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.
Like Alex Bregman signing for six years and $100 million with the Astros. Or Aaron Nola signing for four years and $45 million (plus an option year) with the Phillies.
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.
Wheeler's situation compares more closely to what the Cardinals did Thursday, signing Paul Goldschmidt to a five-year, $130 million extension to keep him from reaching free agency next fall.
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 teams, it's about value: their willingness to place bets on the futures of players that their analytics are telling them will be more than worth it.
That's the issue for the Mets, as it pertains to Conforto and Syndergaard. Both have superstar potential they haven't realized yet due to inconsistency that is at least partly-related to injuries.
Both also have three seasons before they can become free agents, which make them prime candidates for these in-vogue extensions.
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.
Coming on the heels of his 28 home runs over 109 games in 2017 before the shoulder injury, the evidence suggests Conforto, who turned 26 this month, is a good bet to reach that star potential.
Would a Bregman-like deal, six years for $100 million, work for both sides?
It feels like it should. Conforto is a year older, and he'd be giving up three years of free agency as opposed to two, but he hasn't had an MVP-caliber season like Bregman did last year.
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.
It's what well-managed franchises are doing right now, while they have players feeling a bit vulnerable -- guaranteeing more money in the present to benefit in the long run.
The Mets need to get in on the action.