Mets Add Marte, Canha, Escobar in Thanksgiving Weekend Shopping Spree

Like many Americans last weekend, the Mets took out their credit cards once the Thanksgiving turkey was digested, coming to terms with three free agents on multi-year contracts. Starling Marte, coming off the best season of his career, received the most lucrative package, a four-year deal worth $78 million. New York also clarified its third base situation considerably with the addition of Eduardo Escobar on a two-year, $20 million contract. And the team’s revamped outfield may have been completed with the final of the three signings, a two-year, $26.5 million pact with former Athletic Mark Canha. Neither Marte nor Escobar was eligible for a qualifying offer, and Canha did not receive one from Oakland, so the Mets have clear sailing in terms of draft pick compensation.

The Mets were busy, but then again, they kind of needed to be, given their losses in free agency. Coming off a disappointing 2021 season, a collective 11 WAR-worth of players walked off into the sunset of the open market, resulting in a lot of needs to address this winter. All three of these signings fill holes on the roster, and along with the obvious interest in Steven Matz given some very angry words, they indicate that the Mets are focused on adding as many pieces as they can (with Max Scherzer set to join the rotation as well; more on that to come).

A centerfielder entering his age-33 season isn’t typically the most likely candidate for a long-term contract, but like Lorenzo Cain when he signed with the Brewers, Marte starts from a high enough perch to give him plenty of room to decline before he’s a drag on the team. He never had that crazy breakout year that seemed possible in his early days with the Pirates, but he’s also never truly had a bad season; he was only below 2 WAR in 2017 due to a suspension stemming from a positive test for Nandrolone, and he was well above a two-win pace in the shortened 2020 season. His power has faded from his peak, but he’s compensated with improvements as a more selective hitter making more contact. Most veteran players aren’t quick enough to “unwind” launch angle gains and reap a benefit from hitting more high-BABIP grounders, but Marte is still very quick, finishing just out of the 80th percentile in sprint speed and above the 90th-percentile cutoff for speed to first base. Before he and Whit Merrifield did it in 2021, the last player 32 or older to steal 40 bases in a season was Alex Rios back in 2013.

ZiPS Projection – Starling Marte
2022 .273 .334 .422 498 78 136 26 3 14 57 33 31 107 1 3.1
2023 .268 .329 .410 456 70 122 23 3 12 51 30 25 102 1 2.5
2024 .266 .325 .407 428 64 114 21 3 11 46 26 22 100 0 2.1
2025 .262 .319 .385 397 56 104 18 2 9 40 23 19 93 -1 1.5
2026 .257 .307 .370 346 46 89 14 2 7 32 17 14 86 -2 0.7

ZiPS projects decline from Marte, but the contract’s terms reflect that of a player in decline. At $7.3 million per win with 3% annual growth (which I’m assuming for other contracts in this article as well), ZiPS projects a $77.7 million deal over four years, basically indistinguishable from what he got. Brandon Nimmo had surprisingly good defensive stats in center for a change in 2021, but even if you think he’s now underrated defensively there, he’ll be excellent in right, and hopefully less injury-prone at a lower-impact position.

The Escobar signing would have been an odd one before the 2021 season, but the Mets have considerably less reason these days to have faith in Jeff McNeil’s abilities. Leg issues helped dive-bomb his season, but his approach at the plate of swinging at seemingly everything anywhere in the zone and successfully but frequently making indifferent contact hasn’t helped matters. He was toward the bottom of the league in Statcast’s hard-hit percentage and various barrel-rate stats, sapping his power and leaving him very BABIP-dependent. The Mets, who fully intend to be contenders, had an interest in a less risky option, and outside of a shockingly poor 2020 season, Escobar has been a pretty good bet for a three-win season.

ZiPS Projection – Eduardo Escobar
2022 .247 .306 .465 531 71 131 25 5 27 84 45 1 108 1 2.9
2023 .241 .299 .443 490 62 118 23 5 22 73 40 1 101 0 2.0
2024 .237 .292 .420 459 55 109 20 5 18 64 35 1 93 -1 1.3

Escobar is not going to bring much in the way of OBP to the table, but he’ll hit for power and can handle third, and at $10 million per, he makes for a solid bargain (ZiPS suggests $35.9 million, considerably more than the $20 million guarantee) and has a club option for 2024. McNeil will likely still get a nearly full slate of plate appearances given his versatility, Nimmo’s injury record, and the possible starting second baseman (aka Robinson CanĂ³) being a 39-year-old who just missed an entire year due to a drug suspension.

Along with Marte, Canha’s signing practically guarantees that Michael Conforto will not return to the Mets in 2022. Another very dependable, non-star veteran, Canha will likely get the bulk of his playing time in left but could be used elsewhere in the outfield as needs arise, or he could fill in at first if Pete Alonso is injured. As with Marte, ZiPS sees his deal as one that reflects his projections quite well.

ZiPS Projection – Mark Canha
2022 .237 .356 .418 443 76 105 20 3 18 60 64 7 113 -4 2.1
2023 .234 .348 .402 415 68 97 19 3 15 54 57 6 106 -4 1.5

One complicating factor for the Mets and their outfield is that they have to make non-tender decisions well before anybody knows if the National League will have a designated hitter in 2022. So a versatile player like Canha has some additional value, albeit one that’s hard to put a dollar figure on but remains very real. Dominic Smith likely has more value if there’s a DH in 2022, but he’s also a prime candidate to be non-tendered; with Canha added to a team that still retains McNeil and J.D. Davis, New York can comfortably fill out a lineup card with a DH and without Smith.

The Mets came into the offseason with a long list of things to accomplish, and these three things were all essential items to check off. Even more crucial is filling the holes in the starting rotation, something they’re doing by, as mentioned above, signing Scherzer, but that, friends, is a tale for another day.

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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free-range turducken
free-range turducken

More like a turducken than a turkey…