NEW YORK -- A surprise non-tender of Chasen Shreve was the most noteworthy decision the Mets made prior to Wednesday’s deadline for teams to tender contracts to their players not under guaranteed deals.
The Mets chose to extend contracts to two pitchers coming off down years, Steven Matz and Robert Gsellman. Matz agreed to a $5.2 million non-guaranteed deal to avoid arbitration, according to a source, while the Mets simply tendered Gsellman a contract. The team also agreed to a deal with outfielder Guillermo Heredia to avoid arbitration.
In addition to Shreve, the Mets non-tendered pitchers Ariel Jurado, Paul Sewald and Nick Tropeano.
The rest of the Mets’ Wednesday decisions were straightforward. The team tendered contracts to the remainder of their arbitration-eligible players, including outfielders Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo; shortstop Amed Rosario; starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard; and relievers Edwin Díaz, Seth Lugo and others. If those players do not agree to terms with the Mets by Jan. 10, they will exchange salary numbers with the club at that time. In most cases, that will be enough to precipitate a deal without the sides having to go to arbitration.
Matz will be back
Despite his new contract, Matz could enter the season without a big league rotation job for the first time since his rookie year. The Mets already have two starters in place -- Jacob deGrom and Marcus Stroman -- on guaranteed contracts, and president of baseball operations Sandy Alderson has expressed a desire to add more via free agency. In addition, David Peterson leapfrogged Matz on the depth chart following a strong rookie showing in 2020.
Depending on what else the Mets do this winter, Matz could still compete for a rotation job with a group of prospects and veterans on Minor League deals. Or the Mets could use him out of the bullpen, given their lack of left-handed options there. Much will also depend upon how quickly Syndergaard can return from Tommy John surgery.
More than anything, Matz’s lack of success has puzzled the Mets, who always believed if he were healthy, he would thrive. For years, Matz battled a near-constant string of injuries, which delayed his Major League debut and held him back even after he reached Flushing. Matz finally proved his durability in 2018-19, starting at least 30 games each season and setting consecutive career highs in innings pitched. The results were inconsistent, but Matz’s health seemed more important -- as did his mid-90s fastball velocity.
Entering 2020 in prime shape, Matz appeared poised for his long-awaited breakthrough. Instead, he allowed 19 runs over a three-start stretch from Aug. 4-15, lost his rotation job, then landed on the injured list due to left shoulder discomfort. He returned to make a start and two relief appearances down the stretch, posting a 13.50 ERA in those outings to cast doubt upon his future.
As the Mets entered the offseason, Matz was a long-shot non-tender candidate given his struggles and his rising salary -- $5 million in 2020. But his still-tantalizing talent, combined with the Mets’ complete lack of rotation depth, made tendering him a contract a risk worth taking. If Matz spends the entire 2021 season in the Majors, he will become a free agent at its conclusion.
Gsellman will also return
Although Gsellman was never the same caliber of prospect as Matz, he developed into a noteworthy piece for the Mets when he went 4-2 with a 2.42 in eight appearances -- seven starts -- down the stretch in 2016. Gsellman entered the next season in the rotation, but he couldn’t repeat that success, posting a 5.29 ERA as a starter. The Mets subsequently converted him to the bullpen, where he contributed two pedestrian seasons, then lost him to a shoulder injury for most of this summer.
When Gsellman returned, the Mets attempted to convert him back to the rotation, stretching him out on the fly. It didn’t work, as Gsellman averaged barely two innings per start in the heat of a pennant race, posting an 8.68 ERA.
Gsellman made $1.225 million in his first season of arbitration eligibility. He has a prior relationship with Alderson, who had just become GM when the Mets drafted Gsellman in the 13th round in 2011.
And a surprise non-tender
Given the Mets’ lack of left-handed bullpen arms, it seemed likely that Shreve would receive a new contract. Instead, the Mets non-tendered Shreve, who proved effective in multi-inning outings en route to a 3.96 ERA over 17 appearances last season. The team also non-tendered Sewald, a former Alderson draft pick, as well as Jurado and Tropeano -- two pitchers that former general manager Brodie Van Wagenen acquired.