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Grading the Mets’ Brandon Nimmo signing

This was a move that had to be made, and the Mets didn’t even overpay.

Pittsburgh Pirates v New York Mets - Game One Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

After seemingly signaling for weeks that they were willing to let him walk, the Mets surprised everyone by re-signing Brandon Nimmo to an 8-year, $162M contract. The deal will take Nimmo through his age-38 season, though those extra years on the back-end are mostly there to lower the AAV and thus the Mets’ luxury tax bill. It’s a hefty contract regardless, significantly more than Nimmo was expected to receive in free agency and certainly more than it seemed like the Mets were willing to pay.

A first round draft pick by the Mets all the way back in 2011 (yes, 11 years ago - yes, I feel old too), Nimmo has blossomed into one of the best outfielders in baseball. Since 2018, he’s racked up the 10th most fWAR in baseball, nestled neatly between two fellow Mets in Starling Marte and Jeff McNeil. His offensive output in center field has been second only to Mike Trout in that time span, with his truly elite batting eye driving him to a 138 wRC+. He’s even largely eliminated his platoon split over the last two seasons, posting nearly identical wRC+ marks against both righties and lefties.

It’s possible fWAR underrates Nimmo as well give the progress he’s made on the defensive side of the ball. He’s maintained 80th percentile or better sprint speeds per Statcast every year except 2020, an impressive feat given that most players begin to slow down as they approach 30. Meanwhile, improved positioning has transformed Nimmo from a below average defender to one of the better everyday center fielders in baseball over the past two seasons. He’s become a complete package at the position, out-hitting and/or out-fielding nearly all of his piers.

There are flaws to Nimmo’s game as well of course. He has a lengthy injury history, including knee, neck, back, and multiple HPB-related IL stints. He lacks notable power, sending over 63 balls over the fence in 2368 PA and relying more on doubles for his extra base hit production. There’s risk to any up-the-middle player as they entire their 30s given the athletic demands of the position. Yet Nimmo still strikes me as an incredibly underrated player, by both fans and the baseball industry as a whole.

Beyond Nimmo, the Mets had very little in the way of good alternatives here. Internally, their OF depth is nonexistent, and both Starling Marte (34-years-old, coming off core muscle surgery) and Mark Canha (not a true CF, managing a hip condition) are far from ideal options in center. The next best free agency alternative would’ve been Kevin Kiermaier or Cody Bellinger, neither of whom should be starting for a contender with their sights on the World Series. Trade options such as Bryan Reynolds or Alek Thomas would’ve cost Brett Baty (and more) and are also flawed in their own right; the former can’t really play CF, and the latter is a middling offensive option at best. In short, bringing back Nimmo was a move the Mets had to make.

And despite all this - that the Mets had no leverage here and that Nimmo is a fantastic player - this contract is not an overpay made out of desperation. Nimmo is fairly established as a 4-6 win player at this point, and the Mets are paying him for something like 16 wins over the life of his contract (valuing a win at approximately $10M, which may in fact be a low estimate at this point). There’s a very real chance that Nimmo makes good on nearly all of that value in the first three years of this deal, making everything in the latter half of the deal gravy. Moreover, there’s a natural position progression here; Nimmo can play center field until 2025, his age-33 season, then slide to a corner to replace the departing Starling Marte in order to preserves his athleticism and offensive abilities as long as possible.

There’s a chance I’m seeing this move through rose-colored glasses since I’ve long been a huge fan of Nimmo, even as a prospect. But in my eyes, there are no nits to pick here. The Mets had no alternatives, desperately needed a center fielder, and managed to re-sign their homegrown borderline star at a contract that, while higher than estimated, looks to be eminently reasonable. Losing Nimmo would’ve been devastating for the offense and the team’s World Series hopes. Instead, a player who has already spent 11 years in the Mets’ organization will likely retire a member of the team while contributing to multiple deep playoff runs. It’s an A+ move all the way.