The Mets’ roster is facing a good bit of potential turnover this winter, with Jacob deGrom, Edwin Diaz, Chris Bassitt, Brandon Nimmo, Taijuan Walker, Seth Lugo and Trevor May among the many names able to reach free agency. DeGrom has an opt-out he’s said he plans to exercise even after missing time due to injury. Bassitt has a mutual option, which are very rarely exercised by both parties. Walker has a player option he should be able to easily surpass on the open market.
The 29-year-old Nimmo (30 next March) is a pure free agent at season’s end, but he tells Mike Puma of the New York Post that the Mets informed him as recently as the All-Star break that they’re hopeful of retaining him beyond the current season. There’s no indication the two have engaged in meaningful extension talks, but teams have a five-day exclusive negotiating window with their own free agents following the conclusion of the World Series. Failing to reach a new deal in that window — or sooner, as nothing’s technically preventing the two sides from speaking now — will prompt the team to make a decision on a potential qualifying offer for Nimmo.
Nimmo is a somewhat under-the-radar QO candidate, even with the hefty price point somewhere in the $18-19MM range. He’s been a bargain playing on a $7MM salary this season, hitting .269/.355/.421 with 10 homers, 21 doubles, five triples and anywhere from average to plus defensive marks in center field (-1 DRS, 2.7 Ultimate Zone Rating, 5 Outs Above Average). Opinions on the overall quality of his glovework may vary, but Nimmo has at the very least made himself into a passable defender who’s nowhere near the liability in center field he was just a few years ago.
On a rate basis, Nimmo has quietly been one of the league’s most-productive offensive players over the past several years. Dating back to 2018, he’s a .267/.387/.448 hitter in 1861 plate appearances. Out of 295 qualified hitters in that time, he’s tied with Mookie Betts and Alex Bregman for the sixth-best on-base percentage in baseball, and he has the game’s 15th-highest walk rate (13.7%). Nimmo’s brand of OBP-driven value at the plate may not hold the same appeal to fans as that of a prototypical .290-.310 hitter or 30-homer slugger, but it’s one that MLB front offices have proven to value nonetheless — particularly in center field, a premium position on the defensive spectrum (see: Dexter Fowler, Lorenzo Cain). By measure of wRC+, Nimmo has been 36% better than league average at the plate since 2018.
The elephant in the room, of course, is the necessity of specifying “on a rate basis.” Nimmo is a very good or even great offensive contributor when he’s been on the field … but health issues have hampered him immensely throughout the years. In his Major League career, Nimmo has been on the injured list for a hamstring strain, a partially collapsed lung, a finger contusion, a neck injury (which kept him out more than three months), a bone bruise in his hand and another hamstring strain. Even prior to his MLB days, Nimmo suffered a torn ACL (playing high school football), a strain in his other ACL (in the minors) and a torn tendon in his left foot. It is a long list of injuries. Since 2018, he’s played in 69.7% of possible games with the Mets.
Notably, Nimmo has been healthy for the bulk of the 2022 season. He spent four days on the Covid-related injured list earlier this season but has otherwise been a mainstay in the lineup and in center field. His walk rate is “down” to 9.1% (still above the league average), but he’s also striking out in a career-low 16.7% of his plate appearances.
When looking at a player’s free agency, age and market context also matter greatly. Nimmo will turn 30 on March 27 next year, which makes him on the younger end what’s typical for free agents. He’s also one of very few everyday center field options on the 2022-23 free agent market. Fellow free agent Kevin Kiermaier has an even longer list of injury troubles, with multiple surgeries on his track record — including a recent season-ending hip surgery from which he’s currently rehabbing. Enrique Hernandez could arguably be included as a true center field option, but he’s about to turn 31 and has hit .209/.273/.340 — his third well below-average offensive season in the past four years — in a year that has also seen him miss more than two months with a strained hip flexor.
Add up Nimmo’s production on a rate basis, his vastly improved defense in center, his age and the generally thin market for center-field help, and he probably has a stronger free-agent case than some would give him credit for. He placed as an honorable mention on MLBTR’s recently updated Free Agent Power Rankings, but Nimmo was No. 11 on our list, sitting just behind his teammate, Diaz.
Coming off a (so far) healthy and productive season, he should be in a good spot to cash in on a multi-year deal that’ll probably exceed the expectations of many onlookers. Nimmo likely didn’t hire the Boras Corporation back in January in hopes of negotiating a team-friendly extension, after all. The aforementioned Cain/Fowler contracts ($80MM and $82.5MM, respectively) figure to be benchmarks Nimmo’s camp will look to exceed.