Inbox: The free-agent market and more

New York beat writer Anthony DiComo answers fans' questions

November 24th, 2021

Now that the Mets have a general manager in Billy Eppler, their offseason has begun in earnest. There’s much to do, particularly for a team in need of pitching, outfield help, bullpen additions and perhaps even some infield assistance.

Heading into a holiday weekend, it’s time to break down all of that in the latest Mets Inbox.

Do free agents see the franchise as fundamentally troubled right now and therefore are avoiding it?
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I received quite a few questions of this nature even before Steven Matz rejected the Mets’ contract offer in favor of a four-year, $44 million deal with the Cardinals, which resulted in Mets owner Steve Cohen tweeting that he has “never seen such unprofessional behavior exhibited by a player’s agent.” For the better part of a year, media types have opined that Cohen’s Twitter persona has turned players off from wanting to join the Mets.

I personally consider that argument ridiculous -- imagine being a player and rejecting a big-money deal in a world-class city because you’re concerned your boss might tweet something critical about you. Seems pretty unrealistic, right? And while the turbulent nature of the Mets’ front-office staff might be giving free agents a bit of pause, Queens is still an obviously attractive place for them to land.

Consider: Cohen has the resources to outbid other owners on any free agent, and just because he hasn’t done so yet with regularity, doesn’t mean he won’t. New York also remains the largest market in the sport. Many players appreciate the opportunities that come with that. Some don’t, which is unavoidable. Matz, for example, had long since moved his offseason home from Long Island to Nashville, an indication that he probably felt more comfortable living -- and by extension, pitching -- in a smaller market. That doesn’t make him representative of the greater population of players.

Remember also that recently agreed to commit more than a decade of his life to the Mets, so it’s not as if players are universally avoiding New York. There has been a subset of them -- Trevor Bauer, Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Loup, Matz -- who have rejected the Mets in favor of other teams, but you’re talking about a pretty insignificant sample over less than a year. Let’s let things play out this offseason and then see where the Mets stand on recruitment.

As for Cohen’s tweeting, don’t expect that to stop anytime soon. When asked specifically about it last week, Cohen replied: “I’ll continue to tweet. … I’ll probably get back on and give it another shot and see how it goes. We’ll see. I think people like it, so why not keep going?”

What happened with Aaron Loup? And why didn’t we retain him?
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Loup was reportedly well down the road with the Angels by the time the Mets named a GM. To outbid them on such an expensive contract -- $17 million guaranteed for a player who had previously made around $10 million combined over his first 10 big league seasons -- would have required more foresight than the Mets really had time to employ in this instance.

Mets fans on social media didn’t take too well to the news, which is understandable; Loup and his record-setting 0.95 ERA were a bright spot all summer. But consider that Loup’s FIP was 2.45 and his career ERA heading into the year was 3.38. I’m not defending the Mets’ inaction. I’m simply stating the obvious: relievers are fickle, and Loup is due for some regression. How much regression will dictate whether New York’s decision was a good one.

Would signing Seiya Suzuki preclude other moves, either from a roster space or monetary standpoint? He’s extremely promising, but there’s always concerns about players adjusting to MLB, and I’m hesitant signing him without also signing a proven outfielder.
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I don’t see why it would. The Mets are only committed to one starting outfielder: , who can play any of the three positions. If Eppler wants to, say, sign Suzuki and Starling Marte, he has the flexibility to do that by keeping and away from the outfield. If Eppler wants to sign only Suzuki, he could pursue an opposite strategy. So I do think there’s merit to pursuing both Suzuki and a second outfielder -- someone like Kris Bryant, for example, who can play both outfield and third base. (And if Cohen is to be believed, money should be no object this winter.)

Given all that, Suzuki is very much a risk worth taking in my eyes. You’re right that it can be difficult to project players from foreign leagues, but Suzuki’s upside is clearly high, and if he flops, that’s a mistake the Mets can afford. He’s only 27 years old and has been as consistent as they come in Japan, posting OPS figures between .935 and 1.039 every year since 2016. On top of that, Eppler has a successful history of negotiating with Japanese players: as the GM who wooed Shohei Ohtani to Anaheim, as the Yankees’ scouting director when they signed Kei Igawa, and as their assistant GM when they landed Masahiro Tanaka.

Why haven’t we heard much about Bryant? Seems like the perfect fit for the Mets given their openings at third base and corner outfield?
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I agree that Bryant would be a snug fit on New York’s roster, but players of his caliber often choose to wait until later in the offseason to sign, since they don’t have to worry about their markets drying up. Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, is particularly infamous for dragging out negotiations into January and even -- in Bryce Harper’s case a few years ago -- late February.

There has been a push from some players to sign early this offseason, but I don’t expect Bryant to join that group. You’ll hear more about him later this winter.

Anthony, do you see the Mets going to the top of the starting pitching market? If so, does that leave room for position player signings such as Suzuki, Marte or a third baseman? Where do you see the top of their payroll?
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I do see them looking into the top of the market, though I’m skeptical Max Scherzer will have interest (he didn’t at the Trade Deadline), so you’re probably looking more at the Kevin Gausman/Robbie Ray class of pitchers. I don’t expect the Mets to rule anything out. They don’t have the luxury of restraint coming off a 77-85 season when their mantra is still very much win-now.

Again, Cohen has stated on the record that he intends to spend. The Mets need rotation, outfield, bullpen and infield help. I don’t think acquiring players in any of those areas will preclude them from shopping aggressively in the others.

What’s the likelihood we re-sign ?
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I wouldn’t call it anything close to a lock, even though the Mets will certainly be interested. Stroman has been looking forward to free agency for years now and has talked openly about his anticipation for it. That suggests he’s probably not too eager to give a hometown discount.

That said, there are only so many impact pitchers available, and Stroman is clearly one of them. If the Mets come in with the highest bid or something close to it, he’ll have to consider a return.