What Does The Future Hold: ’21 Mets and Beyond – Part 1

How Far We’ve Come

In a span of one year alone A LOT of things have changed for the New York Mets. So many I think it warrants its own itemized list!

  • New Owner Steve Cohen – Check
  • New GM Jared Porter – Check
  • New GM Zack Scott – Check
  • New Superstar Francisco Lindor – Check
  • New Player Development and R&D Heads (click links to learn more!) – Check

This is just a small list of new faces and changes made both on the field and in the front office. Because of these changes Mets fans have every reason to be excited for the ’21 season which is right around the corner BUT… What about ’22 and beyond?

The Mets in ’21

Right now the Mets are projected to have the 2nd highest payroll in the National League behind only the league leading Dodgers, a very distant second if you look at the graphic below.

via spotrac.com

They are 6th in payroll which coincidentally is exactly where they were in 2020 payroll rankings. But of that $164M, only $68M is there in guaranteed money in 2022. What does this mean? Well it is a mixture of several things. The Mets have a lot of “under control” talent on the roster that is not classified as guaranteed money. That $68M is being divided amongst just FIVE players as listed below

They then have EIGHT players that are slated for free-agency at years end and to say most of these players key pieces would be an understatement. Listed below are the eight and the money associated with them that comes off the books.

  • Francisco Lindor – $22.3M
  • Marcus Stroman – $18.9M
  • Michael Conforto – $12.25M
  • Jeurys Familia – $10M
  • Noah Syndergaard – $9.7M
  • Dellin Betances -$6M
  • Aaron Loup – $ 3M
  • Brad Brach – $2M

That comes out to a grand total of? $84.15M

Another way of putting it is almost exactly HALF of the current payroll. The number of other players that will remain under team control going into ’22 but not on guaranteed deals is 15. Of these 15, all but one is slated to be in some form of arbitration (David Peterson is the lone soul). Two of the Mets biggest core pieces, Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil, will be eligible for arbitration for the first time after the ’21 season. Meanwhile the Mets will see key pieces in both the bullpen (Lugo and Diaz) and lineup(Nimmo) enter their last (and most expensive) year of arbitration. In ’21 the players that are not on guaranteed deals AND are controllable after ’21 are combining to make a little over $27.5M. We can figure this number will be not only higher but significantly higher with the addition of Alonso and McNeil to the arbitration table.

  • Edwin Diaz – $7M
  • Brandon Nimmo – $4.7M
  • Seth Lugo – $2.9M
  • Dominic Smith – $2.5M
  • J.D. Davis – $2.1M
  • Miguel Castro – $1.6M
  • Robert Gsellman – $1.3M
  • Guillermo Heredia – $1.0M
  • Jose Martinez – $1.0M
  • Jacob Barnes – $750K
  • Sam McWilliams – $750K
  • Albert Almora – TBA
  • Alonso/McNeil/Nido/Guillorme/Peterson – Pre-Arb (~$3.0M)
  • TOTAL – $28.6M

2022 Key Arbitration Cases

With the arbitration players in ’21 combining for almost $24M and the addition of Alonso and McNeil I am going to project for this group of players to be closer to $40M rather than the $23.5M this year. While I might be a bit pessimistic in my estimations for the Mets as they approach arbitration (after all I am a Mets fan), I think it is better to overestimate than underestimate in this exercise. For those that do not understand the arbitration process click here. All caught up? Good. Let’s start with the key pieces who will be in their last years of arbitration. Then we’ll look at some player comparisons to see if we can attempt to predict what the arbitration numbers might look like in ’22, which will give us a more accurate description of the Mets payroll situation, or at least a part of it.

Brandon Nimmo – Nimmo will be 29 as he enters his last year of arbitration and 30 if or when he enters free agency. Brandon Nimmo has been criminally underrated by not only baseball fans but Mets fans! The “4th OFer” mantra seems to be dying down a little bit but is a clear manifestation of this undervaluing of an integral lineup piece. The player I think matches up most with Brandon Nimmo and is entering his final year of arbitration in ’21? Tommy Pham. Much like Nimmo, Pham was (and is) an undervalued player. The only real difference here is Pham himself had a much more visible and noticeable breakout in 2017 in which he actually received down-ballot MVP votes. Let me know if you’ve heard this before…

  • Primarily a CF coming up through the minors but once reaching the majors played the corners out of deference to other CF (Grichuk and Fowler for Pham)
  • Post above league average BB% and OBP
  • Average-ish defense – +5OAA ’16-’18

Don’t believe me? Lets look at each of their numbers in their 3rd-5th seasons

Tommy Pham in his first year of arbitration eligibility actually went to arbitration against the Rays (who had acquired him mid-season from the Cardinals) and won and was awarded $4.1M which is almost double what Brandon Nimmo settled for ($2.1M) after the 2019 season. To add insult to injury to Brandon’s situation, due to the pandemic shortened season would only receive $805K. This year Brandon Nimmo settled with the Mets at $4.7M as seen in the list above. Pham in his second year settled with the Padres at $7.9M, a $3.8M raise from his first year. Just this January he settled once again for $8.9M a modest $1M after an injury-riddled and pandemic shortened season. One could surmise that if Nimmo has another season in the mold of his ’18 or ’20 seasons he would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $7M-$8M. ESTIMATE: $7.2M

Seth Lugo – Lugo has the “unfortunate” skill set of having the repertoire of a starter with solid command and multiple plus pitches BUT also having a fastball/sinker combo that as a starter is pretty much batting practice. He also has the misfortune of being a tweener swingman in arbitration where you are likely not to get the big money associated with the top-end starters or the top-end money that closers typically get in arbitration, but more on that later. If Seth Lugo is a dedicated RP in ’21 and performs as he has in the past he could see himself get a raise from the $2.9M he is scheduled to make in ’21 to roughly $4.5M-$5M. A raise of $2.9M seems realistic even if not utilized as the “primary” closer. A comparison for Lugo is difficult due to his SP background and past usage but in terms of elite RP upside paired with inconsistent closer utilization puts him in the Taylor Rogers(MIN) range.

Rogers saw his salary rise from $1.5M to $4.4M from ’19 to ’20 and now settled for $6M for this upcoming ’21 season. Without consistent save opportunities (SVO) like Rogers received in ’19 (36), I do not see Lugo getting a $2.9M raise but Rogers also received a moderate $1.6M raise. I believe Lugo’s last raise is someone in the middle. ESTIMATE: $5.0M

Edwin Diaz – Possibly the most frustrating yet talented pitcher Mets fans have seen in a while. Many Mets fans were possibly confused that the Mets gave their closer close to a $5M raise before the ’20 season, but that is just how the arbitration system works. Elite RPs with a league-leading season underneath their belt get paid big bucks. Even if it is right after a season in which he posted an ERA over 5. Even without an elite 2020 in which he reverted back to form Diaz was unable to shake the “choker” moniker after an early BS to Marcell Ozuna which came on a great pitch he had used the day before to strikeout Ozuna. This was simply a sign of things to come as Ozuna was one of the best hitters in baseball and meanwhile that HR would be one of only 2 that Diaz would give up in ’20. His second HR was your garden variety sub-350ft Yankee Stadium aided game-tying home run to Aaron Hicks. Out of fear of sounding TOO optimistic, I do believe that Diaz’s ’19 was the ultimate outlier and that a season like ’20 but in a full 162G season could see Diaz get the WHOOOOLE bag post-’21.

I spy an outlier season…

His progression back to normal and the less HR given up can be summed up in just one tweet.

Credit to Matthew Brownstein of Metsmerized

Now for his arbitration player comparison, I have to dig up an old name, Jonathan Papelbon. He earned $6.25M before the ’09 season after posting a 2.34 ERA with 41SV. That record still stands to this day. I think it is no coincidence that before the ’20 season in Josh Hader’s first arbitration hearing he requested? $6.4M. Hader would later lose his arbitration and make $900K less than Diaz’s $5.0M settlement before ’20. Papelbon had a down season with a 3.90 ERA before his last run-in with arbitration and settled at $12M. If Diaz’s ’19 is the only blip on the radar I can see him getting pretty close. ESTIMATE – $10.8M

And that is JUST the Arb-3 guys! Dom Smith and JD Davis are slated to be the team’s only players in their second years of arbitration. If Smith continues his trend, he could easily see an arbitration figure around $5M-$7M while JD could see an increase closer to $4M-$5M. COMBINED ESTIMATE – $11M

So just in those five players with my own personal estimates the Mets are sitting at $35M. But we are missing the two newcomers to the Mets arbitration process, former RoY and HR champ Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil.

Pete Alonso – Alonso’s rookie exploits are well, well documented so I will not dive too far into them. Just as well documented are his sophomore season woes. Although I personally believe his woes were overblown and show the pitfalls of a short sample sized 60G season. Even while “struggling” he was on a 45 HR 99RBI 88R pace. As the great philosopher Shrek once said

That’ll do Pete, that’ll do

Players like Alonso tend to be rewarded HANDSOMELY via arbitration. One must only take a look at Cody Bellinger who set an arbitration record when he settled to an $11.5M contract in 2020 after winning the MVP in 2019. Now unless Pete recreates his rookie campaign, wins a GG and leads the team to the postseason (it would be nice) then Bellinger’s record should be safe. But after Pete and the Mets agreed to a record $652K contract after his RoY campaign the Mets could also look to set the team record for largest contract given in the first year of arbitration. Maybe something along the lines of Bronx HR hitting goliath Aaron Judge’s $8.5M? ESTIMATE – $8M

Jeff McNeil – The argument can be made that Jeff McNeil since debuting in late 2018 has been the best second basemen in baseball. Once again don’t take my word for it, look at the numbers

Since 7-24-18 via fangraphs.com

The only issue with that statement is he’s actually played more in the OF then he has 2B. The top 5 though is a list of mismatched versatile players that just happen to call 2B their “home”. If McNeil even just puts up identical numbers to his prior years he could be another player who could push for a big Arb1 payday. The player who I think McNeil should look to match in Arb1 does not play the same position as him but both are very good hitters from the left side of the plate and their numbers from their first three seasons are once again eerily similar.

Corey Seager does come out a LITTLE ahead of McNeil as Seager was not only a can’t miss prospect but also put up consecutive 6+fWAR seasons in ’16-’17 but that was followed by a 2018 in which he only played 26G due to Tommy John surgery. This uncertainty due to injury certainly would’ve made his arbitration case even harder which led to him settling at $4M. As long as McNeil can stay healthy a semi-permanent move to 2B where he posted a +4 DRS and +2OAA in 460 innings could boost his overall production and WAR and might make his case going into arbitration very strong. ESTIMATE – $4.75M

Recap

The Mets do have a lot of money coming off the books after ’21 but are also in line to give out large raises to their team controlled players via arbitration in addition to the roughly $68M in guaranteed deals. A short breakdown goes as such

  • ’22 Guaranteed Deals – TOTAL – $71.68M
    • Jacob deGrom – $21.780M
    • Robinson Cano – $20.250M
    • Carlos Carrasco – $11.750M
    • James McCann – $10.150M
    • Trevor May – $7.750M
  • ’22 “Projected” Arbitration – $48M
  • Total Before FA Signings – $119.68M

After this season when the recent Collective Bargaining Agreement(CBA) between the players and owners expires, we could see some changes to things such as the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) otherwise known as the luxury tax. If the CBT increases by $2M like it has the past three seasons then the Mets are looking at an estimated $92M($212-$119.68M) they can spend on extensions for core pieces such as Conforto or Syndergaard or on extensions for recent newcomers, Francisco Lindor and Marcus Stroman before paying penalties on overages. If they so choose they could also scour what is to be a very deep market in ’22 and find pieces there. More on that coming in Part Two so stayed tuned!

(All contract info is from spotrac.com or Cot’s Baseball Contracts via baseballprospectus.com / All statistics are from fangraphs.com, baseballreference.com, stathead.com, baseball savant.com unless otherwise noted)

Barry Chin/The Boston Globe, via Getty Images

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