The Opener: Mets Spending, Nimmo Fallout, Relief Market

After another day that saw a top free agent sign on with a club, here are three things we’ll be keeping an eye on around baseball throughout the day:

1. How much more can the Mets spend?

Mets owner Steve Cohen has the deepest pockets among MLB ownership, and he hasn’t been afraid to use that to his organization’s advantage since he purchased the team in September of 2020. While this year’s collective bargaining agreement included a newly created fourth tier of luxury penalization, Cohen has yet to show much deference to that final, $293MM level. Instead, he’s given the green light to GM Billy Eppler’s front office on signing reigning AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, lefty Jose Quintana, and set-up man David Robertson while also retaining closer Edwin Diaz and center fielder Brandon Nimmo on massive contracts. Altogether, RosterResource pegs New York’s luxury tax line for 2023 at just over $335MM. That figure already has them set to pay more than $60MM in penalties — a figure higher than the entire payroll of the Pirates or A’s in 2022. With the team incurring such massive fees already, it’s fair to wonder if the Mets are approaching the limit of their payroll capacity — if there even is one. Notably, the Mets are reportedly still interesting in adding another starter to their rotation, like Kodai Senga or Chris Bassitt. As perhaps the two best pitchers on the free agent market behind ace Carlos Rodon, both Senga and Bassitt are sure to have more suitors than the Mets for their services, and that could make things complicated for New York. After all, they’ll pay a 90% tax on the AAV for any contract to which they sign Senga or Bassitt this year.

2. Where will center field-needy teams turn with Nimmo off the market?

Yesterday’s deal between the Mets and Nimmo raises more questions than those about the Mets’ payroll. Chief among those questions is where the center field market goes from here. With Nimmo and Cody Bellinger both off the market, the already thin free agent market at the position is nearly barren. Kevin Kiermaier is the top option still available, but he’s recovering from season-ending hip surgery. Those behind him, such as Rafael Ortega, Tyler Naquin, Adam Duvall, and Jackie Bradley Jr. appear to be miscast as everyday players in center, at least for any club with playoff aspirations. With the Giants, Blue Jays, Dodgers, Rockies, and Marlins among the teams in the hunt for a center fielder, it seems likely that at least some of those clubs will need to explore the trade market to find their next center fielder. The Diamondbacks are flush in center field options at or approaching the big league level, and are drawing interest in that group. Pirates star Bryan Reynolds recently requested a trade, though the Bucs apparently plan to hang onto him regardless. Minnesota’s Max Kepler is a premium right fielder with decent career grades in center, and he’s also drawn some trade interest. Baltimore’s Cedric Mullins has long been the source of trade speculation, but given the Orioles’ shift to a win-now mentality, it’d likely take an overwhelming offer for them to even consider moving his remaining three years of club control.

3. Relief market keeps rolling

The relief pitching market has remained active, as Kenley Jansen and Chris Martin both signed deals with the Red Sox, Robertson landed in Queens, Tommy Kahnle returned to the Bronx, and both Brooks Raley and Joe Jimenez were traded in recent days. As early as November, there were signs that the market for relief pitching this offseason would be a robust one, from the megadeal between Diaz and the Mets to surprisingly strong contracts for both Robert Suarez and Rafael Montero. That strong market continued to play out with these deals, as the Red Sox paid out almost $50MM between Jansen and Martin, while both Kahnle and Robertson secured guarantees of more than $10MM despite recent injury struggles. Even with these players off the board, there still remains a number of quality options with late-inning experience on the free agent market, with Craig Kimbrel, Taylor Rogers, Andrew Chafin, and Adam Ottavino among the options left on the market.

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