SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Mets’ bullpen got shallower on Monday.
Adam Ottavino declined his $6.75 million player option for 2024, choosing instead to become a free agent. The player option was part of the two-year, $14.5 million contract Ottavino signed with the Mets before last season. Thanks to incentives, Ottavino earned $8.75 million in 2023.
Ottavino’s option would have included $4 million in deferred money to be paid from 2032 to 2035.
For much of the season, Ottavino was open about his desire to exercise his player option and remain with the Mets. In a conversation with The Athletic on Monday, he explained how things changed for him first around the trade deadline and then at the end of the season when the club fired manager Buck Showalter and general manager Billy Eppler resigned.
“After the trade deadline, I had to see what they were going to do here,” Ottavino said. “They end up firing Buck and then eventually Billy is gone as well, and so then at that point, there was just a lot of uncertainty. The goal was to be here for a long time, and those were the people I was fostering a partnership with, and they were all gone.”
Ottavino’s representatives eventually met with new president of baseball operations David Stearns to get a feel for where the Mets were headed. The meeting left the pitcher with as much uncertainty as before, as attempts to restructure his deal — to a two-year contract or a one-year contract with a smaller overall guarantee but more money upfront — went nowhere. Stearns couldn’t promise Ottavino that he wouldn’t be traded if he exercised the option, according to the pitcher.
“I feel like I gained very little insight from that meeting, which is obviously his prerogative to tell me or not tell me anything. I get it,” Ottavino said. “There’s just so much on his plate, and this first year we just don’t have a lot of information on it yet, and I’m only signed up for the one year. The thought process is, I don’t know who else is coming on the team, I don’t know what’s happening with (Pete) Alonso, I don’t know what’s happening with the coaching staff.
“It’s hard to walk blindly into something with a contract that you don’t love, with just that much uncertainty.”
While Ottavino played with the Yankees while incoming Mets manager Carlos Mendoza was a coach with the club, he said he did not have much of a relationship with Mendoza. That’s unsurprising given their roles.
Ottavino will enter the reliever market off a season in which he posted a 3.21 ERA over 61 2/3 innings. His strikeout rate was down and his walk rate up, though he compensated for that by getting more ground balls. Late in the season, he spoke of 2023 as a year of transition for his repertoire, as his trademark sweeper was imitated around the league.
“It just made more sense to talk to all the teams that I can and just see what my options are,” Ottavino said Monday. “I’m not a spring chicken. I’m trying to make the most of I don’t know how many years left. Yeah, it was sad, but it is what it is.”
A native of Manhattan, Ottavino called his years with both the Yankees and Mets “a dream for me.” Neither he nor the Mets closed off the chance of a reunion — Ottavino mentioned Brandon Nimmo re-signing with the Mets even after hitting free agency last year. But the pitcher, who turns 38 later this month, downplayed geography as a factor for him this winter.
“I couldn’t imagine this this time last year, but here we are,” Ottavino said.
The Mets did exercise their club option on lefty Brooks Raley on Monday. Raley will make $6.25 million in 2024. New York also has Edwin Díaz returning from knee surgery to anchor the back end of its bullpen. Beyond those two, the club has Drew Smith and Trevor Gott as experienced, arbitration-eligible arms, along with several relievers out of minor-league options such as Phil Bickford, Sean Reid-Foley and Sam Coonrod.
Also Monday, pitchers Bryce Montes de Oca and Peyton Battenfield cleared waivers and were outrighted to Triple-A Syracuse. Montes de Oca is recovering from Tommy John surgery last spring and could factor into the reliever mix at some point in 2024. Pitchers John Curtiss, Elieser Hernández and Denyi Reyes elected free agency after being outrighted. So did outfielder Tim Locastro.
The Mets claimed utility infielder Zack Short from the Tigers. A native of Kingston, NY, Short played in 110 games for Detroit last season at six different positions, though all 60 of his starts were on the infield. Short posted a .631 OPS for the Tigers and owns a career batting average of .174 with a .266 on-base percentage and .308 slugging percentage. Short exhibits excellent command of the strike zone, though, with a strong walk rate and low chase rate.
The Mets now have 31 players on their 40-man roster.
(Photo of Adam Ottavino: Scott Taetsch/USA Today)