The big trend in baseball this week has been teams signing soon-to-be free agents to long-term contract extensions.
The Rockies locked up superstar 3B Nolan Arenado, the Yankees secured Aaron Hicks, the Cardinals just extend pitcher Miles Mikolas and the Phillies recently committed to Aaron Nola.
Up to kow, the only Mets player to be linked to extension talk is Jacob deGrom, who is a free agent after 2020. However, the Mets may want to start considering whether to make long-term contract offers to four more of their players...
In terms of the team's young position players, Conforto is in prime position to agree to a contract extension, especially given how the Yankees handled Hicks.
"I'm open to anything," Conforto recently told his agent, Scott Boras, according to NorthJersey.com's Matt Ehalt. "I love it here. I'd be all ears."
Conforto is under contract the next three seasons, during which he'll likely earn just under $20 million. He'll be a free agent 28 years old after 2021.
Based on his increased production in the second half of last season, when he had a very low BABIP, I firmly believe Conforto is on the verge of a breakout season. He's healthy, experienced and he'll have Robinson Cano, Jed Lowrie and Wilson Ramos batting around him. He put up 3.0 WAR in 2018, earned mostly in the second half of the season.
If he continues what he did in late 2018, again plays in 150 games, finds a bit more luck on balls in play and drives in more runs because of who is hitting around him, it's not far off to imagine him putting up 5-6 WAR season, which would make him an elite outfielder and All-Star. At that point, Boras would almost certainly brush off any offer by the Mets and begin priming Conforto to hit the open market when he'll be 28 years old and in his prime.
Therefore, given Conforto has yet to have a true breakout season, now is the perfect time to strike, plus (sorry, Boras) he says he's open to negotiating.
MLB analysts with rival teams say Conforto has demonstrated he's worth signing to a six-year, $65 million deal, which would average out at around 2-3 WAR each season. Conforto will believe he can produce more during that time, while the Mets will worry about fall-off, injury and other obstacles.
If he consistently doubles his production to date, the deal would be a huge bargain for the Mets and will have bought out the first three years of his free agency. If Conforto just continues on his current path, he still comes out ahead, but if he listens to Boras and hits free agency at 28 years old -- he can probably get twice as much each season.
Amed Rosario and Brandon Nimmo
The same rival MLB analysts I talked to about Conforto all seem to be split on expectations for Nimmo and Rosario, which is not at all surprising. I think most fans -- and probably the Mets -- feel the same way. Rosario will earn the league minimum this coming season and is not eligible to be a free agent until after 2023, when he'll be 27 years old. Nimmo is eligible after 2022, when he'll be 29 years old.
I talked to five analysts and each said Rosario must play at least one to two more seasons before before being considered for a long-term deal. In their view, if he remains healthy and improves his production this coming season, the Mets should at least open talks with him, though they'd probably be wise to wait until after 2021, when Rosario will first be arbitration eligible.
In the case of Rosario, the group has more confidence in the floor of his production. His ceiling, however, ranged from an average 4-5 WAR to 1-2 WAR.
As a result, they said a fair swap would be to pay Rosario between $7-10 million per year through age 28, which would be six years from now. In other words, the Mets could offer him a six-year, $45 million deal now or, say, a five-year, $50 million deal one year from now (assuming he improves this season).
In either case, no one felt he was worth committing to beyond 28 years old -- at least not yet.
The five analysts had a similar contract suggestion for Nimmo, who they'd all be more comfortable opening a discussion with now as opposed to after this season.
"Nimmo's tools are more sound, more predictable," one expert said. "Because of his fundamentals, I'd be more confident when recommending his extension to our owners than I would Rosario, who is still a bit of a wild card for me. I just have a better sense of Nimmo's floor than I do Rosario."
In their collective view, after waiting to see how he performs this coming season, they'd be OK with keeping Nimmo under contract until he's 31 years old, which would be after the 2024 season.
Based on his current tools, plus his glowing attitude and shocking production in 2018, they say they'd be open to committing six to seven years at roughly $10 million each season, which is along the lines of what Hicks got in the Bronx. But, he first has to continue what he started in 2018...
The analysts I talked with all feel the Mets should absolutely be talking with Syndergaard about a contract extension, especially since he's already arbitration-eligible and due to be a free agent after 2021. However, the group was split on what a deal should look like because they varied in how confident they are gambling on Syndergaard's arm and mechanics.
"He's a ticking time bomb," one person said. Another, though, said, "He's a freak. If anyone can push through the typical narrative, it's probably him."
Syndergaard, 26, recently said he would be open to discussing a contract extension, but the team has yet to approach him or his agent about a deal.
"I love being a Met, I love New York City, the fan base is great and has been very kind to me," he said, later noting that he's nervous about entering the current free agent market, which hasn't exactly been kind to elite players.
In the last month or so, the Phillies locked up Aaron Nola to a four-year, $45 million deal that includes a club option, while the Yankees and Luis Severino agreed to a four-year, $40 million extension.
The two contracts provide a likely framework for Syndergaard.
"I'll be a 29-year-old free agent and I take care of my body," Syndergaard said. "I'm pretty confident I'll be able to stay healthy up to that point and able to to compete at the top of my level for the remainder of that contract, whatever it might be."
For the time being, Syndergaard said he's less concerned about his contract status and more eager to see the Mets extend his teammate, deGrom.
"Go out and pay deGrom," Syndergaard said. "Give him what he's worth."
Speaking of deGrom...
This past December, the Nationals signed 29-year-old free agent Patrick Corbin to a six-year, $140 million deal. He was coming off a 6.3 WAR season, during which he was considered for the National League Cy Young Award. The award was instead given to deGrom, who will be a free agent in two years when he's 32 years old.
I've been told the Mets and deGrom's representatives have only swapped points of view, general frameworks (like the above) and have stated their mutual interest in eventually completing a contract extension. I don't believe either side has put down hard terms in ink, be it specific dollars or years.
The current hurdle in negotiations is that Mets and deGrom are both right. The Mets are right to be wary of locking up a starting pitcher in to his mid-late 30s because he will almost certainly never be as good or strong as he was last season. And for deGrom, if he remains healthy and is just half the pitcher he was last season, he'll easily be able to match if not beat Corbin's deal on the open market.
My prediction is they eventually settle on a five-year, $160 million deal to begin in 2020.
Insiders say DeGrom wants a guarantee from today through 2025 (seven seasons), meaning he'll next be eligible for free agency when he's 37 years old. The Mets prefer to keep him only through 2023, at which point he'll be 35 years old. The middle ground is five years, $160 million and the $32 million AAV would top everyone except Zack Greinke, which is a nice feather in deGrom's cap.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!