Even now, one eye of the Mets and Yankees are sure to be set on the upcoming free agent Class of 2020, and the battle for talent between the two.
The Mets and Yankees both understand the surest, and quickest path to a World Championship is through the free agent market. Arguably, the signing by the Red Sox of J.D. Martinez, with his accompanying run production, altered the composition of their 2018 team considerably, propelling the Sox to their fourth title of the decade.
The risks are high, though, and for every home run like Martinez, there’s a corollary bust like the Cubs, who had two free-agent pitching whiffs in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood. The Cubs lost Darvish, whom they signed in February to a six-year, $126 million deal, in May because of a shoulder injury that ultimately ended his season. Darvish has yet to pick up a ball to prepare for 2019.
With the exception of the Yankees highly publicized pursuit of Manny Machado, both the Mets and Yankees have been relatively quiet, choosing trades over the Class of 2019 free agent talent to better their clubs.
That is likely to change dramatically when the Class of 2020 free agents is unveiled following the World Series this year. And given the abundant talent on the horizon in November, this could be a hidden motive for both the Mets and Yankees to refrain from spending now, with the mindset of going all-in for the 2020 season.
To whet everyone’s appetite, and then we’ll break the list down, here are a few of the blockbuster names of free agents coming up in the Class of 2020 both the Mets and Yankees will surely take a look at (In no particular order):
Justin Verlander (SP), Paul Goldschmidt (1B), Nolan Arenado (3B), Madison Bumgarner (SP), Chris Sale (SP), Anthony Rendon (3B), Jose Abreu (1B), Dellin Betances (RP), Gerrit Cole (SP), Didi Gregorius (SS), Zack Wheeler (SP), Xander Bogaerts (SS), and Nick Castellanos (RF) are all contained in the Class of 2020.
A caveat before we go any further. There are probably some readers thinking – forget the Mets and the stingy Wilpons in this conversation. Rest assured, though, Brodie Van Wagenen is not Sandy Alderson, and by this time next year, it’s conceivable he will have assembled enough capital (or juice, if you will) with the organization to forge, or force if he has to, the Wilpons to sign a few checks. Van Wagenen’s quest will be eased, of course, if the Mets can snare a Wild Card or a second-place finish in the NL East.
The Yankees? Well, we know that story, so let’s move on.
High-Profile Free Agents
Nolan Arenado (3B)
Without argument, Arenado is the class in the Class of 2020, and both the Mets and Yankees will be among the teams in pursuit of his services. If there’s a chance you need convincing as to Arenado’s placement at the top of the class, take a second and do “The Black Check” on his Baseball Reference Page.
An iron man at third base, Arenado has played 156 games or more for four consecutive seasons. A five-tool player, he shines defensively, averages 30 or more home runs and 100 RBI over his six years in the big leagues.
Moreover, in his own words, Arenado is “tired of coming to the park and losing” with the Colorado Rockies, perhaps, along with playing in the under the radar city of Denver, making New York City a desirable destination.
One thing both the Mets and Yankees need to stay alert for, though, is the possibility the Rockies may decide to unload Arenado at the July trade deadline.
Prediction: If the Yankees sign Manny Machado, along with extending Didi Gregorius ( though not a sure thing anymore), they’ll be lukewarm in their pursuit of Arenado, similar to their level of interest this year in Bryce Harper. For the Mets, (3B) Todd Frazier‘s $9 million contract is up at the end of this season, and the team should be all-in on Arenado, who has all that it takes to be the next David Wright as the face of the team. Edge: Mets
Gerrit Cole (SP)
The Houston Astros beat the Yankees out for the services of Gerrit Cole at the trade deadline in 2017. That is not likely to happen again.
Cole owns a remarkable 74-47 record over his career and features a W.A.R. of 17.4. He proved he’s a quick learner upon arriving in Houston, accepting the tutelage of pitching coach, Brent Strom, in making minor adjustments to his delivery. Watching Justin Verlander from the sidelines every fifth day didn’t hurt either. At 28, Cole is in line for a big payday and multi-year deal.
Prediction: Unless Steven Matz bombs again this season and Zack Wheeler looks like he wants out in his free agent year, the Mets will likely sit this one out. Not so for the Yankees, though, who we can expect will be all in on Cole. Edge: Yankees
Under The Radar Free Agents
Nick Castellanos (OF)
Nick Castellanos is one of those slowly but surely developing players in the big leagues, improving each year, and ultimately breaking out in 2018 when he hit .298 with 185 hits in 157 games played. A doubles machine (46), Castellanos added 23 home runs and drove home 89 for the second-rate Detroit Tigers.
Both the Mets and Yankees would appear to have interest next year in Castellanos, who will be 28 for the 2020 season. Converted to an outfielder, Castellanos is seasoned at third base, playing 130 games there as recently as 2017. Thus, he might serve as a fallback depending on what Arenado does.
Following this season, the Yankees will need to replace Brett Gardner in left field, unless anyone thinks Jacoby Ellsbury can return to form by then. Meanwhile, the Mets have Yoenis Cespedes to deal with in their outfield. But Castellanos affords a real opportunity to land a solid player – in his prime – for what will likely be modest financial terms.
Prediction: The Mets will be heavily in on Castellanos, especially if they haven’t solved their need for a right-handed power bat by then. He’ll get a nice bump from the $6 million he earned last season in his final year of arbitration with the Tigers, but four years at $36 million should be a comfortable fit for both sides. Castellanos would be ideal for the Yankees as well, but sooner or later they need to make a decision on their number one prospect, Estevan Florial, who should be ready to inherit Gardner’s spot. Edge: Mets
Anthony Rendon (3B)
If it looks like we have a lot of activity at third base, you are correct – we do. But with all the attention and beaucoup bucks going to Arenado, both the Mets and Yankees might do well to take a long look at Anthony Rendon.
Rendon will enter his free agent year in 2020 at the age of 29, making him perfect for a four or five-year deal. He’s a doubles machine, and he led the league with 44 in 2018. He plays hard, and he plays often, averaging around 145-150 games over the last three seasons.
Rendon’s career W.A.R. is an off-the-charts 17.4. He gets on base 36 percent of the time, and also provides enough punch to give you 25 home runs and 85-95 RBI. Almost exclusively a third baseman now, he began his career at second base with the Washington Nationals and can fill in there when needed.
Hurt perhaps by the Nationals generosity, Rendon’s salary doubled from 2017’s $6 million to $12 million in 2018. That figure is likely to increase again when arbitration rolls around in February, making him perhaps less appealing, particularly to the Mets. Nevertheless, Rendon is a solid major leaguer with a darn good resume.
Prediction: While the Mets and Yankees will both be interested, Arenado will receive the bulk of the Yankees attention, viewing Rendon as a fallback. The Mets will need a Rendon, but it’s going to take a sales job on the Wilpons by Van Wagenen to make it work. Edge: The Mets by a hair.
While both teams should have an eye on next season, the Mets and Yankees are harnessed by the outcome of the 2019 season. For the Mets, Mickey Callaway needs to produce 85-90 wins as a minimum to provide Van Wagenen with the juice necessary to take on the Wilpons, affording the Mets engagement in the race for free agents who can help them.
And for the Yankees, anything less than a World Series appearance and surpassing the Boston Red Sox will be deemed a failure, causing an all-out war between their fanbase and the front office, with expectations rising to the true nature of an Evil Empire team, amid cries to buy a World Championship in the mold of George Steinbrenner.
Down the road, we’ll take a look at a few more from the Class of 2020, and how the Mets and Yankees square up in the competition for talent.