitter and someone whose value could be increased with the introduction of the universal DH, but for now, the Mets are slated to have $21 million placed back onto their payroll, which shouldn’t hinder the Mets, but could create more work in terms of structuring contracts.
Arbitration and the rest of the New York Mets
The conversation will veer to four specific players, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the rising salaries on the rest of the roster that could play a factor. Here is a list of players and their potential arb raises:
Pete Alonso, Dominic Smith, Jeff McNeil, JD Davis, Brandon Nimmo, Seth Lugo, and Edwin Diaz.
The players that intrigue here are Diaz, McNeil, and Alonso. Diaz’s status as a closer could result in a significant bump in pay, and entering his final cycle through arbitration, the Mets would be wise to see if getting an extension done this offseason would save them money moving forward.
McNeil has submitted two seasons with an fWAR of 2.5 or more, and Alonso has a 50-HR season under his belt, and another strong season could put Alonso in rare air as an ARB-1 player. Diaz’s last arbitration cycle, along with Alonso and McNeil’s first cycles, could be costly as the Mets navigate re-signing players and adding new players while dealing with the competitive balance tax.
The 2022 Starting Pitching Market
The Mets might have two of the top starters entering free agency, but that market might be a bit stiff at the top. Here is a list of starting pitching options also entering the market:
Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Eduardo Rodriguez, Dylan Bundy, Jon Gray, Lance McCullers, Kevin Gausman, Charlie Morton, Trevor Bauer, and Danny Duffy.
Some of these players could come off the board – Bauer could decide to remain with the Dodgers, ditto for Kershaw, who should retire a Dodger – but the market should be flooded with starting pitching options, and that’s before you get to players who may be non-tendered or players like Cincinnati’s Luis Castillo, who could find themselves on the trade block next winter.
With those three things in consideration, here is my order for the Mets top four free agents in terms of which order I would prioritize their extensions.