The Brandon Nimmo And Jeff McNeil Deals Signify The New Era New York Mets

Steve Cohen has indicated the Mets are entering a bold new era by signing 10 external free agents to deals worth almost $400 million since November 2021 — and nearly making it 11 for more than $700 million, which is another reminder Carlos Correa’s Mets tenure will make for a great documentary someday.

But the most telling moves about the Mets’ new direction involved retaining homegrown stars Brandon Nimmo and Jeff McNeil.

Of course, that wasn’t inexpensive either. Nimmo hit free agency after last season before returning to the Mets on an eight-year deal worth $162 million while McNeil, who was due to hit free agency after the 2024 season, signed a four-year extension worth $50 million last month.

Yet it’s hard to imagine either deal coming together under the Wilpons, who turned into an art form the act of watching other teams sign players drafted and developed by the Mets.

Twelve of the Mets’ top 20 players in WAR, per Baseball-Reference, began their careers in the organization. In addition, Sid Fernandez (ninth), David Cone (17th) and John Stearns (18th) were acquired following brief stints with their original organizations, the Dodgers, Royals and Phillies, respectively.

But of those 12 players, just one — David Wright — played his entire career with the Mets. (Jacob deGrom might have made it two, but even Cohen apparently thought the Rangers overpaid by offering deGrom $185 million last December)

The Tom Seaver trade was a unique mistake under M. Donald Grant and the Mets parted ways with Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack, Mookie Wilson and Cleon Jones after each player exited his peak years in the 1970s and 1980s.

Most of the Wilpon years, though, were defined by the Mets either failing to appreciate the value of homegrown players or an inability to afford them. Jose Reyes returned to Queens midway through the 2016 season, almost five years after the Mets didn’t even make him an offer before he signed a nine-figure deal with the Marlins (the Marlins!).

Edgardo Alfonzo, who spent his first eight seasons with the Mets, was probably already on the downside due to back issues when he signed with the Giants after the 2002 season. But the Mets began greasing the skids for his departure following the 2001 season, when they acquired Roberto Alomar — bound for the Hall of Fame but decidedly ill-suited for New York — to play second base even though Alfonzo spent the previous three seasons playing Gold Glove-caliber defense at the keystone.

Recently, of course, the Mets let a generational rotation disintegrate via departures after going year-to-year with deGrom, Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz. While deGrom signed a below-market extension in 2019 (which he may or may not have regretted!), Wheeler signed with the Phillies without receiving an offer from the Mets following the 2019 season and Matz was traded to the Blue Jays in January 2021 before Syndergaard signed with the Angels as a free agent after the 2021 campaign.

In a parallel universe in which the Wilpons never sold the franchise to Cohen, it’s easy enough to envision Nimmo and McNeil following a similar path out of town.

Nimmo, in particular, almost certainly would have priced himself out of the old Mets’ price range by hitting free agency as the best centerfielder and leadoff hitter in a class lacking both those players. The Mets not giving Nimmo — who turns 30 on Mar. 27 and has exceeded 10 homers and 100 games in a season just twice — $180 million over eight years is defensible in a vacuum.

But Nimmo — a player development success story who is still improving and has shown he can handle New York while simultaneously handling two of the most important positions on a baseball team — is the perfect player on whom to overpay. Without Nimmo, the Mets’ best options for a 2023 centerfielder were either Starling Marte, who would have moved off right field following surgery on his left groin at age 34, or flawed fliers such as Cody Bellinger or Kevin Kiermaier. Any one of those moves would have left the Mets worse off than they were in 2022.

McNeil, who turns 31 shortly after Opening Day, might have been a candidate for a team-friendly extension under the Wilpons. But those weren’t exactly handed out with any great regularity, either.

Daniel Murphy — a born-to-hit baseball rat like McNeil, even if his defensive versatility was a byproduct of the fact he was a marginal fielder everywhere — went year-to-year until his age-30 season, when he channeled Babe Ruth in the playoffs and led the Mets to the World Series before signing with the Nationals and spending the next two seasons haunting the Mets at every possible opportunity. Given McNeil’s advanced age upon his big league debut — chalk that up to another example of the Mets undervaluing their own players — it’s quite possible he would have signed one-year deals for 2023 and 2024 before finding a more lucrative offer in free agency.

Instead, Nimmo and McNeil — who rank 22nd and just outside the top 24, respectively, with 17.2 WAR and 16.9 WAR — can continue to provide the Mets the most comfortable of known quantities while spending at least the prime of their careers with the franchise. They’ll also provide the template for the likes of Pete Alonso, who is due to hit free agency following next season, as well as promising prospects such as Francisco Alvarez, Brett Baty and Ronny Mauricio, all of whom can now actually foresee a day in which the Mets are not only able to sign any outside big name they want but also any internal star, as well.