The Mets have a huge batch of players departing their roster for free agency in the coming days, a list that includes Brandon Nimmo, Tyler Naquin and almost the entire bullpen, including closer Edwin Díaz. That group is likely to be joined by Jacob deGrom, Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker, who all either have opt-outs they can trigger or options they can turn down. However, the Mets are most interested in retaining Díaz and Nimmo out of that group, according to Andy Martino of SNY.
The club’s interest in Nimmo is fairly understandable for a few reasons. For one thing, Nimmo is very good, having been above-average at the plate in each of the past six seasons. For his career, he’s gotten into 608 games and has walked in 13.6% of his plate appearances, much better than league average, producing an overall batting line of .269/.385/.441. That production is 34% better than the league average hitter, as evidenced by his 134 wRC+, with Nimmo putting up the same number in 2022.
Nimmo is also a serviceable defender in center field, though defensive metrics disagree on exactly how effective he is on the grass. Defensive Runs Saved gave him a -3 this year, but a +4 last year. Ultimate Zone Rating was at -0.4 in 2022 after giving Nimmo a 2.9 in 2021. Outs Above Average was the most optimistic, pegging him with a six this year and a three last year.
Perhaps most importantly, Nimmo stayed healthy this year, getting into 151 games in the regular season and three more in the playoffs. Health has often been a question mark around Nimmo, with 2022 being just the second time he’s gotten into more than 100 games in a campaign. However, he played 55 games in the shortened 2020 season and 92 last year, meaning he’s going into free agency on the heels of a fairly strong three-year stretch in the health department.
What also adds to Nimmo’s appeal is the fairly weak crop of free agent center fielders this year. Outside of Nimmo and Aaron Judge, who’s never been a full-time center fielder, the top option is probably the oft-injured Kevin Kiermaier. The Rays hold a club option for Kiermaier but are likely to turn it down given his down year and season-ending hip surgery. Cody Bellinger could join the market if the Dodgers decide to non-tender him, though the reason they might do that is because he’s hit so poorly over the past two years. Beyond that group, there aren’t a lot of realistic options who can be expected to secure everyday jobs. As the Mets watch Nimmo depart, the easiest path to filling his vacancy is to simply bring him back.
General manager Billy Eppler recently said that the club is open to moving Starling Marte from right to center, but also spoke highly of Nimmo. Given that Marte recently turned 34 and didn’t play much center this year, it would be a riskier move to ride with him as opposed to bringing Nimmo back. Of course, retaining Nimmo will mean beating the market and paying him to stick around. Given Nimmo’s talents and the dearth of more attractive options, he surely won’t be cheap.
As for Díaz, it’s fairly understandable that the club would want to retain him as well. He is one of seven relievers that the Mets are about to lose to the open market, meaning they will have to effectively rebuild their entire bullpen from scratch this winter. Starting with arguably the best reliever on the planet is a good way to kick things off. He pitched 62 innings with a tiny ERA of 1.31 in 2022. He did that by striking out 118 batters, an incredible rate of 50.2%. He also kept his walks at a reasonable 7.7% and got grounders on 46.9% of balls in play. He even added 2 2/3 innings of scoreless work in the postseason before the Mets were eliminated.
Given that excellence, Díaz will also be looking at a nice payday on the open market. The record deal for a reliever is the five-year, $86MM deal signed by the Yankees and Aroldis Chapman. Díaz has a compelling case that he’s currently as good as Chapman was then or perhaps even better. Since that contract is six years old at this point and inflation generally pushes contracts upwards over time, it’s entirely possible that Díaz sets a new record. Given that the Mets have so many holes to fill, there would be some sense in avoiding mega deals while spreading their money around, but there’s also no doubt that retaining Díaz adds a huge lockdown element to help them win close ballgames.
The fact that the Mets have set their targets on Nimmo and Díaz doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not interested in their other potential free agents, such as deGrom, Walker or Bassitt. Roster Resource estimates the 2023 payroll is around $231MM at the moment, though that will drop by about $40MM when deGrom and Walker trigger their opt-outs. Assuming the Mets pick up Carlos Carrasco’s $14MM club option instead of the $3MM buyout, that will add $11MM back on. Factoring in a couple of non-tenders and the club could be around $200MM, give or take. Owner Steve Cohen has hinted at a $300MM spending limit, per Jon Heyman of the New York Post, which leaves plenty of room to make multiple signings if that’s the way the club wants to go. Of course, the players also have a say in the matter, as do the 29 other teams. The Mets will have many strands to follow this winter, even if Nimmo and Díaz are currently at the top of the agenda.
One other route the club has considered is bringing in another Díaz, as Martino reports that the Mets tried to acquire Alexis Díaz from the Reds at the deadline a few months back. Alexis is Edwin’s younger brother and Martino reports that the two are quite close. Seeing the two brothers form a fraternal one-two punch at the back of the bullpen would certainly be exciting, but prying him loose from Cincinnati won’t be easy. 2022 was his first season in the big leagues, meaning the Reds still have five seasons of control over his services, including two more campaigns before Alexis even qualifies for a salary raise via arbitration. The debut could hardly have gone much better, as he tossed 63 2/3 innings with a 1.84 ERA and 32.5% strikeout rate, though his 12.9% walk rate was a few ticks above league average. He worked his way up the club’s depth chart as the season went on, earning 13 holds and 10 saves.
The Mets are reportedly hesitant to deal from their prospect depth at the moment, preferring to add to the big league team via free agency while they try to get their farm into good shape. That could make a deal unlikely to come together, though it adds another layer of intrigue to an offseason full of it.