Mets raid free agent market again

Panoramic view of Citi Field, home of the New York Mets Baseball Club, taken from the upper deck on the third base side during a night game.

The New York Mets continued their assault on the free agency market with another huge signing reported on Saturday. Kodai Senga signed a five-year, $75 million deal, pending completion of a medical exam. 

The Mets had already exceeded the “luxury tax” (Competitive Balance Tax) threshold for 2023 before signing Senga, and at 90 cents to the dollar, Senga will effectively cost the Mets almost twice what they are paying him. But that seems to be of little concern to owner Steve Cohen, whose combined deals this winter total almost a half billion dollars, signalling his intent that the Mets are all in to win right now no matter what the cost. 

Kodai Senga 

Senga played for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league, amassing an 87-44 record with a 2.59 ERA, 1,252 strikeouts, 414 walks in 1,089 innings pitched. In 2022, the 29-year-old posted an 11-6 record with a 1.94 ERA, 156 strikeouts and 27 walks in 144 innings pitched.  

He throws right-handed and boasts an explosive fastball topping out at 101.9 mph with an average velocity of 95-96 mph. But the pitch he’s known best for is a splitter/forkball that is so deceptive it has been nicknamed the “Ghost Fork” as it seems to ‘disappear’ across home plate, leaving batters baffled.  

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He pitched for Team Japan in the 2017 World Baseball Classic helping them to a third-place finish, as well as winning gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In 2019 he pitched a no-hitter with 12 strikeouts, and in 2020 Senga won the pitching Triple Crown in NPB’s Pacific League – ranking first in wins, ERA and strikeouts. 

Senga will join Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and José Quintana in the Mets’ newly assembled starting rotation. On paper, this is a fearsome foursome of pitchers who, if all stay healthy, will make the Mets very difficult to beat in any individual series.  

However, Scherzer will turn 39 during the 2023 season and Verlander will be age 40 when Opening Day rolls around. There’s no guarantee they will be as effective as they have been in recent years. Physical decline accelerates the older you get, although baseball players, especially pitchers, can push the boundaries further compared to athletes in other sports. Nolan Ryan pitched well into his forties and became the oldest player to throw a no-hitter at the age of 44. Nonetheless, it’s a risk for any team to rely on ageing players to lead their pitching staff, so it will be intriguing to see how these aces fare. 

Nimmo Returns  

The signing of Senga was first reported just 24 hours after Brandon Nimmo agreed to re-sign with the Mets in a deal reported to be worth $162 million over 8-years. Nimmo first signed with the Mets as an 18-year-old in the first round of the 2011 MLB Draft and has worked his way up to be their everyday starting centre fielder. It has been a long road for Nimmo who has struggled with several injuries throughout his career. 2022 marked only the second time in 7 seasons that he made more than 100 appearances.   

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But his ability and production when healthy have never been questioned. Last year he played 151 games, batting .274, with a .367 OBP, .434 SLG, 5.1 WAR and 134 wRC+ (100 being the league average). Over the past five seasons, he has had an OPS+ of 134 (the league average is 100), which ties him for 16th in the league and second among regular centre fielders. He also ranks fifth overall in on-base percentage. His defensive qualities shouldn’t be overlooked either. He has developed into an excellent defensive player, able to cover a lot of ground and make outstanding plays. In 2022, his 6 outs above average in centre field tied him for 11th place among qualifying players at that position. 

29-year-old Nimmo had interest from several clubs but decided to remain loyal to the organisation that drafted and developed him. He now becomes the longest-serving Met currently in the organisation with the chance to finish off his career in Queens. General Manager Billy Eppler intends to make Nimmo an integral piece of their future and the face of their franchise for years to come. 

Edwin Diaz and David Robertson 

Right-handed pitcher Edwin Diaz officially signed with the Mets last week to a new five-year deal worth $102 million, setting the record for the biggest Annual Average Value and total salary paid to a reliever. Relief pitchers, especially closers, ply their trade in the most pressurised situations when the game is on the line. They walk a very thin tightrope between success and failure, win or loss. As quickly as they can rise to the top of their profession, they can lose it all and tumble back down the mountain. History has demonstrated this repeatedly. Five years is a huge gamble for a relief pitcher. Previous long-term deals given to relievers have rarely been successful for the duration of the contract. Injuries, loss of form, and loss of dependability in high-leverage situations, can leave teams lumbered with a very expensive bench warmer.  

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The volatility in this position has been highlighted by Diaz himself. The 28-year-old had a tough first season in New York in 2019, giving up 15 long balls, but his resolve and hard work paid dividends. Diaz has become one of, if not the best relief pitcher in the major leagues for the past two years, winning the 2022 National League Reliever of the Year award and being selected to the 2022 All-MLB First Team. His stuff is electric, and he is as close to a guaranteed save and win as you can get. He’s a firm fan favourite, electrifying the crowd every time he enters the game to the sound of Timmy Trumpet’s Narco. Time will tell if Diaz’s contract breaks the mould or if the Mets will regret paying him $20 million a year into years four and five of his contract. 

David Robertson signed a one-year contract with the New York Mets for $10 million. The deal went largely under the radar late on Friday but is a significant coup for the Mets, bolstering their bullpen. The right-hander Robertson has proven postseason pedigree and has played under the big lights in New York before with the Yankees, featuring in big spots as a closer and a set-up man. He won a World Series with the Yankees in 2009 and made the All-Star team in 2011 with a career-best 1.08 ERA.  

Injuries and Tommy John Surgery almost curtailed his career after the 2019 season. He was a free agent in 2021 when he went to the Tokyo Olympics with Team USA to rejuvenate himself and won a silver medal. A short stint in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball with the High Point Rockers followed before he was signed by Tampa Bay Rays and assigned to their minor league team Durham Bulls.  

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In 2022, he joined the Chicago Cubs before being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies playing a valuable role in their run to the World Series, going 1-0 with a save and a 1.17 ERA in the postseason. Robertson combined for a 4-3 record, 2.40 ERA and 20 saves in the 2022 regular season. He ranks in the top 10 among active pitchers in appearances (731) and saves (157) and is 13th all-time in strikeout rate at 32.1%. 

Predicting the National League East  

There are plenty of top free agents left on the market who can impact and change the fortunes of many ball clubs, and there are sure to be many more twists and turns before Opening Day. The New York Mets didn’t land the marquee free agent, but they’ve added more pieces to their roster than any other club and have positioned themselves to improve upon their 101-win total from last year. The bookmakers still have the Atlanta Braves favourite to be the 2023 National League East winners (at the time of writing), but the Mets are very close behind. With the reigning National League Champions, Philadelphia Phillies, also strengthening their roster, the NL East is shaping up to be an exciting 3-way battle. 

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