Ottavino wants to be in with Mets for the long haul

August 3rd, 2023

KANSAS CITY -- The Mets’ Trade Deadline decision to begin focusing their energies on a longer-term future has left some players in an awkward position. Several prominent Mets, most notably Pete Alonso, aren’t guaranteed to be here in two years. They didn’t sign up for a potential summer of growing pains in 2024, but there's nothing they can do to change their circumstances right now.

is the one player who realistically can.

He has no interest in doing so.

It’s a choice Ottavino has already made. At a minimum, the right-hander intends to exercise the $6.75 million player option on his contract for 2024, he said Thursday before the Mets lost a third consecutive game to the Royals, 9-2, at Kauffman Stadium. If Ottavino pitches well enough down the stretch to warrant a raise, he will attempt to renegotiate his deal in advance of the opt-out so that he can stay in Flushing for longer.

Either way, Ottavino doesn’t expect to go anywhere. Entering what will be his age-38 season, the New York City native would only be willing to play for a select few other teams around the league.

More pertinently, he’s committed to Mets owner Steve Cohen's vision.

“I want to be here no matter what,” Ottavino said. “This is a good place for me. I love the organization. I love being able to play where I’m from. And I know that we’re not going to stink next year.”

“I really want to win, but I’ve come to realize it means more to me when I feel invested with the team, when I’ve been with the team for a while. I don’t like feeling like a hired gun. I don’t like feeling half in, half out, knowing that my future’s up in the air. When I came here, I really wanted to prove myself again and stay. Once I was able to do that, now I feel like I’m bought into everything we’re doing around here.”

In the days leading up to Tuesday’s Trade Deadline, rival teams expressed interest in acquiring Ottavino, according to people with knowledge of the talks. But the Mets did not receive the type of offer they required to move him. As general manager Billy Eppler put it, “We set a bar and an expectation. In some cases, that was met. In other cases, if it wasn’t, we moved on.”

Because the Mets were not trying to save every dollar possible at the deadline -- to the contrary, they used Cohen’s billions to pay down the contracts of departing players and receive better prospects in return -- they were content to keep those on shorter-term deals such as Ottavino and fellow reliever Brooks Raley. Earlier this week, Cohen name-checked those two and closer Edwin Díaz in discussing his confidence in the 2024 bullpen. The Mets plan to supplement that trio with internal options and free agents.

“I saw a lot of things online about, ‘Was Raley going to get traded?’ Or, ‘Was Otto going to get traded,’” Eppler said. “They’re still with us, and we’re glad they’re still here.”

Only one other Met, backup catcher Omar Narváez, holds a player option for 2024. But Narváez is batting under .200, making it extremely unlikely that he would opt out of the final $7 million on his deal.

In contrast, Ottavino’s plan to stay has little to do with his personal performance, even if warning signs are beginning to show. Most notably, Ottavino’s average fastball velocity has dropped more than a full mph from last season, while his strikeout rate, walk rate and ERA have all slipped. But Ottavino has been effective in spurts and has a long history of diagnosing and correcting his issues, which is how he has carved out a successful 13-year career.

For Ottavino, the rest of this season will be a chance to right himself again. If he succeeds, he may gain enough leverage to renegotiate his contract beyond 2024.

Even if that doesn’t happen, Ottavino intends to stay in New York next summer.

“I mean, if I give up no runs the rest of the season and I start striking guys out again and everything is top echelon, then it would be silly not to test [free agency market],” Ottavino said. “But it’s not always about the money. It’s about more years. Even if I were renegotiating with the Mets, I’d just want to stay here longer. I’d just want to guarantee myself more time.”