A Crazy Free Agency Mets-Juan Soto Idea?
Generational talent. Comes along once in a lifetime. On the fast track to the Hall of Fame. These are all things that you can say about Juan Soto. He is going to blow any previous free agent position player contract out of the water next offseason when he enters the market. The Mets will be or should be involved. A price tag that high with the current contracts on the payroll sounds like it can put the Mets over the luxury tax threshold for the rest of time. What crazy ideas are there that can help make this more palatable for the Mets…financially?
Before we get into this, it probably won’t be pretty for Mets fans. This article will be exploring the possibility of losing a key player and contract of the Mets next offseason. No one wants to lose any of these core players but none of them are Juan Soto. To have the chance to have a scheduled first ballot Hall of Famer for the majority of his career is not something the Mets can ignore, but neither is their current financial situation.
The reality of the situation is the timing of the Mets’ past free agents was not perfect. Vital players to this team’s success are entering the market one at a time. It is hard to make decisions on those players when the only one you want to retain is the only one you could lose. Rightfully so, the Mets are opening their checkbooks to maintain their stars. With the lack of a frontline starter, the Mets are potentially adding another $20+ million AAV contract this offseason. If that is the case, the Mets will have six contracts of $18+ million AAV on payroll. Taking on Juan Soto next year for at least $30 million AAV would tie the Mets to over $150+ million to seven players in 2025. That is not much room to operate and stay under the luxury tax threshold to reset their penalties. There is a crazy, uncomfortable, but outside the box solution to this. It will not be the end all be all solution to getting the Mets under the luxury tax threshold by itself, but it will help with gaining operating room. Prepare yourselves as we dive into a world of the unknown.
If the Mets are to trade one of their current stars to lighten the financial burden of the team’s payroll ahead of Juan Soto, there are a few key factors to keep in mind before making this decision. Whomever the Mets trade away will open up a big hole on the roster. They must find a cheap replacement if they are to acquire Juan Soto. Then they need to match up which cheap replacements are available and which will provide the best value of contract to on-field value. On-field value must be relative to the player they replace as well as how they would fit into the structure of the team. The aircraft carriers ($18+ million AAV contracts in this case) that would be weighing down the Mets’ luxury tax payroll are SS Francisco Lindor, 1B Pete Alonso, CF Brandon Nimmo, RHP Edwin Diaz, RF Starling Marte and the frontline starting pitcher the Mets may sign. We will be able to rule out most of them fairly quickly, but who will we be left with?
The Mets won’t trade Lindor, who is pretty much a captain and the leader of this team. He is far too expensive for just about any team to take on, plus he is invaluable in the clubhouse. Alonso, albeit a right handed slugger and likely the least athletic on this list, is a perennial 40 home run hitter that has the most home runs in the MLB since he came up in 2019. Alonso, barring an extension this offseason, will be a free agent after 2024. Nimmo is a great defensive center fielder with back to back 4+ WAR seasons. He’s also under contract for the next seven years. Edwin Diaz was the best closer in the MLB in 2022 leading to a 5 Year - $102 million contract with deferred money making his luxury tax salary $18.6 million. Diaz notoriously got hurt during the World Baseball Classic this past March causing him to miss the entire 2023 season. With that said, I do not think their lockdown closer will be at the top of their list of players to offload to sign Soto. Starling Marte was also hurt for the majority of 2023 and remains a big question mark for the 2024 season. He remains under contract through 2025 but a bounceback 2024 could see a trade line-up to offload his contract. Lastly, a frontline starter that would cost a minimum of $20 million AAV. Yamamoto would be off limits, but anyone else they sign could be traded next offseason. However, a trade would be with the expectation of signing a starter next year like Corbin Burnes. Now that we have laid out the options for trade, what is the best fit to find a cheap replacement and gain appropriate value in return.
Lindor, like I said above, is unlikely to be traded for multiple reasons. Bullpen volatility and pressure of pitching in New York became abundantly clear throughout Diaz’s tenure in Queens. Robertson was great in 2023 as a fill in, but the bullpen as a whole showed struggles in the wake of Diaz’s absence. His presence, or lack thereof, was certainly felt, so even though he could bring a great return, the volatility of relievers trumps that. Marte’s value is completely up in the air but the Mets finding a way to offload his contract next year is feasible. I think it is in the team’s best interest to trade him as early as the 2024 trade deadline and might happen regardless. However, it is impossible to realistically forecast a Marte trade at this point in time. A starter is unlikely to be traded to free up room for Soto.
We are left with two Mets that grew up and were developed with the Mets. Losing either of these players will sting for a long time; but objectively, we are talking about Juan Soto here. Looking at the state of the Mets top to bottom, there is no sure handed replacement at first base after Brett Baty and Mark Vientos left some question marks in their limited MLB experience this year. Drew Gilbert, Luisangel Acuna, and Jett Williams are all players that may reach the MLB this year and can play the outfield. Finding a consistent slugger to put up at least 30 home runs probably isn’t costing less than $18 million AAV. Lack of organizational power and a small group of athletes that can play the outfield soon, points to Nimmo being more expendable than Alonso.
While those prospects may be able to take over full time in 2025, the Mets should find a contingency plan in case they are not. Michael A. Taylor and Kevin Kiermaier are two outfielders on the open market this offseason that would be perfect fits as bridge players for the Mets. They fill needs as a speed player and defensive replacement on the competing 2024 Mets while being more than capable of taking over center field in 2025 if need be. Both players would be relatively cheap, potentially costing under $10 million AAV.
After this long windy road, we have settled on Brandon Nimmo being the best fit for the Mets to trade away next offseason to create financial space for Juan Soto. If the Mets do not re-sign/extend Pete Alonso, this trade would be unnecessary. However, I believe the Mets will have a deal done with Pete before 2024 ends.
Nimmo is under contract for the next seven seasons, through 2030 and through his age 37 season. He provides a controllable cornerstone center fielder with elite production. A team trading for Nimmo knows they get him long term and do not have to worry about losing him in free agency or having to extend him. What kind of return does this type of player garner? A good one, that is for sure. Potentially the best return of any big contracts the Mets have to offer. I did an exercise to determine specifically what returns the Mets could get for him. I sifted through team rosters and prospects as of December 2nd, before the start of the winter meetings and before any big free agents signed. I determined four teams that need a Nimmo type player and multiple other teams that could have interest in acquiring him. Those four teams are the Blue Jays, the Yankees, the Giants, and the Red Sox.
For the sake of this exercise, I went to Baseball Trade Values where I could lay out a trade in front of me and had a couple stipulations to trade creation. These shackles did not have much effect on the packages I created but I set them in place to have structure and realism to this possibility. I limited each return to a max of four players and could not receive more than 50 points in return. These are the packages laid out together:
I think the Mets would be happy with any of these packages. I personally think the Blue Jays offer the best package of prospects I like and have a big need for a player like Nimmo. If they do not sign Ohtani, acquire Soto and still do not have a long term solution by season’s end, this could be a great fit. Tiedemann is exactly what the Mets’ farm needs and I loved Roden out of the 2022 draft. Nimmala and Borofen are two position players I liked out of this year’s draft as well providing some youth. Overall, the Yankees package is probably the second best. They are likely to trade for Juan Soto so they may not want to continue parting with prospects, especially top arms. Along with the fact that the Mets probably don’t want Nimmo spending the rest of his career in pinstripes, the Yankees stand as the worst trade fit. I would love to receive Jones and Hampton but a trade lining up here is very unlikely. The Giants are right there with the Yankees for trade package value and have also lacked a reliable outfield presence. Like the Blue Jays, the Giants have a top lefty to offer in Harrison. Again, an arm like that is just what the Mets need. Martin was one of my favorite players in the 2023 class and had to jump on a chance to bring him in. Crawford has some crazy potential but at the very minimum, offers a lefty that can reach triple digits. The bat has lagged behind so far but there is still a lot to like. Seymour is a familiar arm and allows the Mets to recoup some of the damage that was done in the Darin Ruf trade. Lastly, the Red Sox provide the worst package in my opinion. Teel is an athlete that has proven he can play around the field. Bleis offers a young bat needing a lot of development and gives the Mets some youth to fall back on once their top players start graduating. Gonzalez showed some very promising results reaching AA as a 21 year old. Monegro is an intriguing 20 year old that flashed some good stuff with decent walk rates and great strikeout rates. The Red Sox lack the quality of arms the other teams have to offer which is what places them at the bottom of the list. Nonetheless, they have a big need for a reliable center fielder which makes them a great trade fit.
The Mets have options if they want to pursue a trade to open up money for Juan Soto. In this specific scenario, I explored trading Brandon Nimmo. In terms of overall trade fit, my list leads off with the Blue Jays, followed by the Giants, the Yankees are third and the Red Sox last. If the Mets can trade Nimmo and offload Marte’s contract, they would free up about $40 million. After signing Soto they could still have around $5 million less on their luxury tax payroll for 2025. If the Mets want to continue going after big free agents and stay true to their statements of building the farm through the draft, they will have to start cutting money one way or another to avoid continuous luxury tax penalties. Juan Soto is one of the few players worth shaking things up for. If the Mets want to make him fit financially, they will have to vet options like these to do their due diligence.