Free agency is officially underway, and with the Mets staring down multiple holes in the rotation, bullpen and lineup, they’ll be among the sport’s more active teams again this winter. A pair of early targets for the team include left-hander Andrew Heaney, per Newsday’s Tim Healey, and old friend Michael Conforto, per Will Sammon of The Athletic.
The interest in Heaney is sensible on many levels. First and foremost, the Mets currently face the possibility of losing Jacob deGrom, Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker to free agency. Heaney certainly isn’t going to offset a potential deGrom loss, but the Mets figure to cast a wide net in sifting through starting pitching options, as it’s unlikely that they’ll come to a middle ground and re-sign all three of their rotation free agents. Secondly, GM Billy Eppler knows Heaney quite well, having spent the 2015-20 seasons as the Angels’ general manager; Heaney, while originally acquired when Jerry Dipoto was the Halos’ GM, was with the Angels for all six of those seasons.
Beyond the sheer need in the rotation and the familiarity with the pitcher and person in Heaney, his 2022 breakout with the Dodgers was nothing short of remarkable. A pair of shoulder troubles limited him to 72 2/3 innings, and that’s a concern for any pitcher but especially one with Heaney’s lengthy injury history. However, when he was able to take the mound, the 31-year-old southpaw worked to a tidy 3.10 ERA with the second-best strikeout rate (35.5%) and best swinging-strike rate (16.8%) of the 188 pitchers who tossed at least 70 frames in 2022.
Heaney’s emergence came on the heels of the Dodgers scrapping nearly his entire arsenal. Heaney continued throwing a four-seamer he debuted in 2021 — he’d previously used a sinker as his primary heater — but dumped his changeup and curveball in favor of a new slider that proved to be an absolute knockout offering. Heaney was almost all four-seamers and sliders in 2022, with the lone exception being a 5% usage rate on the aforementioned changeup (which he once threw at a 23% clip).
As for Conforto, a reunion makes some sense — though only if the Mets lose Brandon Nimmo to another club (or feel that his early asking price is simply beyond the pale). The longtime Mets slugger had a down season (by his standards) in 2021, though he still checked in as a slightly above-average offensive contributor. Unfazed by the dip in production, Conforto rejected a qualifying offer in search of a multi-year deal but found a frosty market before suffering a shoulder injury that required surgery and ultimately kept him out of action for the entire 2022 season.
Ostensibly, that would set the table for a one-year, make-good deal wherever he signs, but agent Scott Boras has already suggested that Conforto is likely to target a two-year deal with an opt-out — similar to the structure that Carlos Rodon had with the Giants in 2022 (presumably at a decidedly lower total than Rodon’s $44MM). Whether such an offer materializes can’t be known so early in a months-long free agent period.
Signing Conforto would likely mean sliding Starling Marte over to center and bidding farewell to Nimmo, or perhaps committing to Conforto in more of a DH role. The latter scenario might not appeal to a 29-year-old who’s looking to reestablish himself as a credible all-around player, however, and it seems unlikely the Mets would jump the market to sign any outfielder who’d push Marte to center before having a full grasp on Nimmo’s situation.
Payroll shouldn’t be much of an issue for a Mets club that topped $280MM in 2022 and approached $300MM in luxury-tax obligations. Still, it’s worth noting that entering the market, the team projects to a payroll of about $238MM, per Roster Resource’s Jason Martinez, with a bit less than $249MM on the luxury ledger. Finding a taker for Dominic Smith or Darin Ruf (or simply non-tendering the former) could slightly drop those figures, but the Mets are already deep into luxury territory and figure to have little qualms about surpassing the newly implemented fourth tier of penalization for a second straight year.