One of the items flying under the radar last week was the Arbitration Deadline, on Thursday January 11. The New York Mets had a half dozen players with the right service times – players between three and six years, plus Super Twos. Going to arbitration is almost universally a bad play for teams because they are then put in the position to say to a player “You are not as valuable as you think you are.” That is a losing argument for the team.
The last few years have seen the rise of younger stars, leading to higher and higher arbitration-avoiding contracts. Last year Shohei Ohtani signed for $30 million, and just a few years before that Mookie Betts signed for $27 million. As the deadline loomed the New York Yankees signed Juan Soto for $31.5 million this year.
The Mets had Pete Alonso, David Peterson, Drew Smith, Joey Lucchesi, and the two new players from the Milwaukee Brewers, Adrian Houser and Tyrone Taylor as arbitration candidates for 2024. As expected, each player signed a one year deal and will see what happens for 2024 and try again next winter.
Taylor signed for $2.025 million, and nearly tripled his salary. Taylor is a Super Two with a little more than two years under his belt, just getting significant playing time after turning 27 years old. 2024 will be his Age 30 season, and he’ll be arb-eligible again, so I doubt we will see him signed to a longer deal.
Adrian Houser also signed a one-year deal worth $5.05 million. It is not easy to tell whether or not this is a good deal. The number seems low for his expected contribution, but it also reflects his struggles the last two seasons. David Stearns is familiar with Houser and is counting on higher value based on his strikeout rates last year.
Drew Smith was probably my least favorite reliever last year. That may seem harsh, but after he got his first save, Buck Showalter thought he had something, and Smith posted a near 6 ERA from that point forward, with the league slugging over .500 against him. As all great hitters can tell you, it doesn’t matter how hard they throw it if it doesn’t move. Smith is getting just $2.2 million, and with Edwin Diaz returning can be kept to lower leverage situations.
Joey Lucchesi has been a pitcher of potential since he was drafted in 2016. The Mets acquired him in January of 2021, and Lucchesi has had some tough luck since. He showed up “closer to” healthy at the end of 2023, and pitched as well as he had his first start in April. He signed for $1.65 million.
David Peterson underwent hip surgery this past November, and he is expected to miss at least two months of 2024. Peterson was in the rotation until May, then missed more than a month, pitched some relief and then closed out the year starting every 5th day. Then had hip surgery. The Mets have to do a better job of letting players with health issues have them addressed. Peterson was a first round selection, and could have had this surgery last summer, once it was painfully obvious they were out of the playoffs. Players are investments, not expenses. Nonetheless, Peterson was given a modest, and presumably prorated raise at $1.65 million.
These five barely add $6 million to the budget, with the small increase over their previous salaries.
Pete Alonso however commanded a different sum. Alonso was signed to a $20.5 million one-year contract. 20 million in arbitration is exceedingly rare, as mentioned in the beginning, and until recently, and for the starriest of star players. Alonso is an excellent player and worth these dollars already. He is also a Scott Boras client.
I think the Mets signing here is a good indicator they will look to re-sign him before free agency. This is a significant raise, it pays him good value in rarefied air for arbitration. It’s respectful, and doesn’t dip into the world of “Are you really that good?”
All in all, Stearns did a good job of keeping some usable pieces and keeping the Polar Bear content. New signings aside, Stearns managed this portion of his job very well.