Steve Cohen’s version of the Mets is already much different than the Wilpon version. The biggest change between these two? A willingness to spend some money.
Opening up the checkbook last winter helped the Amazins win 100-plus regular-season games for just the fourth time in franchise history. What kind of encore will Cohen, Billy Eppler, and Co. have in store moving forward? Specifically talking about the 2022-23 offseason, New York has once again been a big spender.
As New York’s moves unfold over the winter, we’ll be keeping track of the biggest ones. Here are what the 15 richest contracts in Mets history look like.
Richest contracts in Mets history: No. 15-11
Curtis Granderson: four years, $60 million
Outside of awarding David Wright a record-setting extension (which we’ll talk about in a minute), the start of Sandy Alderson’s stint as Mets general manager mostly included pinching pennies. Wright needed a little help while New York’s young aces worked their way to the big leagues, and they found it in Granderson.
But even this was a calculated risk for the Mets. Sure, Granderson did enjoy consecutive seasons of 40-plus homers for the Yankees. He was limited to just 61 games in 2013, though. Grandy turned out to be a great Met. The outfielder was a huge reason behind New York making consecutive postseason trips for just the second time in franchise history.
Although he played until 2019, this was the last bit of above-average production Granderson had as a big leaguer. He slugged at least 20 homers in each of his first three seasons in Flushing. Had he not been traded in 2017, he would’ve reached that number again. The Mets dealt him to Los Angeles after hitting 19 homers for the Amazins.
Jason Bay: four years, $66 million
It’s fitting to have Grandy and Jason Bay right next to each other on this list. Why? Well, Bay’s albatross of a deal is probably part of the reason why Mets were nervous about the contract Sandy agreed to with Granderson in the first place.
I’m a big proponent of the fact that good athletes don’t suddenly forget how to be productive after doing so in the past. It happens, though. In 2009 with the Boston Red Sox, Bay slugged 36 home runs with 119 RBI after stepping to the plate 638 times. In 1,125 plate appearances for New York, the outfielder slugged just 26 homers with 124 RBI. This included a .234/.318/.369 triple slash during his painful stay in Flushing.
There are some unions that just don’t work for whatever reason. Bay signing with the Mets had the fan base thinking a legit power hitter was coming to deal with the then-cavernous Citi Field. It just wasn’t meant to be.
Kodai Senga: 5 years, $75 million
The Mets seemed mostly set with their rotation after agreeing to deals with Justin Verlander (more on him in a second) and Jose Quintana. They were still in on Japanese free agent Kodai Senga at the time but clearly didn’t want to wait around in case the starting pitcher market dried up.
What appeared to be an already deep rotation got even deeper with the acquisition of Senga. This is just another feather in Billy Eppler’s cap when it comes to recruiting top Japanese talent. He recruited Masahiro Tanaka as assistant GM of the Yankees before signing Shohei Ohtani while with the Angels.
Senga was in search of three things in free agency: a win-now team in a big market who is also strong in analytics. He gets all those things with New York, along with being in the same rotation as two future Hall of Famers in Verlander and Max Scherzer.
Starling Marte: 4 years, $78 million
Before New York signed Max Scherzer (which we’ll also talk about in a few minutes), the Mets made a huge splash with this contract for Starling Marte. It was the epitome of a win-now move for the organization, as the outfielder was preparing to enter his age-33 campaign.
The initial returns on this deal have been big. Marte earned an All-Star Game selection and completely transformed the top of the Mets’ lineup with Brandon Nimmo. His absence from the lineup in September was a huge reason why the offense struggled with consistency as much as it did.
In 505 plate appearances, Marte slashed .292/.347/.468 with 16 homers, 63 RBI, 76 runs scored, and 18 stolen bases. Between him, Nimmo, and Mark Canha securing the majority of playing time as outfielders during 2022, the Mets finally had a productive unit there in all facets.
Justin Verlander: 2 years, $86.7 million
Just days after the Mets watched Jacob deGrom head for the Texas Rangers by signing a five-year, $185 million, New York rebounded by reeling in Justin Verlander. The right-hander is fresh off his third American League Cy Young Award. In 175 innings pitched, the veteran hurler posted a 1.75 ERA with a 6.1 fWAR.
This was Verlander’s third 6.0-fWAR performance since 2018. This deal also includes a vesting option for 2025. It becomes a player option worth $35 million if Verlander logs at least 140 innings the year prior.
Richest contracts in Mets history: No. 10-6
Mike Piazza: 7 years, $91 million
There are certain moves that define a generation of baseball. When looking back on the 1980s Mets, it was the acquisitions of Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter. For the late ’90s and early 2000s Mets, it was trading for Mike Piazza in 1998 and signing him to a long-term extension.
And, to just blow your mind with how quickly things change… at the time this contract became official, it was the richest one in MLB history. How about that, right?
Before age and injuries started catching up with the Hall of Fame backstop, the first three full years of this deal were everything the Mets could’ve hoped for. After posting a 1.024 OPS with 23 homers and 76 RBI in his final 109 games of the ’98 season, Piazza went on to average 37 homers, 107 RBI, and 85 runs scored between 1999 and 2002. All while slashing .302/.375/.576 as the team’s everyday catcher. That’s just some insane production.
This period between 1998 and 2002 included four trips to the All-Star Game, four Silver Slugger Awards, and two top-10 finishes in National League MVP voting.
Edwin Diaz: 5 years, $102 million
On the first official day of free agency for the 2022-23 offseason, the Mets sent a clear message to the rest of baseball. They’re going to be big players in the open market. New York announced this with authority by agreeing to a record-breaking contract with closer Edwin Diaz.
The right-handed reliever wanted to “break new ground” with his next contract, and that’s what he’s done. No reliever has received a $100 million contract until him. His annual average value of $20.4 million is also a record. There’s a team option for a sixth year, a full no-trade clause, and Diaz can opt out after the third season if he so desires.
This is a huge amount of money for a reliever. Diaz did prove to be the best closer in baseball throughout 2022, though. In 62 innings of work, he accumulated 3.0 fWAR with a 1.31 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, and 32 saves in 62 innings. His 50.2% strikeout rate was also among the highest single-season mark by a reliever in MLB history.
Yoenis Cespedes: 4 years, $110 million
Ah, yes — the good-contract-followed-by-a-bad-contract streak continues with Yoenis Cespedes. I recently talked about Cespedes’ complicated Mets legacy. Without him, there’s no way New York gets to the postseason in 2015 or 2016. During the press conference to announce this deal, I remember Sandy Alderson saying, “When Yoenis Cespedes plays for the Mets, the Mets win.”
And he was right! The problem everyone knows about, though, is that he didn’t play much during the life of this contract. He appeared in just 127 games between 2017 and 2020. This included no games at all in 2019 and just eight in 2020 before opting out during the pandemic-shortened season.
It’ll be easy to remember how much of a mess the majority of his tenure was. But I’ll always think about how he transformed the Mets’ offense after the trade deadline in 2015. Watching him slash .287/.337/.604 with 17 homers and 44 RBI in 57 games was absolutely incredible.
Carlos Beltran: 7 years, $119 million
The streak continues, folks. Carlos Beltran had ups and downs with the Mets. He’ll always be remembered for watching Adam Wainwright’s curveball to end the 2006 NLCS. But there’s no way around it — when looking at the numbers, he’s the best center fielder in Mets history.
It would’ve been easy for him to fold under the pressure of his huge contract after a rough 2005. Beltran did post 2.3 fWAR, but it was accompanied by a .266/.330/.414 line, 96 wRC+, 16 homers, and 78 RBI. Expectations were high during his first year in Queens, and those numbers weren’t up to snuff.
All he did in response was tie the franchise record for home runs with 41 and post one of the highest single-season fWARs in Mets history during the 2006 season (7.8). This began a three-year stretch where he accumulated at least 5.0 fWAR each year. His 5.1 performance in 2007 was sandwiched by a couple of 7.0-plus performances.
Beltran is another one with a bit of a complicated Mets legacy. As we continue to look in the rearview mirror, I think many people will continue to appreciate just how good he was in Flushing.
Max Scherzer: 3 years, $130 million
Max Scherzer’s monster deal to join the Mets last winter was the third time owner Steve Cohen’s regime landed on this list in two winters.
What jumps out about this particular deal is the high annual average value. Scherzer is earning $43.3 million per season, which set an MLB record. His first year with New York was quite wonderful, but the end of it will leave a bitter taste in his mouth (and everyone else’s).
Scherzer had two different stints on the injured list in 2022. He still started 23 games and racked up 145.1 innings on his way to producing 4.4 fWAR and a 2.29 ERA. His last two starts were the biggest of the year, and the future Hall of Famer came up short on both occasions.
First, it was in Atlanta during the second-to-last regular-season series. He allowed four runs on nine hits (two homers) in 5.2 innings of work. That was followed by an even worse performance in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series vs. the Padres. He got shelled, allowing seven runs on seven hits (four homers) in just 4.2 frames.
Richest contracts in Mets history: No. 5-1
Johan Santana: 6 years, $137.5 million
After the Mets’ colossal collapse to finish 2007, general manager Omar Minaya went out and made a huge splash to get New York back over the hump. That came in the form of trading for Johan Santana and agreeing to an extension before he even took the mound at Shea Stadium.
The southpaw actually posted three straight seasons of at least 3.0 fWAR before the injury bug started biting continuously. There’s a faction of Mets fans who think the contract was worth it for his 2012 no-hitter alone (I may be included in that). However, that 2008 season was breathtaking to watch.
New York fell short of the playoffs by just one game again, but it wasn’t because of Santana. In 234.1 innings, he went 16-7 with a 2.53 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. The two-time Cy Young Award winner nearly brought home another, placing third behind Tim Lincecum and Brandon Webb.
Jacob deGrom: 5 years, $137.5 million
Jacob deGrom’s current contract is among the highest in franchise history and tied for the highest among Mets pitchers all-time. So why is he likely to opt out? Well, frankly because he’s worth more than the $30.5 million he’s due for 2023. He probably also doesn’t like that more than $50 million is deferred.
With his teammate in Scherzer setting a new standard for annual average value, deGrom is looking for a raise. It’s one he deserves, too. Even with an un-deGrom-like finish to his 2022 regular season, he’s still the best pitcher in baseball since 2018, and it’s not particularly close.
DeGrom’s 25.6 fWAR is only just slightly better than Scherzer’s during this time (25.5). Scherzer has also thrown about 140 more innings than the right-hander, which is pretty close to a full year. Between 2018 and 2022, five pitchers accumulated at least 20 fWAR. Scherzer, at 785 innings, was the only one outside of deGrom to not rack up at least 800 innings during this time.
David Wright: 8 years, $138 million
David Wright’s name is littered all over the Mets’ record books, and for good reason. When looking at his performance from 2004-08, his individual numbers were on a Hall of Fame track. In the first 3,048 plate appearances of his MLB career, Wright slashed .309/.389/.533 while averaging 26 homers, 37 doubles, 98 RBI, 83 runs scored, and 18 stolen bases.
He had one 30-30 season (in 2007), four years of 100-plus RBI, four All-Star Game appearances, two Silver Sluggers, two Gold Gloves, and three top-10 finishes in NL MVP voting. Then, Wright had to move into Citi Field, a park that didn’t match his strengths as a hitter at all. He overcame that to produce two more All-Star campaigns in 2012 and 2013.
But, unfortunately, instead of thinking about how great he was, many Mets fans will just wonder what could’ve been. What if he didn’t dive to tag Carlos Lee out at third base in 2011? What if he didn’t try to play through a stress fracture in his back for about a month after that? Who knows.
Wright signed this record-setting extension after his 2012 campaign. So, in those eight years, the third baseman played in just 323 games because of spinal stenosis and various other injuries. This included at least 100 games in 2013 and 2014, and then it went downhill from there.
Brandon Nimmo: 8 years, $162 million
David Wright is the most prominent player in franchise history to play his entire MLB career with the Mets. The next one to join him could potentially be Brandon Nimmo. Just like everyone expected.
Outside of Aaron Judge, Nimmo was the only other elite outfield option available in free agency for the 2022-23 offseason. His market was proof of that, with as many as 10 teams expressing interest in him (and maybe more). It didn’t seem like the Mets were super confident about re-signing the center fielder, but they clearly went above and beyond with this contract to make it happen sooner rather than later.
On the heels of the franchise’s most successful regular-season performance since 1988, New York clearly felt that Nimmo was too important to lose.
Francisco Lindor: 10 years, $341 million
For whatever reason, the Wilpons only felt comfortable making deals for either $137.5 or $138 million with players. Naturally, Cohen takes over and blows that number out of the water with Francisco Lindor’s extension.
Will the shortstop end up being worth the money he gets paid? That remains to be seen. His 2021 season in Queens was rough, but he followed that up with a tremendous 2022. It included him placing sixth in MLB with a 6.8 fWAR, along with setting Mets franchise records for homers (26) and RBI (107) as a shortstop.
He’s done this while providing stellar defense in the field. The 10-year deal he signed prior to 2021 Opening Day officially started in 2022, so he’ll be in a Mets uniform until 2031. He’s already well on his way to doing his best David Wright impression and taking over the franchise’s shortstop leaderboards in just about every category.