The Mets were a popular pick for outfielder George Springer before he signed a six-year, $150MM contract with the Blue Jays in January. Team president Sandy Alderson “suggested” on Monday that the Mets were willing to sign Springer for five years, not six, per Anthony DiComo of MLB.com. Alderson added that New York likely wouldn’t have been able to extend outfielder Michael Conforto had it signed Springer. “At some point, even Steve Cohen runs out of money,” Alderson said of the team’s owner. Conforto, who turned 28 today, is three years younger than Springer and coming off an even better season at the plate. He’s due to become a free agent next winter, but the Mets expect to begin talks on an extension sometime soon.
Mets President Sandy Alderson said that he expects extension talks with Francisco Lindor and Michael Conforto to begin soon, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today (via Twitter). Both players are scheduled for free agency after the 2021 season. Lindor, for his part, has made clear that he will not negotiate an extension beyond opening day, so the window is now for Alderson and the Mets. Alderson also put forth Noah Syndergaard’s name as a potential extension candidate as well, notes Tim Healey of Newsday (via Twitter). Syndergaard, of course, is on the way back from Tommy John surgery and won’t likely appear until mid-season, but he will also be a free agent at year’s end. Extending those three would certainly cost a chunk of change, but the Mets do have roughly $100MM coming off their payroll next offseason. Interestingly, Marcus Stroman was not mentioned as an extension candidate. His $18.9MM salary could help provide the necessary raises next season for Lindor, Conforto, and Syndergaard. While we’re here, let’s check in with some other clubs in the East…
- Noah Syndergaard is making good progress in his recovery from Tommy John surgery, Mets manager Luis Rojas and pitching coach Jeremy Hefner told reporters (including Deesha Thosar of the New York Daily News). The right-hander’s latest rehab step was throwing three sliders on Saturday, and Syndergaard has otherwise been participating in most normal workouts and baseball activities. This doesn’t mean his timeline has been pushed up, however, as Syndergaard’s target date for a return is still sometime in June, more than 14 months after his TJ procedure. Hefner sees the extended recovery time as a plus, describing the usual 14-15 month process as “good for the player, for their long-term success…making sure that you’re really locked in before the lights turn on and intensity goes up.”
The Mets have agreed to a deal with free-agent catcher Caleb Joseph, MLB.com’s Jon Morosi reports (via Twitter). It’s a split contract, per Morosi, which would register as a bit of a surprise given that such a deal would place him on the 40-man roster (albeit with separate rates of pay in the Majors versus in Triple-A). Barstool’s Eric Arditti first suggested the two sides had reached a deal last night (Twitter link).
Joseph, 34, spent the 2020 season with the Blue Jays organization but was on the taxi squad for most of the season. He did log three games in the big leagues and go 1-for-8 — his long hit of the season standing as a home run.
The vast majority of Joseph’s career has come in an Orioles uniform. The former seventh-round pick made his big league debut with Baltimore back in 2014 and spent time as a backup with them each year until 2018. Joseph, who also had a brief stint with the 2019 D-backs, is a career .222/.270/.351 hitter in 1367 plate appearances.
Clearly, Joseph has never been a huge threat at the plate, but he’s thwarted 31 percent of stolen-base attempts against him over parts of seven big league seasons and is generally regarded as above-average with regard to pitch framing. He’s also a .256/.311/.393 hitter in his career at Triple-A, although that’s a sample of just 489 plate appearances. Adding Joseph will help the Mets to replace some of the depth lost when they designated Ali Sanchez for assignment earlier this month and subsequently traded him to the Cardinals.
The Braves have claimed outfielder Guillermo Heredia off waivers from the Mets, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports (Twitter link). New York had designated the 30-year-old for assignment over the weekend. By claiming Heredia, the Braves will become responsible for the entirety of the $1MM salary that he’d previously agreed upon in order to avoid an arbitration hearing with the Mets.
Heredia has spent parts of the past five seasons in the Major Leagues — mostly with the Mariners. Seattle traded him to Tampa Bay for the 2019 season, after which he was non-tendered and subsequently signed with the Pirates. The Mets claimed Heredia off waivers themselves back in August after a lackluster showing in Pittsburgh, and he went on to appear in seven games before season’s end.
Overall, Heredia slashed just .212/.278/.394 in 36 plate appearances between the two clubs. It was a small sample, to be sure, but Heredia’s prior work in the big leagues doesn’t give much more reason for optimism at the plate. He’s a career .239/.316/.344 batter in 1137 plate appearances across those four teams.
Heredia, however, is capable of playing all three outfield positions, has a minor league option remaining and does have a respectable line against left-handed pitching: .274/.337/.397. His right-handed bat will give the Braves some depth and a possible bench bat, though his skill set is somewhat similar to fellow recent waiver claim Phil Ervin. With Marcell Ozuna, Ronald Acuna Jr., Cristian Pache and Ender Inciarte all ahead of him on the depth chart, it seems likelier that he’ll be ticketed for Triple-A Gwinnett to begin the season than for Atlanta’s 26-man roster.
New Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor revealed that there’s “mutual interest” in an extension, though he believes “it’s too early” for serious talks to start, per Jesse Rogers of ESPN.com. Lindor said in early January, shortly after the Mets acquired him from Cleveland, that he wouldn’t want to discuss a new contract during the season. His feelings on that subject seemingly remain the same, as he notes, “It would be unfair for me and the rest of the team to have ongoing conversations on an extension, and we show up on Opening Day and our mind is somewhere else.” Considering Lindor’s stance, the Mets figure to spend the next month-plus trying to lock up the 27-year-old, who has been a premier player throughout his career and who was the biggest acquisition the club made in the offseason.
Heredia appeared in seven games for the Mets after being claimed off waivers from the Pirates in August. All told, the outfielder hit .212/278/.394 over 36 plate appearances for Pittsburgh and New York. It isn’t far off the numbers (.240/.317/.342) Heredia posted in his four previous big league seasons, over 1101 PA with the Mariners (from 2016-18) and Rays (2019).
The 30-year-old can provide depth at all three outfield positions, so the Mets are surely hoping Heredia goes unclaimed and can remain in the farm system as a backup option in the event of injury. The Mets are fairly crowded with outfield options on the active roster, but Heredia and non-roster invite Mallex Smith project as the first men up from Triple-A if a replacement is needed.
TODAY: Pillar’s deal was officially announced by the team.
FEB. 15, 10:18pm: Pillar will earn $3.6MM this year. There is a $2.9MM player option with no buyout or a $6.4MM club option with a $1.4MM buyout for 2022, per Mark Feinsand of MLB.com.
9:40pm: It’s a $5MM guarantee that could go to $10MM over two years, Heyman tweets.
7:57pm: It’s a one-year contract, Anthony DiComo of MLB.com reports.
7:24pm: The Mets and free-agent outfielder Kevin Pillar “are in serious talks,” according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network. Pillar would be the second notable outfield addition in the past week for the Mets, who previously signed ex-Cub Albert Almora Jr.
Like Almora, Pillar would provide depth in a Mets outfield that, at least for now, is slated to start Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto and Dominic Smith in 2021. Of course that, could be subject to change if the Mets make another major acquisition by signing, say, Jackie Bradley Jr. – the top-ranked center fielder left in free agency – or swinging a trade for Cubs third baseman/outfielder Kris Bryant. Mets fans would probably prefer a high-profile move like that, but it’s possible the team will simply go into the year with the cast it has and a lower-cost pickup such as Pillar.
Now 32 years old, Pillar is best known for his run in Toronto from 2013-19, during which he established himself as a world-class defender in center field. Pillar spent most of 2019 as a Giant after they acquired him from the Blue Jays, and he divided last season between the Red Sox and Rockies. Statistically, Pillar’s defense isn’t at peak form (he combined for minus-6 Defensive Runs Saved and a 2.0 Ultimate Zone Rating from 2019-20), but he does carry experience at all three outfield positions.
Pillar has never been a huge offensive threat, but a team could certainly do worse than him as a reserve option. He’s a lifetime .262/.299/.408 hitter with 82 home runs and 88 stolen bases over 3,486 plate appearances. Pillar recorded a personal-best 106 wRC+ last season, when he slashed .288/.336/.462, hit six homers and swiped five bags in 223 PA.
January 15 was the deadline for teams and arbitration-eligible players to officially submit salary figures for the 2021, and by the time the day was done, only 13 players didn’t reach agreement on a contract. The majority of teams now adhere to the “file or trial” strategy, meaning that no further negotiations on a one-year deal will take place between the arbitration deadline and a hearing with an arbiter, which theoretically puts pressure on players to get a deal done if they are wary about taking their case to a third party.
“File and trial” tactics didn’t stop the Astros and Carlos Correa from agreeing to a one-year deal for just the 2021 season, which is also Correa’s last year before gaining free agent eligibility. We also saw three multi-year deals reached, all from the greater Los Angeles area — the Dodgers reached two-year deals with Walker Buehler and Austin Barnes, while the Angels inked a two-year pact with Shohei Ohtani.
This left nine unresolved cases that went all the way to a hearing (held over Zoom) between an arbiter, the player, his representative(s), and front office personnel arguing the team’s side. The teams won five of the nine hearings, continuing the very narrow edge teams have held over players in arb cases in recent years — over the last 99 arbitration hearings, teams hold a 51-48 record over players.
For the full list of every salary for every arbitration-eligible player this offseason, check out the MLB Trade Rumors Arb Tracker. Sticking to the 13 players with unresolved cases from January 15, here’s the rundown…
Avoided Arbitration, One-Year Contract
- Carlos Correa, Astros: One year, $11.7MM (Correa filed for a $12.5MM salary, Astros filed for $9.75MM)
Avoided Arbitration, Multi-Year Contract
- Shohei Ohtani, Angels: Two years, $8.5MM (Ohtani filed for $3.3MM, Angels filed for $2.5MM)
- Walker Buehler, Dodgers: Two years, $8MM (Buehler filed for $4.15MM, Dodgers filed for $3.3MM)
- Austin Barnes, Dodgers: Two years, $4.3MM (Barnes filed for $2MM, Dodgers filed for $1.5MM)
Arbitration Hearings, Won By Player
- Ian Happ, Cubs: $4.1MM (Cubs filed for $3.25MM).
- Jack Flaherty, Cardinals: $3.9MM (Cardinals filed for $3MM)
- Mike Soroka, Braves: $2.8MM (Braves filed for $2.1MM)
- Ji-Man Choi, Rays: $2.45MM (Rays filed for $1.85MM)
Arbitration Hearings, Won By Team
TODAY: The Mets have officially announced Walker’s deal. Noah Syndergaard has been placed on the 60-day injured list to open up a roster space for Walker.
FEB. 19, 8:14am: It’s a two-year, $20MM deal with a player option for a third season, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports (Twitter links). The deal, which is still pending a physical, will pay Walker $10MM in 2021 and $7MM in 2022. The player option is at a base of $6MM and can rise to $8.5MM via escalator clauses based on Walker’s performance. There’s a $3MM buyout on the option, should Walker decline, making for a total of $20MM in guarantees.
7:04am: The Mets and free-agent right-hander Taijuan Walker have agreed to terms on a contract, tweets SNY’s Andy Martino. The Excel Sports client will step into the rotation alongside Jacob deGrom, Carlos Carrasco, Marcus Stroman and David Peterson.
Heading into his age-28 season, Walker was the youngest established starter available in free agency. The former top prospect made his big league debut with the Mariners just two weeks after his 20th birthday back in 2013 and solidified his place in the Seattle rotation in 2015 at 22 years of age. The M’s traded Walker to the D-backs in a high-profile 2016 deal also including Ketel Marte, Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger, and he went on to have his best season in 2017: 157 1/3 innings of 3.49 ERA ball.
Walker went down with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in 2018, however, and the resulting Tommy John surgery wiped out nearly his entire season. He was on the comeback trail in 2019, but those efforts were derailed by a strained shoulder capsule that limited him to one inning. After pitching a combined 14 innings in 2018-19, Walker was non-tendered by the D-backs and returned to the Mariners on a low-cost, one-year deal in free agency.
The signing worked out well for the Mariners, who parlayed five solid starts from Walker into a deadline trade with the Blue Jays that netted outfield prospect Alberto Rodriguez (currently Seattle’s No. 24 prospect at Baseball America). Walker made six starts with the Blue Jays and pitched to a pristine 1.37 ERA with a 25-to-11 K/BB ratio over the life of 26 1/3 innings.
Overall, Walker’s 2.70 earned run average in 53 1/3 innings last year looked quite sound. However, despite that impressive mark, his age and his former top prospect pedigree, Walker appears to have had a difficult time finding a club willing to meet his asking price this winter. There’s likely some good reason for that, as once looking past the ERA, the numbers aren’t nearly as appealing.
On his way to that 2.70 ERA, Walker benefited from a .243 average on balls in play and a slightly elevated 78.5 percent strand rate. His 22.2 percent strikeout rate was below the league average, as was his 39.1 percent ground-ball rate. The righty’s 93.5 mph average heater was down from its 95.1 mph peak, and his swinging-strike rate was among the lowest in the league (13th percentile, per Statcast). Fielding-independent marks like SIERA (4.60) and Statcast’s xERA (4.87) aren’t as bullish on Walker, who averaged just 4 2/3 innings per start in 2020.
Add in the elbow and shoulder injuries in 2018-19, and some trepidation from interested teams is understandable — but only to an extent. We’ve seen the free-agent market regularly pay upwards of $10-12MM per year on mutli-year deals to fourth starter types, and Walker ought to be at least that moving forward. His prospect pedigree, youth, velocity and raw stuff give him the upside to become quite a bit more than that as well.
With the Mets, Walker needn’t perform like anything more than a fourth starter, thanks to the talent they already have atop their starting staff. Of course, if he does take a step forward and pitch closer to last year’s ERA marks, an already impressive rotation will only look all the more formidable. With the newest agreement in place, the Mets have an enviable quintet of deGrom, Carrasco, Stroman, Walker and Peterson. Beyond that looms the return of Noah Syndergaard, who’ll ideally be ready for a summer return following his own Tommy John surgery last May.
Unlike in 2020, that group is backed up by considerable depth. Joey Lucchesi, Jordan Yamamoto, Sean Reid-Foley and Sam McWilliams were added to the 40-man roster via trade and free agency this winter, and prospects Franklyn Kilome and Thomas Szapucki will be able to work toward minor league readiness in a game setting. The Mets also added lefty Mike Montgomery and righty Jerad Eickhoff on minor league deals, and it’s conceivable that they could yet bring in some additional non-roster depth in Spring Training.
While it may not be quite the offseason Mets fans envisioned, it’s hard to look at the current roster and consider the offseason anything other than a substantial step in the right direction. New York’s marquee acquisition of Francisco Lindor and Carrasco will go down as its largest strike of the offseason, with free-agent acquisitions of Walker, James McCann, Trevor May, Jonathan Villar, Kevin Pillar, Aaron Loup and Albert Almora have deepened the roster.
The Mets didn’t shatter the luxury tax threshold as many expected when Steve Cohen purchased the team — they’d have done so had their near-deal with Trevor Bauer been completed — but Walker’s deal pushes their baseline payroll and their luxury-tax ledger both just shy of $200MM. It’s a franchise record for Opening Day payroll by a magnitude of roughly $40MM, setting the tone for future offseasons under Cohen’s ownership.