John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Fearing that free agency might never be quite the golden goose it was before analytics seemingly devalued just about everyone this side of Mike Trout, MLB players are suddenly signing team-friendly contract extensions faster than Brandon Nimmo runs to first base on a walk.
So why haven’t the Mets taken advantage of the opportunity?
They should at least be making the effort, especially with Michael Conforto and Noah Syndergaard, the two players who most fit the profile of rising stars still far enough away from free agency to be tempted by the security of a long-term, below-market deal.
For the moment, the Mets’ priority seems to be Jacob deGrom, with his self-imposed Opening Day deadline for negotiations less than a week away. However, his situation is unique, in part because he was the best pitcher in baseball last season, and in part because his former agent, GM Brodie Van Wagenen, can’t in good conscience try and sign him at any sort of bargain rate.
Meanwhile, Zack Wheeler is only months away from free agency, and as such has already said he’s not taking any discount deal, though the Mets could surely lock him up for a lot less now than if he goes out and backs up last year’s spectacular second half.
That’s not a team-friendly deal so much as a commitment to the future, which is what the Mets ultimately will have to do with their stars if Van Wagenen expects the clubhouse to buy into his players-first mantra.
The best way to manage such costs is to do long-term deals early, something small-market teams like the Rays and Indians, in particular, have been doing for years.
Now it’s becoming a league-wide trend, with young players looking for life-changing money rather than waiting for the uncertainty of free agency, to the point where even the mighty Yankees are being pro-active, signing Luis Severino and Aaron Hicks to extensions in recent weeks.
For Conforto, in particular, the time is right if the Mets believe he is ready to blossom into that full-blown star everyone has been waiting for since Keith Hernandez, among others, fell in love with his lefty swing at first sight in 2015.
Conforto‘s ups and downs haven’t all been injury-related, but it looked like he was putting it all together in the second half last season, after needing time to recover from shoulder-capsule surgery, as he slugged .539 after the All-Star break with 17 home runs and an .895 OPS.
The X-factor, of course, would be his agent, Scott Boras, who has been infamous over the years for taking players to free agency. But he hasn’t delivered fully on huge promises the last couple of years, for J.D. Martinez or even for Bryce Harper, the $330 million deal with the Phillies notwithstanding.
Furthermore, he hasn’t gotten Dallas Keuchel signed yet, so it’s easy to wonder if even the notoriously unyielding Boras will be forced to reconcile with the changing tide of the sport’s finances and look to make these early-career deals for the likes of Conforto.
For pitchers, meanwhile, the risk of injury lowers the price a bit. Like the 26-year old Syndergaard, Nola is three years from free agency, and he received a $45 million guarantee for four years, but including a fifth-year team option, the Phillies are buying out two years of his free agency for a total deal worth $61 million.
I don’t think that’s getting a deal done with Syndergaard. Five guaranteed years at about $75 million sounds more reasonable; he’d be giving up the higher earning potential of two free agent years for the security of a huge payday.
For the Mets, it would give them cost certainty and, assuming they get a deGrom deal done at some point, assure them of having at least two dominant starters for five more years.
The Mets need to get in on the action.
RELATED: The latest on extension talks between Mets, deGrom Read more