Mets avoid arbitration with 8 players, including Lindor, Conforto, Smith

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — The New York Mets agreed to one-year contracts with eight players Friday to avoid salary arbitration, including shortstop Francisco Lindor, outfielder Michael Conforto and first baseman-outfielder Dominic Smith.

Lindor will earn $22.3 million and Conforto gets $12.25 million in their final years before potentially becoming free agents. Smith agreed to a $2.55 million deal in his first year eligible for arbitration.

Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo ($4.7 million) and right-handers Edwin Diaz ($7 million), Seth Lugo ($2,925,00), Miguel Castro ($1,687,500) and Robert Gsellman ($1.3 million) also agreed to one-year deals.

Lindor’s is the fourth-biggest one-year contract for an arbitration-eligible player, trailing Mookie Betts ($27 million with Boston last year), Nolan Arenado ($26 million with Colorado in 2019) and Josh Donaldson ($23 million with Toronto in 2018).

New York had nine players eligible for arbitration – tied with Pittsburgh for the most among major league teams. The only one who did not reach an agreement by Friday’s deadline to exchange proposed salaries was third baseman-outfielder J.D. Davis.

Eligible for arbitration for the first time, Davis asked for $2,475,000 and the Mets offered him $2.1 million. The sides could still reach an agreement until a three-arbitrator panel hears the case online next month and rules. The panel would pick one number or the other – no settling in the middle.

After a 2019 breakout at the plate, Davis hit .247 with six homers, 19 RBIs and a .761 OPS in 56 games last season. He began the year in left field, then moved to a more comfortable spot at third base – though defense is not his calling card. Barring another significant addition to the infield, the hot corner is where he figures to fit for the Mets again this year.

Davis, who turns 28 in April, earned $219,431 in prorated pay last year from his $592,463 salary.

Lindor was acquired from Cleveland last week along with starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco in a blockbuster trade that excited Mets fans. New York parted with young infielders Andres Gimenez and Amed Rosario plus two minor leaguers in a deal that signaled the club is serious about paying for star players and contending immediately under new owner Steve Cohen.

The next step will be trying to keep Lindor beyond this year. The four-time All-Star shortstop said he’s not opposed to signing a long-term contract with the Mets. He said he wouldn’t want to negotiate after starting spring training, though.

Lindor, 27, had a down year at the plate during the pandemic-shortened season. He batted .258 with eight homers, 27 RBIs and a .750 OPS while starting all 60 games and earning just more than $6.48 million prorated from his $17.5 million salary.

Conforto, who turns 28 in March, has become a steady and productive staple in the middle of New York’s dangerous lineup. He batted a career-best .322 in 54 games last season with nine homers, 31 RBIs and a .927 OPS. The slugging right fielder also scored 40 runs, played solid defense and was selected second team All-MLB. He made $2,962,963 prorated from an $8 million salary.

Conforto was drafted 10th overall by the Mets in 2014 out of Oregon State and helped them reach the World Series as a rookie the following season. The 2017 All-Star can become a free agent after the upcoming season and is represented by Scott Boras. With Cohen in place, the Mets have said they’re interested in talking to Conforto about a long-term contract – and he sounded open to the idea. But this late in the game, reaching an agreement before he hits the open market could prove challenging.

The 25-year-old Smith enjoyed a huge breakout during the pandemic-shortened season, forcing his way into the everyday lineup and hitting .316 with 10 home runs, 21 doubles, 42 RBIs and a .993 OPS in 50 games. He earned $214,380 prorated from his $578,826 salary.

Smith’s natural position is first base, creating a bit of a potential logjam with Mets slugger Pete Alonso. If the National League adopts the designated hitter again, problem solved. If not, Smith could see plenty of playing time in left field, where his shortcomings and inexperience are evident. Even team president Sandy Alderson acknowledged that wouldn’t be ideal.

Nimmo batted .280 with a .404 on-base percentage and .888 OPS in 55 games last season. He had eight home runs and 18 RBIs. He has a sharp eye at the plate, often hitting in the leadoff spot, and is pegged as New York’s regular center fielder unless the team acquires a new one and shifts Nimmo to left.

The hustling and smiling Nimmo, who turns 28 in March, made $805,556 in prorated pay last year from a $2,175,000 salary.

The hard-throwing Diaz was so awful in 2019 during his first season with the Mets that he lost his job as closer and got booed repeatedly at Citi Field. He got off to a rough start again last year but rediscovered the nasty fastball-slider combination that helped him lead the majors with 57 saves as a 2018 All-Star for Seattle.

The right-hander finished 2-1 with a 1.75 ERA and six saves in 26 appearances. He struck out a whopping 50 batters against 14 walks in 25 2/3 innings, reclaiming his ninth-inning role. Perhaps most important, he gave up only two home runs after serving up 15 in 58 innings the year before.

Diaz, who turns 27 in March, made $1,888,889 in prorated pay last season from his $5.1 million salary.

Lugo wound up back in an injury-depleted rotation last season because the Mets needed help there. The versatile right-hander prefers to start but has been more effective as a reliever the last few years. He went 3-4 with a 5.15 ERA and three saves in 16 games, including seven starts.

The 31-year-old Lugo, a 34th-round draft pick out of Centenary College in Louisiana, earned a prorated $740,741 from his $2 million salary last season. Until the Mets finish assembling their pitching staff, it’s uncertain whether Lugo will be in the bullpen or rotation to begin the season.

Castro was acquired from Baltimore in a trade on Aug. 31 last year and went 1-2 with a 4.00 ERA in 10 relief appearances for the Mets. He was 2-2 with a 4.01 ERA and one save in 26 outings overall, striking out 38 with 13 walks in 24 2/3 innings.

The 26-year-old right-hander, with a live arm at 6-foot-7 but shaky control, projects as part of New York’s middle relief and setup corps this season. He is 8-18 with a 4.29 ERA and seven saves in six major league seasons and earned $388,889 in prorated pay from a $1.05 million salary last year.

Last year was a wreck for Gsellman, sidelined by a triceps injury and then a broken rib. The 27-year-old right-hander had a 9.64 ERA in just 14 innings, making four starts and two relief appearances.

Gsellman earned $453,704 prorated from his $1,225,000 salary.

Pujols has 2 more RBIs, Cardinals beat Pirates 8-7 in 10

Cincinnati Reds v St. Louis Cardinals
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PITTSBURGH – Albert Pujols drove in two more runs and the St. Louis Cardinals went on to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-7 in 10 innings Tuesday night.

Pujols hit a two-run single in the third inning to push his career total to 2,218 RBIs. That came a night after he broke a tie with Babe Ruth for second place on the career list. Hank Aaron holds the record with 2,287.

Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol then removed the 42-year-old Pujols at the end of the inning. St. Louis opens postseason play Friday when it hosts a best-of-three National League wild-card series.

Juan Yepez gave the Cardinals the win when he hit a tiebreaking single with one in the 10th inning off Chase De Jong (6-3) to score automatic runner Ben Deluzio.

“Tonight was interesting because you’re fairly scripted in who you want to use and who you don’t want to use and what you want tomorrow to look like so you can get ready for Friday,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “It was a good one to still figure out a way to come out on top.”

The Cardinals threw out the potential tying run at home in the bottom of the 10th when automatic runner Kevin Newman tried to score from second base on Oneil Cruz‘s line single off the glove of first baseman Alec Burleson. The ball deflected to second baseman Brendon Donovan, who threw home to catcher Andrew Knizner.

The Pirates challenged the call, but it was upheld on video review.

“I thought we were going to get it overturned,” Newman said. “I just thought he didn’t tag me until he got higher up on the body.”

It was the Pirates’ 100th loss, the second year in a row they have reached that mark.

The Cardinals got two hits each from Donovan, Corey Dickerson, Knizner and Paul DeJong.

Cruz had three hits for the Pirates and Bryan Reynolds, Rodolfo Castro, Jack Suwinski, Ke'Bryan Hayes and Ji-Hwan Bae added two apiece. Miguel Andujar drove in two runs.

Chris Stratton (10-4) pitched two scoreless innings for the win.

“They weren’t the prettiest two innings I’ve ever pitched but I got a great play from the defense in the 10th inning to help me out,” Stratton said. “It was a good play all the way around.’

Pujols’ hit put the Cardinals ahead 3-1 but the Pirates answered with six runs in the bottom of the third. Andujar’s run-scoring double highlighted an inning that includes RBI singles by Castro, Suwinski, Ben Gamel and Bae.

The Cardinals then scored four runs in the seventh inning to tie the score at 7-all. Donovan hit an RBI single, Dickerson drove in two runs with a double and the tying run scored on a throwing error by Cruz, the rookie shortstop.

Both starting pitchers lasted just 2 2/3 innings. The Cardinals’ Dakota Hudson was rocked for seven runs and nine hits while the Pirates’ JT Brubaker allowed three runs on four hits.

Brubaker was activated from the injured list before the game. He had been out since Sept. 16 with right lat discomfort.

HELSLEY HURT

Reliever Ryan Helsley, the Cardinals’ closer, left in the eighth inning with a jammed right middle finger. Helsley was injured after catching a line drive by Bae and using his hands to brace himself while dodging a piece of a broken bat.

Helsley said he expects to be ready to pitch Friday.

“I don’t think there was anything super wrong with it,” Helsley said. `Just give it some rest and let it resolve itself.”

ROSTER MOVES

The Pirates optioned right-hander Roansy Contreras to Triple-A Indianapolis to clear a roster spot for Brubaker. They also recalled infielder/outfielder Tucapita Marcano from Indianapolis and optioned catcher Jose Godoy to the same club.

PIRATES AWARDS

Center fielder Bryan Reynolds was voted the winner of the Roberto Clemente Award, emblematic of the Pirates’ MVP, by the Pittsburgh chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Mitch Keller won the Steve Blass Award for best pitcher. Former infielder Michael Chavis was voted the Chuck Tanner Good Guy Award.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Cardinals: OF Tyler O'Neill (strained right hamstring) has been ruled out for the wild-card series but St. Louis is hopeful he can play in the NLDS round if it advances. . 3B Nolan Arenado (left quadriceps tightness) missed his second straight game but could play Wednesday.

UP NEXT

Cardinals: Have not decided on a starter for Wednesday, though Marmol said LHP Matthew Liberatore (2-1, 5.46) and RHP Jake Woodford (4-0, 2.33) are possibilities.

Pirates: RHP Johan Oviedo (4-3, 3.12), who was acquired from the Cardinals on Aug. 1, gets the start.