Back in December of 2018, my opinion was that the Mets would be better served signing Zack Wheeler to an extension rather than Jacob deGrom. The rationale was not that Wheeler was a better pitcher than deGrom but rather because the Mets could still get Wheeler at a discount. Also, at the time Wheeler was under control for just one more year while deGrom had two more years.

Now the Mets face something of a similar question with two outfielders. And just like it was a minority opinion to advocate for Wheeler, my position is that the Mets should prioritize the minority choice by extending Brandon Nimmo over Michael Conforto. Much like with Wheeler, the Mets have a chance to extend Nimmo and receive some type of discount. No one thinks that Conforto, on the brink of free agency and with Scott Boras as his agent, will be amenable to any type of discount.

But on top of getting a discount with Nimmo, if they pick him, they’d actually be picking the more productive player.

For a lot of fans, it’s heresy to suggest that Nimmo is better than Conforto. But the most advanced offensive statistic that we have – wOBA – has Nimmo with a .365 to .358 edge. And that comes even with Conforto’s terrific 2020, which came about thanks to an unsustainable .412 BABIP. Nimmo, on the other hand, posted a BABIP below his career average in 2020.

And while people want to crucify Nimmo for his defense, there’s little reason to think that Conforto is any better in the field. Both players have spent time at all three outfield positions. The Mets, having seen both Conforto and Nimmo play center, believe that Nimmo is the better choice to play the toughest defensive spot.

Conforto has played 4,841.1 innings in the OF and has a (-3) DRS in that span. However, that’s somewhat misleading. In his debut back in 2015, Conforto put up a +9 DRS in 389.2 innings, a relatively tiny sample. Since then, in 4,451.2 innings, he has a (-12) DRS, with a (-16) in 1,137.1 innings in center field. A full season is considered to be 1,200 innings. When playing an outfield corner, Conforto has a +4 DRS in 3,314.1 innings since 2016, the year that Nimmo made his MLB debut.

Nimmo has played 1,453.2 innings in an outfield corner since 2016 and has a +4 DRS.

So, when we look at hitting, Nimmo has a slight advantage. When we look at defense, Nimmo has been better on a per innings basis in an outfield corner. And they’re fairly even as baserunners, with Conforto holding a 5.3 to 5.2 edge in FanGraphs’ BSR statistic since 2016. Overall, it seems to me that Nimmo is the better player but if you want to say it’s a coin flip between the two of them, because of Conforto’s edge in playing time, it’s hard to argue too much against that.

But Conforto has visions of a George Springer, 6/$150 contract. What do you think it would cost to extend Nimmo today?

It seems on a salary scale that Nimmo is roughly a year behind Conforto. Here’s how Conforto’s salaries played out during his arbitration years:

Arb 1 – $4.025 million
Arb 2 – $8 million
Arb 3 – $12.25 million

Meanwhile, Nimmo received $2.175 million in his first year of arbitration and $4.7 million in his second season.

If the Mets engaged in extension talks with Nimmo right now, they would re-work his salary this year in a new deal. So, they would buy out his final two years of arbitration, along with two or three years of free agency. It seems to me that a 5/$75 deal would be in the ballpark of what it would take to extend Nimmo now.

Even if you think Conforto is better – do you believe he’s worth an AAV of roughly $25 million compared to an AAV of $15 for Nimmo? To be fair, that AAV for Nimmo would include two arbitration years, while Conforto’s would have none. But that’s part of the beauty of extending Nimmo now. If Nimmo goes out and puts up two 162-game seasons at the pace of his 2020 numbers – or even better for him, his 2018 numbers – what happens to his AAV then?

And, as we all know, the CBT is calculated based on AAV of the player throughout his contract. The Mets have the cushion to have a higher AAV for Nimmo in 2021 with an extension now. And with Robinson Cano being added back to the payroll in 2022 and beyond, it would be nice to have Nimmo at a $15 million AAV rather than Conforto at $25 million.

There’s risk in extending a long-term deal to Nimmo, given the neck injury that he suffered in 2019. But there were no reports of that injury resurfacing in 2020. And let’s not pretend that Conforto has been the picture of health, either. Covid kept Conforto from opening the 2020 season on the IL with an oblique injury. And his season ended a few days early due to hamstring problems. And before that was the concussion and the shoulder injury.

Finally, while this doesn’t necessarily play into the decision to sign either player to a long-term deal, let’s note for the record that lifetime Conforto has a .719 OPS versus LHP while Nimmo has a .758 OPS versus lefties. The idea that Nimmo is a platoon player and Conforto isn’t just doesn’t hold water.

Every argument you can make for signing Conforto to a long-term deal you can make for Nimmo. Except with Nimmo you can sign him now for significantly fewer dollars. The Mets are going to have a bunch of free agent decisions in this calendar year and the ugly truth is that unless they’re willing to blow past the CBT, they won’t be able to sign them all. Now, how the upcoming labor issues will deal with the CBT is an unknown. But even if it works out in the most-advantageous way for players, where it gets a giant bump or gets removed completely, that only makes it easier for the Mets to sign Conforto after the fact.

Conforto’s price isn’t going to change much between now and when he hits free agency. Barring injury, there’s no hometown discount in play. But Nimmo’s price isn’t going anywhere but up from where it’s at now. The Mets missed their opportunity to “buy low” on Wheeler prior to the 2019 season. Here’s hoping they won’t miss the boat on Nimmo, too.

15 comments on “Mets should avoid the Zack Wheeler mistake with Brandon Nimmo

  • Metsense

    Nimmo should be offered an reasonable extension this offseason because of the reasons Brian mentioned in the article. The Mets haven’t any coner outfield prospects on the horizon in the next three years or more. He will be 28 next month so a three extension would ended when he is 33. Another reason to feel him out. Maybe he has lofty expectations. In that case, the Mets could surmise that if he were to fit their budget in the future or maybe trade him because he would be unsignable . A good player, like Nimmo and Conforto, shouldn’t be lost in free agency for a draft pick like they handled Wheeler. Two years from free agency is a good time to broach the subject.
    Nimmo and Conforto is not an either/ or extension . Signed them both now.

    • Brian Joura

      But it’s not just Nimmo and Conforto. It’s also Lindor and Syndergaard and Stroman. And Cano’s $20.25 million gets added back in next year, too.

  • TJ

    Brian,
    Nice job, and I am on board. I like both Conforto and Nimmo, as both are quality players at their prime years. We were all somewhat disappointed at the lack of a top tier signing, but this could be a blessing given the pending free agencies. For my two cents, at this stage (albeit premature), the retention priority of the group would be Syndergaard, Lindor, Conforto, Stroman, Nimmo, based on variance reasons. This is somewhat misleading, as Nimmo has an extra year of control. Given his price vs. Conforto, I’d definitely look to sign him now as a hedge against a Boras client. Conforto may well be tough to satisfy if all other players are retained.

  • JamesTOB

    Brian, I’m glad to see you giving Nimmo his due. I frequently see fans dismissing Nimmo, something they would rarely if ever, do to Conforto. I hope your comparison gets a wide circulation. It certainly sets the record straight. FWIW, if I had to choose between them, I’d take Nimmo. A great lead-off man, esp. one with reasonable power (I call 15+ homers reasonable) is as valuable as it is rare.

  • Wobbit

    Brian manages to point out how tough it is to keep a roster together, and why teams don’t dominate like the Yankees did in the past. I like Nimmo, but we should now his true trajectory in the next few years, starting clearly with this year, where is free from the neck injury and clearly an everyday player.

    I love Conforto, and his injuries have been a concern. He also is reaching his prime years, and given his right place in the lineup with decent protection behind him, he should produce his best numbers this season. He should hit three or four, with Alonzo right behind him.
    An elite hitter from the left side, give Conforto 500ABs and .280/36HR/100RBI is well within reach… He’s a great kid, and maybe he will tell Scott Boras that a few million dollars over his career is not worth the anxiety of holding out. Then again, he’s from the west coast and could be lured away… hate to see it. It’s incumbent on his team to work hard to keep him. Very good article, Brian.

  • TexasGusCC

    The Mets stated that Comforto’s CF play affected his offensive production, so they left him in RF because at the time Yo was coming back to play LF. But, Conforto had less than average BABIP, so if he’s seeing just normal BABIP’s he should be better.

    My extensions would go to:
    Conforto 4/$80 – 5/$100
    Lindor 9/$300
    Nimmo 4/$60 – 5/$70
    Thor 4/$72 – 5/$90
    Stroman Good luck bro

  • footballhead

    Thank you Brian for clarifying the differences and similarities of Conforto and Nimmo. I’ve always felt that Conforto is somewhat overrated, while Nimmos is (grossly) underrated. I would rather lock up Nimmo then Conforto long term myself, especially at the $$$ amounts you’ve alluded to.

    I too was dismayed when the Mets allowed Wheeler to walk; not even trying to get something in return for him. I’ve always felt that the Mets (front office) has been the stumbling block of this franchise from the very beginning of their existence.

    If the Mets can’t satisfy Conforto; then depending how the season goes, bundle him and Cano off(or other dead weight contracts), to a willing franchise.

  • Woodrow

    Let’s wait and see how that Wheeler contract works out. Too early to call it a bad decision.

  • Mr_Math

    About Wheeler:
    Looking at his numbers at BR, he appears to be a solid #3, and would have been worth retaining last year.
    But, over the years, recalling boxscores and write-ups on this blog (because I’ve seen few lived/recorded games), my impression was that Wheeler was definitely not worth it because of his propensity to cave at the most inopportune times. This, despite the fact that we have been shown that the notion of clutch performance (and hence its opposite) does not exist

    José

  • TexasGusCC

    This is what Boras got Arrieta, according to MLBTR:
    “ Arrieta, a Boras Corporation client, is reportedly guaranteed $6MM, which will be paid out in the form of a $4MM salary in 2021 and a $2MM buyout on next year’s $10MM option. He can also earn a $250K bonus for reaching each of 150, 160, 170 and 180 innings.”
    ————————————————————————
    This why Conforto is not a realistic re-sign. Unless the Mets satisfy his demands, Boras will find a sucker (one born every minute, supposedly) to get what he wants. It may not have worked out for Lohse or Keuchel, but the percentages are there with Boras to con somebody into a ridiculous contract (see Hosmer, Texeira, etc.). I actually gave some consideration to trading Conforto going into his walk year but I also think he can be a good player – just don’t know about Springer levels – and I don’t want to have regrets.

    The only saving grace we have is that Conforto has said that Boras will work for him. However, Boras has also (rumor has it) asked players to tell him what they want, and then not calling him again until he gets it from whatever team gives it. Players have fired Boras in the past: Realmuto did it, Pudge Rodriguez did it, and some more. So, there’s hope. Harvey should have, but unfortunately Matt was as greedy as Boras and Matt always felt someday he’d be a Yankee anyway.

  • Woodrow

    Conforto or Nimmo? How about Tijuana Walker or Porcello? Decisions,decisions…

  • Wobbit

    It’s not quite fair to compare Nimmo and Conforto, as each is asked to fill a different role. To me, Conforto is the better player, better hitter. Michael has gone through some difficult stretches, and certainly needed time to recover from his two major injuries, and it hurt his overall production. Nimmo, while a good on-base man, does not put the ball in play enough to get his average where it should be.

    An outfielder either has to have power or a higher average. Conforto has the ability to carry the team in stretches. That kind of player is more rare than a Nimmo, whom I like but we still need to see him put a full season together and dominate at his position. Conforto clearly did that last season, and needs to do it again this season.

  • Remember1969

    Unfortunately, it seems like the Wheeler mistake is already in process with Conforto. Last year would have been the time to extend him. The 2022 crop of outfielders to be free agents is extremely weak (or old). Conforto is arguably the best of the lot. The only other ones on the list that would raise even one eyebrow are G. Polanco and Nick Castellanos. Eddie Rosario is a possibility, but he didn’t draw all that much interest this year.

    So, with that all said, there isn’t a particularly good option as a replacement in 2022, unless Khalil Lee has a big year in 2021 and shows he is ready. They need him, but the bidding will be difficult with Boras.

    In the end, I agree with Brian. Let’s not make the same mistake with Nimmo. He is a very valuable player to have.

  • Rob.Rogan

    CBT notwithstanding, I’m in the “why not both” camp when it comes to these two. Health was noted in the article, and as you say Conforto has had his issues, but Nimmo has had more trouble staying on the field over his short career.

    Another interesting point is the total fWAR both players have put up over their careers. Nimmo with 8.9 and Conforto with 15.9. I think this reflects how few games Nimmo has played compared to Conforto, but if we extrapolate to adjust so that Nimmo played a similar number of games does he get closer to Conforto’s total fWAR? I haven’t done the math, but I think he gets pretty close. Close enough that a difference of tens of millions of dollars between their contract expectations makes Nimmo over Conforto a no-brainer.

    • Brian Joura

      Nimmo’s injuries were in the early days of his minor league career, which caused his delay to the majors. Since making it to the majors, his only issue has been the neck problem that derailed most of his 2019 season.

      Nimmo has 1,309 PA
      Conforto has 2,501 PA

      Conforto has 1.91X as many PA as Nimmo. We multiply that by Nimmo’s 8.9 fWAR and we come up with 17

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