The Mets have spent the last week contemplating a move that would make them the first-ever $300 million roster.
They have been discussing acquiring Eric Hosmer and Chris Paddack from the Padres for Dominic Smith. The Athletic first reported the potential.
The Mets would be essentially taking on the final four years and $59 million owed Hosmer to have access to further starting pitching depth now – and the future – with Paddack. They were considering this move even before Jacob deGrom reported pain in his shoulder and was ultimately found to have a stress reaction on his scapula that will keep him from pitching in the majors until late May at the earliest.
The Mets would be taking on the $18 million average value of Hosmer’s contract (based on his full contract of eight years at $144 million) plus the $2.25 million owed to Paddack for 2022. The Mets currently project to about a $288 million payroll for luxury tax purposes. So adding $20 million-ish more would zoom them beyond $300 million, though it is always possible San Diego could eat some of Hosmer’s contract to facilitate a trade and change the luxury tax hit for the Mets. The team luxury tax record has been the $297.5 million of the Dodgers in 2015.
This is a touching subject in the immediate aftermath of a new collective bargaining agreement in which the other owners got a new fourth super tax threshold level at $290 million with the hope of tethering the Mets, in particular. It quickly has become known as the Steve Cohen Tax.
Because he has heard complaints from other owners about the $300 million barrier, even Cohen has endured hesitancy about whether to break that number. The Dodgers, according to Fangraphs, are projected at about $292 million this season after they flipped AJ Pollock for Craig Kimbrel on Friday.
Like those 2015 Dodgers who were still in the early years of a new ownership, Cohen is trying to use his money to speed up relevance and contention while giving cover to upgrade a minor league feeding system.
The Mets believe entering 2022 that their greatest area of vulnerability was starting pitching depth due, in particular, to age/injury concerns with Carlos Carrasco, deGrom and Max Scherzer. DeGrom has already given reality to that fear.
Chris Bassit was obtained after the lockout to join Taijuan Walker to give the most-ideal rotation depth. But the Mets now know they have to dip into their depth to begin the season.
Paddack would join Tylor Megill, David Peterson and – at some point during the year – Joey Lucchesi to provide rotation options for 2022. In addition, Bassit, Carrasco, deGrom and Walker can all be free agents after the 2022 season. Paddack was just arbitration eligible for the first time.
Paddack is no sure thing. He had a strong rookie season in 2019 in which he went 9-7 with a 3.33 ERA. But he had a 4.73 ERA in 12 starts in the COVID-shortened 2020 season. And it was a 5.07 ERA in 23 appearances (22 starts) last season for the disappointing Padres. Paddack, who had Tommy John surgery in the minors, was shut down in September with what the team said was a slight sprain of his right elbow. He came to this camp in a battle for the fifth rotation spot with recently signed Nick Martinez.
Paddack, 26, is known for having an inconsistent fastball and excellent changeup. A big question has been if he could ever build consistency with a breaking ball to have a viable third pitch.
Paddack’s 2019 rookie season included a spat with Pete Alonso. Both were placed on the Opening Day rosters that year and had outstanding Aprils. Alonso was named NL Rookie of the Month. Paddack reacted by saying, “I’m coming for him” and noting the goal was Rookie of the Year (which Alonso won), not Rookie of the Month. The two faced each other on May 6. Alonso went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against Paddack, who was quite clear in his celebration of the two punchouts.
Afterward, Alonso sprinkled a little gas on the matter by telling reporters, “If he was mad about (not winning NL Rookie of the Month), there’s five other months. … Also, he said something about winning the Rookie of the Year. That would be nice, but I’m trying to win a World Series.”
Because Paddack was brought up to begin the 2019 season, he has exactly three years of service plus three options. So if the Mets send him to the minors for depth for even two-plus weeks this year, he would go from being a free agent after the 2024 season to having to wait until after the 2025 campaign.
Hosmer, 32, would become a somewhat more expensive, more limited Smith – a lefty-swinger who can move Alonso to designated hitter with some regularity. While Smith also played some corner outfield, Hosmer has played 25 career innings in the outfield and none since 2015. That was the year the Royals beat the Mets in a World Series in which the signature play arguably was Hosmer’s dash home to tie Game 5 as first baseman Lucas Duda threw wildly to the plate.
Hosmer signed that eight-year, $144 million free agent deal with San Diego after the 2017 season and his performance has been ordinary as a Padre; perhaps most surprisingly scouts cite how his defense has taken a noticeable step backward. The team has been trying to trade him for at least a year to remove salary to pursue other areas of need, and Hosmer has been upset about how public his availability had become.
The Padres tried this offseason to sign Nelson Cruz, Eddie Rosario, Kyle Schwarber and Seiya Suzuki and trade with Cincinnati for Jesse Winker. They would still like to add an outfield bat with the saved money from a Hosmer deal.