Money Is No Object: Mets Re-Sign Nimmo, Add Robertson, Might Sign You Next!

Brandon Nimmo
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Mets, who had gone some three days since singing a top free agent, went shopping again on Thursday evening. Brandon Nimmo was a sort of Aaron Judge situation-in-miniature: a New York team flirted with losing its best outfielder before realizing it’d be more trouble than it was worth to replace him. Best just to bring him back, even if it meant making him rich beyond the wildest fantasies of avarice.

Nimmo, the no. 9 player overall on our top 50 free agent list and no. 2 outfielder behind Judge, got paid quite a bit more than our projections, which is emerging as something of a theme this offseason. The readers thought he’d make an even $100 million over five years; Ben Clemens had Nimmo penciled in for $110 million over the same time frame. Instead, Nimmo has signed for eight years and $162 million.

To put that number in context: for $162 million, Nimmo could buy this 15-foot-by-25-foot inflatable water slide for every single one of the 578,000-plus residents of his native Wyoming. (Wayfair says two-day shipping is free for a purchase of this size. We shall see.) He’d then have enough left over to pay the $10 million the Mets agreed to pay relief pitcher David Robertson in their second major signing of the evening. And even after that he’d have some $1.2 million left over. Maybe he could spend that on a new garden hose or swim trunks so as to get the most out of the water slide.

Nimmo was a highly sought-after player at this week’s Winter Meetings, and as recently as Tuesday, the Mets were putting out the notion that they might lose him to a higher bidder. But despite not being a nationally-known star on the level of a Judge or a Justin Verlander, the Mets could ill afford to lose their center fielder.

I’ve written about Nimmo numerous times in the past three months, in the context of the Mets’ hit-by-pitch issues, Scott Boras’ puns, and the capsule for the top-50 free agent list. The book on him remains the same now; moreover, this is not a scenario in which he is leaving for a new park, a new role, or a team that might change his swing to unlock more power. He and the Mets know each other intimately.

Nevertheless, it’s worth revisiting briefly what makes him such a good player. Nimmo is the kind of player for whom the word “hitter” utterly fails to sum up his offensive skill set. He’s a leadoff man who can play center but will probably evolve into a good corner outfielder as he gets into his 30s; on paper, that also describes George Springer, who signed a six-year, $150 million contract before the 2020 season. But Springer hit 39 home runs in his walk year; Nimmo has hit 40 in the past four seasons combined. Even though he was the no. 2 outfielder in this class, he was not the kind of player teams would go after if they missed out on Judge. He’s never hit 20 home runs in a season or slugged .500. Judge hit 62 home runs last year; Nimmo’s career high in extra-base hits is 53. Despite well above-average speed and clear baseball nous, he’s never stolen more than nine bases in a season. (Another thing he shares with Springer: an absolutely atrocious career stolen base success rate for a fast guy, just 62%.)

So what does he do? [snaps fingers and points to Jonah Hill as crypto-Paul DePodesta in Moneyball] He gets on base. Nimmo is one of the most patient hitters in the league; since 2016, he has as many seasons with an OBP over .400 as below. He’s never posted a walk rate under 10%, and he’s an absolute magnet for pitched baseballs — and let’s be honest, knowing nothing about him other than he runs to first after a walk, you’d have bet every dollar you have that he gets hit by a lot of pitches. He is — and this isn’t going to sound like the highest praise I can lavish on a player, but I promise it is — what you’d get if Brandon Guyer got to hit against only left-handed pitching.

There are reasons not to like Nimmo: the lack of power, the injury history, the lack of stolen base production, the 34-point drop in OBP this past season. Even aesthetically, his hustle-and-grind act has its constituency to be sure, but I personally find it a bit tiresome. But what I’ve come to appreciate about him is that he does the single most important thing a position player can do — avoid making outs — about as well as anyone out there. And while he has no other carrying tool to speak of, he does provide value elsewhere in his game.

The sticker price of $162 million is a bit bracing, but this is not as expensive a signing as it looks. First, the early returns on the free-agent market have been outstanding for the top players. Sometimes that’s taken the form of higher-than-expected AAV, as in the case of Jameson Taillon or Josh Bell. But at the very top of the market, players and teams have reached a compromise: relatively low AAV over an extremely long time frame.

That approach, pioneered in its modern form by the Phillies and Bryce Harper in 2019, has informed the deals signed by basically every top position player apart from Judge. Trea Turner: 11 years, $300 million. Xander Bogaerts: 11 years, $280 million. And now Nimmo, at eight years, $162 million. The last few years of that contract won’t be pretty. But for now, for budgeting and tax purposes, the Mets have a 29-year-old coming off a 5.4 WAR season under contract for a hair over $20 million a year. That’s practically the same AAV as Austin Riley, Kyle Schwarber, and Joc Pederson. Viewed in those terms, Nimmo’s deal looks quite reasonable.

Another thing to remember, at the risk of belaboring the Springer comparison, is that by returning to the Mets, Nimmo won’t be under pressure to be anything other than what he already is. He’s not a hitter who can prop up a lineup all on his own, but he’s an excellent leadoff man and complementary piece. Just as Springer has benefited from the emergence of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, Nimmo fits perfectly in a lineup where Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso can drive him in.

What illustrates the Mets’ financial exuberance is not that they re-signed a player they’d come to rely on. It’s that they casually picked up Robertson the same night, the way you or I might stop at 7-Eleven for a Slurpee on the way home from the post office. Robertson is 37 going on 38, which means he’s no longer the elite setup man and sometime closer he was throughout the 2010s. During that time, he was the single exception to the rule of relief pitcher volatility, but since 2019, he’s suffered a severe injury to the flexor mass in his throwing elbow, undergone Tommy John surgery, and briefly found himself out of the major league picture entirely. But after pitching for Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics, he quickly found himself back in the majors with Tampa Bay, and from there to Chicago and Philadelphia, where he pitched in the most recent World Series.

Robertson threw 63 2/3 innings in the majors in 2022, and while his ERA was more than a run lower than his FIP, he still posted an ERA of 2.40. Perhaps he will regress; he lacks ideal fastball velocity for a reliever, particularly a high-leverage righty, and walked roughly one in every six batters he faced in 2022. But his knuckle-curve remains a formidable weapon. In fact, one of the few things in baseball that has the bottom drop out harder than his curve is a Mets team that’s leading the NL East in September. Baseball Savant’s patriotic lollipops paint a rosy picture: Robertson is in the 99th percentile in fastball spin and in the 90th or better in whiff rate, K%, xBA, and xSLG. Maybe the former Yankee isn’t closer-quality for a contender anymore, but who cares? So long as Edwin Díaz is still pitching, he won’t have to be.

In short, both of these are good signings. But it’s worth exploring how they fit in with the team’s larger financial structure.

It hasn’t all been one-way traffic for the Mets, who have seen Jacob deGrom and Taijuan Walker sign elsewhere this past week. But after retaining Nimmo and bringing in José Quintana, Verlander, and Robertson — to say nothing of the nine-figure extension they gave Díaz — New York’s estimated payroll for 2023 is up to $322 million. After the various accounting machinations required for luxury tax purposes, that number rises to $335.3 million.

And the tax bill will be steep. Not only are the Mets a repeat CBT payor, but they’ll also suffer additional surcharges over the $293 million “Cohen Tax” threshold, so named because it seemed to target Mets owner Steve Cohen. Instead, he saw a financial target with his name on it and went for it — blew past it, in fact, by assembling the most expensive team in baseball history. Cohen, it seems, cares not for the laws of God or Manfred.

There will be more moves to come. The Mets are known to be interested in offloading Darin Ruf and James McCann in order to save some money, but like every team they could use some help in the bullpen. And unless top prospects Francisco Álvarez, Brett Baty, and Ronny Mauricio all turn into big league contributors quickly, the Mets could probably use a bench bat or two.

But Cohen has staked his reputation as an owner on funding the best baseball team money can reasonably buy. He could not have maintained his credibility in that respect without a week like we just saw, particularly after losing deGrom. So why not run a $320 million payroll, if you’re a team that prints money and serves as a goodwill-generating machine for a man worth more than $10 billion? I can’t think of a reason. A World Series doesn’t count less for a team that paid more to win it.

Cohen can’t just up and buy a World Series, obviously; the best he can do is buy a berth in a brutal three-way rock fight with the National League’s two most recent champions (the Braves and Phillies) for the right to face an equally well-equipped Dodgers or Padres team in the playoffs. But he’s bought a damn good baseball team, which is all one can ask an owner to do.

Michael is a writer at FanGraphs. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Ringer and D1Baseball, and his work has appeared at Grantland, Baseball Prospectus, The Atlantic,, and various ill-remembered Phillies blogs. Follow him on Twitter, if you must, @MichaelBaumann.

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Shirtless Bartolo Colon
1 year ago

Might sign me next???!!!! I think 4 years at $19 million a year should get it done!

Left of Centerfield
1 year ago

Will that be enough for you to finally buy a shirt???!!!

Jason Bmember
1 year ago

To be fair that is a LOT of fabric needed

1 year ago

Don’t you dare body shame Big Sexy

1 year ago

I’ve been waiting by the phone for Steve’s call, but it’s been silent. Disappointed. Sure, I am over 50 and my running speed is now non-existent, but I’m not looking for $162MM; four or five million will do. I say I’m a bargain!

Last edited 1 year ago by MikeD
1 year ago

Let’s be fair and call it 8/30.