Brandon Nimmo is heading into free agency on a high note, having just had arguably the best season of his career. He hit 16 home runs in 151 games and produced an overall batting line of .274/.367/.433. That production was 34% better than the league average hitter, as measured by wRC+. When combined with some strong work in the outfield, he produced 5.4 wins above replacement in the eyes of FanGraphs, eclipsing his previous high of 4.8.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post recently spoke to Scott Boras, who is Nimmo’s agent, with Boras highlighting that this winter’s free agent class is low on impact center fielders and leadoff hitters. Looking at the list of available free agents, Boras has a point. Aaron Judge played some center this year but is primarily a right fielder. Beyond him and Nimmo, the other options are mostly bench/depth types, with the oft-injured Kevin Kiermaier perhaps the only thing approaching a plausible regular up the middle.
Sherman compares Nimmo to Starling Marte and the $78MM contract he got from the Mets but opines that Nimmo has a chance to double that. There are certainly reasons to think free agency will be kinder to Nimmo than it was to Marte, with age being a significant separator. Marte was 33 years old at the time his deal was signed, whereas Nimmo won’t turn 30 until March. Given that three-year gap, Nimmo could try to try to push for a lengthier deal than the four years that Marte secured. Marte was coming off a remarkably similar walk year, as he posted a 134 wRC+ and 5.4 fWAR in 2021. He didn’t have a qualifying offer attached since he was traded midseason, something Nimmo will be saddled with. But there won’t be a lockout this winter to complicate matters and the CBT barriers have all moved higher since then. Combining those factors with the fact that teams are further removed from pandemic losses and the spending environment might be generally more robust than it was in November of 2021, when Marte was signed.
Whether the Mets will be in the Nimmo sweepstakes remains to be seen, but there is an argument to be made for them letting him walk. They could theoretically slide Marte over to center field and focus their resources on a pitching staff that is set for a huge amount of turnover. The Mets have about a dozen hurlers who could reach the open market in the coming weeks, depending on the outcome of some options and opt-outs. Of course, the biggest elephant in the room is Jacob deGrom, who has the ability to opt out of the remainder of his contract in a few weeks. deGrom has been clear about his intention to trigger that opt out, even while he was dealing with the uncertainty of his injured shoulder earlier this year.
Once he reaches free agency, his market will be a difficult one to predict. He has been one of the best pitchers in the game when healthy but hasn’t managed a full season since 2019. The pandemic limited him to just 12 starts in 2020 and then injuries kept him at 15 starts last year and 11 here in 2022. He’s still been excellent when on the mound though, posting a 2.05 ERA over 224 1/3 innings in that three-year stretch, along with a 42.1% ground ball rate, 42.4% strikeout rate and 4.5% walk rate.
Given his excellent quality but diminished quantity in recent years, there is likely to be a wide variance in how different teams will value his potential contributions going forward. For his part, it’s possible that deGrom isn’t particularly focused on strictly maximizing his earnings, with Tim Britton and Will Sammon of The Athletic reporting that the righty will also be looking for comfort, preferring to be closer to his Florida home.
It might be difficult for deGrom to get exactly what he wants in that regard, as the two clubs based in his home state aren’t big spenders. The Marlins have been clearing their payroll in the recent past and then focused on adding offense when they finally did make some recent additions. Jorge Soler’s $15MM salary will be the largest contract on the books next year and it would certainly come as a shock to see them more than double that figure to land deGrom, especially when they have so much starting pitching that they are planning to use it to trade for bats. The Rays have never been huge players in free agency and have a massive 19-player arbitration class. That’s likely going to lead them down a path of making tough cuts around the fringes of their roster, even without adding a marquee free agent expenditure.
Moving outside the state, the nearest team to Florida can be found in Atlanta. They have also been the destination of a pitcher with similar geographic preferences, as Charlie Morton continues to re-up with the club in order to be near his own Florida home. deGrom would surely be a welcome addition to any club from a pure baseball perspective, but there are reasons to think Atlanta isn’t a perfect fit. In addition to Morton, the club also has Max Fried, Kyle Wright and Spencer Strider penciled into their rotation for next year. Jake Odorizzi will likely exercise his player option and take a spot at the back end, something the club surely anticipated when they traded for him at the deadline.
Adding deGrom and then trading Odorizzi would be an attractive way to get around the crowded rotation, though that would come with financial complications. Atlanta ran out a franchise-record Opening Day payroll of $178MM this year, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, way beyond the previous high of $131MM from the year before. They already have about $154MM committed for next year, without factoring in arbitration raises for players like Fried. Whatever budget they have left over might need to be earmarked for shortstop, since Dansby Swanson is slated for free agency. Even if the club is willing to let Swanson walk and stick with Vaughn Grissom at short, despite Grissom having only 41 games played above Double-A, signing deGrom would require the club to stretch it’s financial comfort zone even farther.
If deGrom considers Texas to be comfortably close to Florida, there would be a sensible fit on the Rangers. The club was very aggressive in free agency a year ago but still had another disappointing campaign in terms of results. They reportedly plan on being aggressive yet again this winter, with a stronger focus on starting pitching this time around. However, the Rangers arguably only have two rotation spots spoken for, with Jon Gray and Dane Dunning the only ones who can be reliably counted on. It might be wiser of them to spread their money around to multiple pitchers as opposed to focusing on one elite arm like deGrom, even if they succeed in re-signing Martín Pérez. It’s also unknown how deGrom’s reported desire to be near his family would be balanced against a natural desire to suit up for a surefire competitor.
Of course, the Mets will surely hope to overcome whatever obstacles come up this winter and bring deGrom back to Queens, but they will also have other matters to attend to. Beyond Nimmo and deGrom, it will be a fascinating offseason for the Mets, as their other free agents or potential free agents are Carlos Carrasco, Taijuan Walker, Chris Bassitt, Trevor May, Mychal Givens, Adam Ottavino, Joely Rodriguez, Daniel Vogelbach, John Curtiss, Edwin Diaz, Tyler Naquin, Seth Lugo and Trevor Williams. It’s anyone’s guess what the roster looks like a few months from now, but it seems there will at least be continuity off the field. Mike Puma of the New York Post relays that both manager Buck Showalter and general manager Billy Eppler are secure in their respective jobs. It was the first season with the Mets for both, as Eppler was hired in November of last year and he then brought Showalter aboard during the lockout. Despite a disappointing playoff loss to end the campaign, the Mets still went 101-61, their best record since 1986. They will look to repeat or top that performance in 2023, though the first order of business will be filling the large number of holes on the roster that are about to open.