New York Mets reach deals with four players to avoid arbitration

NEW YORK -- The Mets agreed to one-year contracts with first baseman/outfielder Dominic Smith, outfielder Brandon Nimmo and pitchers Edwin Diaz, Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman on Friday to avoid salary arbitration.

Smith will make $2.55 million in his first year of arbitration eligibility, while Diaz gets $7 million in his second eligible year. Lugo agreed to $2,925,000, and Gsellman will make $1.3 million.

The 25-year-old Smith enjoyed a huge breakout during the pandemic-shortened season, forcing his way into the every-day 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, 27, 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 the Seattle Mariners.

The right-hander finished 2-1 with a 1.75 ERA and six saves in 26 appearances. He struck out 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, 26, 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 past 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.

Last year was a wreck for Gsellman, sidelined by a triceps injury and then a broken rib. His season started late and ended early, without much success in between as the Mets moved the former starter from the bullpen into a ravaged rotation with no time to build up first and get stretched out.

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. He gives New York a potential long man with the ability to pitch multiple innings or generate a groundball when needed.

Five Mets remained eligible to exchange proposed arbitration salaries with the team Friday, including new shortstop Francisco Lindor. Others eligible were outfielder Michael Conforto, right-hander Miguel Castro and third baseman/outfielder J.D. Davis.