Lack of alternatives leaves Mets with pivotal Brandon Nimmo decision

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nypost.com


Joel Sherman


Sports


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Lack of alternatives leaves Mets with pivotal Brandon Nimmo decision

Jacob deGrom is in the midst of positioning himself for the largest per-annum contract ever given to any player. Edwin Diaz almost certainly will emerge this offseason as the highest-paid reliever in history. 

They will be the Mets’ most glamorous and most important free agents. But let’s discuss No. 3 on that list. And that isn’t Chris Bassitt, despite how well he has performed this season. If Bassitt leaves, the Mets can still pursue a Nathan Eovaldi or a Jameson Taillon in free agency. 

The one-year starting pitcher free-agent market last offseason netted 2022 success stories such as Tyler Anderson, Andrew Heaney, Jose Quintana, Martin Perez and Michael Wacha (note: four not overpowering lefties, plus Wacha). And that does not include Carlos Rodon and Justin Verlander, who both will use player options to return to this market this offseason; Johnny Cueto, who signed a minor league deal on the brink of the season; and Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright, who signed one-year deals, but stayed exactly where everyone assumed they would. 

In other words, there is effective starting pitching to secure for the keen-eyed buyer. 

But if the Mets let Brandon Nimmo walk in free agency, who will be their center fielder in 2023? 

Starling Marte can return to the position, but that the Mets went with Nimmo this year said something, yes, about Nimmo, but also about Marte, who will play at 34 next year. Alex Ramirez’s prospect status grew this year. But he won’t even turn 20 until January and has yet to reach Double-A. 

Brandon Nimmo steals a home run away from Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner in a game at Citi Field in August.
Brandon Nimmo steals a home run away from Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner in a game at Citi Field in August.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

The Mets can try to outbid the Yankees for Aaron Judge, but I don’t think they will go there. And, even if they do, Judge has shown he is capable in center, but you don’t want to play him there full time. The Yankees gave up a capable lefty starter (Jordan Montgomery) for an injured center fielder, Harrison Bader, to begin the process of lessening Judge’s workload beginning next week and to have someone for the position next year — because finding someone to play center field is not easy. 

The Yankees know that all too well, having pretty much wasted $223 million combined on the baton pass of Jacoby Ellsbury to Aaron Hicks.

Nimmo will be the second best outfielder on the free-agent market this offseason, behind Judge. After Nimmo, the next best free-agent center fielder is … That’s a good question. Is it Adam Duvall? He was having a down season that ended in late July when he needed surgery to repair his left wrist. A.J. Pollock? He will play at 35 next season, is mainly a corner outfielder these days and essentially is a version of what the Mets had last year with Kevin Pillar. 

Jackie Bradley Jr., Kevin Kiermaier and Brett Phillips are strong defenders who exist between offensively challenged and automatic outs. The Dodgers might non-tender Cody Bellinger, who since winning the NL MVP in 2019 with 47 homers and a 1.015 OPS, had 39 homers from 2020-22 with a .640 OPS. 

There is the uncertainty of the trade market. Would the Pirates (Brian Reynolds) or Orioles (Cedric Mullins) move their center fielder? The prospect cost would be significant. Would the Diamondbacks deal from their abundance of lefty-swinging center-field types, such as Jake McCarthy, Alek Thomas and Daulton Varsho? If they did, they would want ready-now, controllable starting pitching — not a Mets area of strength.

Brandon Nimmo hits a home run against the Miami Marlins at loanDepot park on Sept. 11.
Brandon Nimmo hits a home run against the Miami Marlins at loanDepot park on Sept. 11.
Getty Images

Want to play a fantasy game? What if a new Angels owner decides to make a Godfather offer to sign Shohei Ohtani long term and, to do so, is willing to trade Mike Trout? First, Ohtani has to show a willingness to stay and sign. Second, Trout has a full no-trade clause and can direct where he wants to go. Third, he would have eight years at $283.6 million left, and how many clubs would take on that and give up suitable prospects for a player who, while still great, will play at 31 next year and has missed sustained time the past two seasons with injury? 

Want fantasy II? Jarred Kelenic has revived himself at Triple-A once again, but his absence from the Mariners’ roster speaks loudly about his current standing. The same is true for 2020 AL Rookie of the Year, Kyle Lewis. But those are both guesswork gambles. And the Mets are at the point now in their contention cycle (and in Steve Cohen’s willingness to finance it) that they will want to limit gambles and mysteries as much as possible.

The scarcity of legitimate strong replacement options is what tucks Nimmo behind deGrom and Diaz on the Mets’ free-agent importance list. Scott Boras, Nimmo’s representative, will factor that into negotiating with the Mets — or any club searching for center field help. The Phillies should be in that market, perhaps the Red Sox too, even after extending Enrique Hernandez through next year. The Astros? Giants? 

Nimmo will have a market, in part because he has done so much to make himself a capable center fielder. Boras can brandish that, plus his on-base skills (which have dipped this year but are still above average), his career 128 OPS plus and his hustle. Conversely, teams will beware of the injury-prone player who stayed healthy in his walk year. Nimmo is fast, but doesn’t steal bases. His career-high in homers is just 17. 

I can see Boras trying to sell Nimmo, who will play at 30 next year, in the Ellsbury range (seven years, $153 million) because of the currently rare combo offered by Nimmo — a leadoff-hitting center fielder. Marte was a better player going into free agency last offseason, but also is 3 years older than Nimmo. So will his four-year, $78 million pact serve as a starting point of what Nimmo can expect? Will bidding for Nimmo’s skill-set bring it to five years at $110 million? Six at $120 million? Higher? 

Obviously, there is more season left, and how Nimmo performs down the stretch and in the postseason can impact his value. But when it comes to free agency for the Mets, deGrom and Diaz might be front, but Nimmo is center. 


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