Saturday, July 9, 2022

Decisions, Decisions: Position Players

We complete our three-part series on the player decisions the Mets will face after the 2022 season, focusing on position players.

In parts one and two of this series, we looked at New York Mets starters and relievers that would be free agents following this season. Today we wrap up with a look at the position players. Unlike the pitching staff, where the Mets front office will be forced to make several important decisions, there is only one significant position player reaching free agency: CF Brandon Nimmo. But Nimmo is an important player, indeed. Brandon is one of the offensive catalysts for this club and, as a bonus, turned himself into an excellent center fielder.

Nimmo is still a bit of a polarizing figure among Mets fans. While most acknowledge Brandon's skills as a ballplayer, his limited home run power and unwillingness to utilize his speed as a base stealer are checkmarks in the "against" column. But the biggest argument against signing Nimmo to a deal is his yearly struggles to stay off the Injured List. Brandon played 140 games in 2018 but hasn't topped 100 games in any season since.

Nimmo dealt with a bulging disk in his neck in 2019, ultimately appearing in only 69 games that year. He played in 55 of the 60 games in 2020, then the injury bug struck again in 2021. Finger and hamstring woes limited Brandon to 92 games.

So far in 2022, Nimmo has been relatively healthy, although he did struggle a bit with a wrist injury early in the year. Still, Brandon has appeared in 75 of the Mets' 83 games so far. If he can avoid missing a big chunk of time over the rest of the season, it will undoubtedly enhance Nimmo's asking price in free agency. Still, it won't erase concerns about Nimmo becoming this generation's Jacoby Ellsbury.

Ellsbury was a talented CF with the Red Sox who was signed to a 7-year, $153 million contract by the Yankees before the 2014 season. Injuries limited Jacoby to playing in only 520 of 972 possible games. He didn't play at all for the last three years of the contract. Even when he did play, Jacoby Ellsbury was relatively ineffective, slashing .264/.330/.386 for the Yankees in contrast to the .297/.350/.439 line he put up in 7 years with the Red Sox. Ellsbury's injury problems didn't begin with the Yankees, but he averaged over 100 games per season in Boston, which is better than what Nimmo has managed with the Mets so far.

So, the dilemma for Billy Eppler and the rest of the Mets' brain trust will be to decide what value to place on Brandon Nimmo's undeniable skills and how to mitigate the risk of Nimmo's proclivity for injury. Brandon will play next season at age 30. It would be nice to assume that Nimmo has turned the corner on injuries if he avoids them this season. However, it is a rare ballplayer who deals with fewer injuries in his 30s than he did in his 20s.

The Mets have 2 years to go on Max Scherzer's contract. They need to either retain some of their free agent starting pitchers or shop for replacements in the open market. Another big money decision needs to be made on closer Edwin Díaz. While I'd love to see Brandom Nimmo remain a New York Met, I fear that some club out there will make an offer to Nimmo that the Mets won't want to beat. Yes, Steve Cohen is wealthy, but there are only so many very large contracts that even this club can take on. Brandon Nimmo's injury risks only complicate the decision more.

I suspect Brandon Nimmo will be playing elsewhere in 2023. A lot depends on whether there is a team out there willing to go out on a limb in years and money to snag Nimmo. I can't see the Mets signing Jacob deGrom, Díaz, and Nimmo in any scenario. If the rumors are true that deGrom wants out of New York — and you can count me as highly skeptical regarding those reports — that would, at the least, increase the chances of the Mets retaining Brandon Nimmo.

Below is a comprehensive list of the position players who have played for the Mets in 2022 and are still with the team. As you can see, the free agent questions pretty much begin and end with Nimmo:

Position Players
Free Agents
Returning

Nick Plummer signed with the Mets on a 1-year deal. Perhaps they could re-sign him to another. However, I can't help but think that Plummer might see a better path to MLB playing time with a different team. You could probably also put Ender Inciarte and Khalil Lee in that same boat. It wouldn't shock me if the Mets convinced one of them to stay, but certainly not all three.

Travis Jankowski will also be a free agent after the season. Travis has proved useful off the bench and, just as importantly, accepts that role willingly. If Jankowski returns from his injury and continues to play well for the Mets, another club might see him as regular or at least a semi-regular. If not, I'd expect the Mets to retain him as a valuable reserve, possibly even offering him a 2-year contract.

While all of the other position players remain under contract beyond this season, there are still interesting questions as to whether the Mets hope to re-sign any to long-term contracts. The obvious choice would be Pete Alonso. Pete has 2 more years of arbitration with the Mets, then becomes a free agent as a 30-year-old. Buying out the last 2 years of arbitration along with the first 4 years of free agency would offer Alonso some security and ensure that the Mets aren't committed to him too far into his declining years. It would certainly be worth pursuing. The Mets must figure out how to retain some of their better players.

Along those lines, the club might consider an extension for Jeff McNeil. Jeff is an interesting case, as he didn't begin his Mets career until his age 26 season. He won't be eligible for free agency until he's 33. I imagine a deal for McNeil that buys out his last two years of arbitration and 2 or 3 years of free agency. Although McNeil is a really valuable player with his contact skills and defensive versatility, he wouldn't cost nearly as much as Alonso.

Really, the only other position player I would consider trying to retain past his free agency would be Luis Guillorme. He's under club control for another 3 years, so there wouldn't be any pressure to do something this offseason. But the Mets should think about some sort of deal to hold onto the supersub with the incredible hands beyond those 3 remaining arbitration years.

This winter, a different type of decision Billy Eppler and the front office will have to make will involve backup catcher Tomás Nido. Nido has no minor league options left. If next year is indeed the year that Francisco Álvarez makes the major league roster, it's quite unlikely that the club would waste a roster spot on a third catcher. The Mets could try to find a team willing to take James McCann along with some cash to offset the contract. But the pitchers really like McCann, and I could see him in an important role as a mentor to Francisco Álvarez.

I'm not sure how much Nido would be worth in a deal. He's a nice defensive catcher, but his OPS+ is currently a pathetic 41, a few points below his career OPS+ of 50. For comparison, Doug Flynn — an infamously bad hitter from the 70s and 80s — had a 58 career OPS+. Nido's current OPS+ matches the career mark of Mario Mendoza of the infamous Mendoza line. Nido has done a decent job of driving in some runs this season, but the dude really just can't hit. Tomás does have some value as a good defensive catcher, though. If the Mets see Álvarez on the club next season, they need to get something of value in return for Tomás Nido this winter.

Okay, that will do it for our early look at the intriguing offseason that Eppler and the brain trust will face this coming winter. And we've only discussed decisions that will need to be made on the Mets' own players. It looks pretty likely that the Mets will be active in the free agent and trade markets this winter, also. There is much work ahead for these folks. Phew!

Please be well and take care. Let's go Mets!

Decisions, Decisions:
Part 3, Position Players (This Post)


Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos.

1 comment:

  1. It really is a different world than Wilponia, the heretofore haggard and budget driven team who would never go far enough with its own players nor approach the top tier talents on the market due to self-imposed fiscal constraints. I am back and forth on Nimmo. I've come to really like him as a player but I fear for the many IL stints. I would go with a decent but not spectacular offer long term and accept that you get perhaps 125 guaranteed games per season. Given his quality, that's not ideal but it's a lot better than the barren outfield in the minors would offer you.

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