Veteran right-handed reliever Adam Ottavino turned down a $6.75MM player option to remain with the Mets at the beginning of the offseason. The decision was a surprise to some, as it’s always risky for any 38-year-old reliever to test the free-agent waters — particularly in lieu of accepting a locked-in salary that’s near the going market rate for a veteran setup man. However, Ottavino was a guest on Foul Territory this morning and, when asked, explained that his decision wasn’t so much a financial one but rather one of wanting to ensure he was in a competitive situation as he progresses into the latter stages of his career.
“To be clear, I wanted to stick with the Mets,” Ottavino explained to host Scott Braun (video link). “It’s the best situation for me, being a New York guy. I loved my time with the Mets. It’s just more of a function of, at the moment I had to make the decision, there was just so much uncertainty with the team. They hadn’t hired a manager yet. There was no coaching staff. They hadn’t gotten any free agents yet. We’d kind of scuffled down the stretch. There was this narrative that the team wasn’t going to try to compete this year. Obviously, I’m not getting any younger. I tried to talk to [president of baseball operations] David Stearns and get a little certainty on my end. Obviously, he’s going to play things close to the vest. That’s the way front offices operate, and I totally understand that. But from my perspective, I just didn’t feel 100% certain of what direction the team was going to look like, come spring training. I also had a lot of deferred money in my contract for this year. In that moment, it made sense for me to test the waters. I’d still like to be back there, but my mind is open to lots of different outcomes this time around. I feel like I’m on a year-to-year basis at this point with my age. I just don’t want to sell myself short; I’ve still never won, and I would like the opportunity to do that.”
Ottavino is an accomplished reliever with more than $50MM in career earnings to date, which also surely factored into his comfort level with turning down that guaranteed sum. It’s understandable, given his age and career earnings, that maxing out his salary in 2024 perhaps isn’t the right-hander’s top priority. Ottavino has pitched in five different postseasons for four different teams (Rockies, Yankees, Red Sox, Mets) but never advanced beyond the League Championship Series.
Given his track record and his 2023 platform year, it’s certainly possible that Ottavino can come close to or even exceed the money he declined from the Mets, particularly when factoring for the deferrals. At the time he declined his option, Ottavino told Joel Sherman of the New York Post that $4MM of that $6.75MM sum was deferred. The right-hander said he approached the Mets about a two-year deal (that would extend into a 2025 season where the club ostensibly will be taking larger strides to be competitive), but the team did not reciprocate that interest.
The 2023 season was yet another solid one for Ottavino. The former No. 30 overall pick (2006, Cardinals) pitched 61 2/3 innings of 3.21 ERA ball for the Mets and picked up a dozen saves and holds apiece along the way. Ottavino’s average sinker dipped for a second straight season (94.2 mph in ’22, 92.8 mph in ’23), and he saw both his strikeout and walk rates take a turn for the worse (30.6% and 6.2%, respectively, in 2022; 23.8% and 11.1% in 2023). This year’s 56.3% ground-ball rate was his highest mark since an injury-shortened 2016 season with the Rockies, however, and was the largest single-season mark he’s posted in his lengthy career.
Only once in the past six years has Ottavino had a sub-par season — that being the shortened 2020 campaign, when he had a 5.89 ERA in a tiny sample of just 18 1/3 innings. Collectively, he touts a 2.89 ERA, 29.7% strikeout rate, 11.2% walk rate and 46.4% ground-ball rate in 351 2/3 innings since Opening Day 2018. There ought to be at least a one-year deal out there in free agency, and it sounds as though Ottavino will prioritize signing with a team that has a rather clear chance at a postseason berth.