The Mets went on a shopping spree on Black Friday, but while most shoppers look for discounts on the day after Thanksgiving, New York shelled out nearly $125 million in contracts to fortify an offense that ranked 13th in runs scored and 12th in OPS in 2021.
Eduardo Escobar (two years, $20 million) and Mark Canha (two years, $26.5 million) made for a busy day in Queens, but the big signing came after midnight, when Starling Marte agreed to a four-year, $78 million deal. In a matter of hours, the Mets had remade their everyday lineup with a trio of players entering their age-33 seasons, but the moves figure to have a wide-ranging impact on the entire free-agent market.
With the Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire late Wednesday night, there could be several more moves coming around the league in the coming days. Let’s take a look at where the market stands as the calendar races toward Dec. 1.
The market for the five premier free-agent shortstops has yet to move, though a source said Friday that Javier Báez could be the first domino to fall, possibly before the end of the weekend.
The Tigers have been engaged with Báez’s agent, as Detroit appears to be focused on Báez ahead of Carlos Correa, who will likely command significantly more money. Báez’s market has been hot since the general managers meetings, with the Mets, Mariners, Rangers and Red Sox all believed to be in the mix for the two-time All-Star, who turns 29 this week.
The Yankees have said publicly they plan to upgrade the shortstop position, though New York appears to be slow-playing the free-agent market. The Mariners have made it clear that J.P. Crawford will remain at shortstop, but GM Jerry Dipoto is open to signing one of the free agents to play at second or third base. The Rangers also plan to be big players in free agency, though most believe their top target is Trevor Story, not Correa or Corey Seager.
The Blue Jays are still working to bring Semien back, but if he departs, they could shift their focus to one of the other free agents. A mystery team could always surface for one or more of the shortstops, but a number of teams are set at the position and will likely use their resources to bolster other areas of their rosters.
The starting pitchers
This market has been the most active through the opening weeks of free agency, with Eduardo Rodriguez, Justin Verlander, Steven Matz, Anthony DeSclafani, Noah Syndergaard, Andrew Heaney and Michael Wacha all agreeing to new deals.
Robbie Ray and Kevin Gausman are considered the top two starters seeking long-term deals, while Max Scherzer will land a higher average annual value (AAV) on a shorter-term contract. Of the three, Ray was the only one eligible for a qualifying offer, so any team besides the Blue Jays will have to sacrifice Draft picks to sign the AL Cy Young Award winner. The Dodgers still hope to bring back Scherzer.
Having addressed their offense, the Mets will now turn their attention toward the rotation, though it remains to be seen whether they plan to play at the top end of the market. Marcus Stroman, who had a very good year for the Mets, could return to New York, though a number of teams have expressed interest in the right-hander.
Even after re-signing DeSclafani, the Giants remain in need of starting pitching. A reunion with Gausman seems to be the best fit, though San Francisco will likely look to add at least two (if not three) more starters to join DeSclafani and Logan Webb in the rotation.
There are plenty of solid arms available beyond those three, of course, led by Jon Gray and Carlos Rodón. Other free-agent starters include Alex Wood, Yusei Kikuchi, Alex Cobb, Zack Greinke, Corey Kluber and Danny Duffy.
The guess here is that Gray is the next starter off the board, as his market has been active in recent days. The Rangers are among the teams believed to be most interested, though the Mets are also in the mix, as GM Billy Eppler told MLB Network Radio that he is “engaged in a ton of starting pitching right now.”
Marte was unquestionably the top center fielder available, but a number of impact corner outfielders remain unsigned.
Nick Castellanos, who made his first All-Star team in 2021 before opting out of his contract with the Reds, should draw interest from a number of clubs. The Rangers and Padres are two teams seeking offensive upgrades who have been linked to Castellanos, though others will surely join the fray.
One player unlikely to call Citi Field home in 2022 is Michael Conforto, who has played his entire seven-year career with the Mets. Conforto rejected a qualifying offer, and now that the Mets have added Marte and Canha, their outfield is set for next season. Conforto had a down year in 2021, and after rejecting the $18.4 million QO, it remains to be seen if he’ll find a multiyear deal, or have to settle on a one-year deal similar to the one Marcus Semien signed last winter with Toronto.
An intriguing outfield option joined the market this week when Seiya Suzuki was posted by the Hiroshima Karp. Suzuki has no big league track record, but his power in Japan could be appealing to clubs willing to take a risk.
Kyle Schwarber, Avisail García, Jorge Soler and Eddie Rosario also remain available.
Many believed the Mets would be a player for Bryant, though their Friday moves take them out of that market. The Giants could bring Bryant back, though the Mariners, Phillies, Nationals and Rangers have all been linked to the former NL Most Valuable Player to differing extents.
Bryant can market himself as either a third baseman or a corner outfielder, widening the list of teams that could look to sign him. Having been traded in July, Bryant was not eligible to receive a qualifying offer, so there’s no Draft-pick compensation attached to him.
The same can’t be said of Taylor, who offers even more versatility than Bryant. Taylor -- a first-time All-Star in 2021 -- can play second base, third base, shortstop and all three outfield spots, and while he doesn’t have the same offensive track record as Bryant, he’s expected to cost significantly less. Signing Taylor will cost Draft picks, however. Given his flexibility in the field, there should be no shortage of teams interested in his services.
The top two closers on the market are Raisel Iglesias and Kenley Jansen, though Chicago’s Graveman signing has led to intense speculation that the White Sox could trade Craig Kimbrel and his $16 million salary in the coming days. For a team looking to upgrade its closer spot without committing to multiple years, a Kimbrel trade might be the most attractive option.
Mark Melancon, Corey Knebel, Andrew Chafin, Ryan Tepera and Joe Kelly also remain available.