After keeping Díaz, Mets take small step with Vogelbach

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Having struck the first big move in the free agent market with a pending $102 million, five-year deal to retain All-Star closer Edwin Díaz, New York Mets general manager Billy Eppler understands it may take time to execute the next steps in his offseason plan.

“If anybody wants to turn this into NBA free agency or NFL free agency, I’m all for it,” Eppler said Tuesday at Major League Baseball's general managers' meetings.

Star pitcher Jacob deGrom opted out of his contract to become a free agent and his next step is unclear. Eppler remains in contact with the agent for the two-time NL Cy Young Award winner, Stephen Veltman.

“We had another conversation or a couple of conversations actually leading up to the decision date,” Eppler said. “We just kind of made a pact to stay in touch. ... I think there’s a good deal of interest there on his part, so that was articulated a number of times through the season and reiterated in our most recent conversation."

In the meantime, small steps must suffice. The Mets exercised a $1.5 million option on designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach, preventing him from being eligible for salary arbitration. New York also has hired Eric Jagers as director of pitching development. Jagers had been Cincinnati's assistant pitching coach.

Mets starters Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker also became free agents. New York must decide by Wednesday whether to exercise an $8 million mutual option on right-hander Mychal Givens and by Thursday whether to exercise a $14 million club option on right-hander Carlos Carrasco.

“We've got business to do," Eppler said.

In its second season under new owner Steve Cohen, New York was on track to finish with baseball's highest payroll for the first time since 1989, with spending at $273.9 million as of Aug. 31. Next year's budget has not been set.

“We talk about it, but we don’t talk about it in specifics,” Eppler said.

Vogelbach, a burly 29-year-old, was acquired from Pittsburgh in late July and quickly became a fan favorite. He hit .255 with six homers and 25 RBIs in 55 games with New York, finishing his season with a .238 average, 18 homers and 59 RBIs overall.

Vogelbach is eligible for free agency after the 2024 season. In addition to his salary next year, he can earn $400,000 in performance bonuses for plate appearances: $25,000 for 350, $50,000 for 400, $75,000 for 450, $100,000 for 500 and $150,000 for 550.

Jagers, 27, worked at Driveline Baseball in Seattle before becoming a Philadelphia Phillies strategist in 2019 and moving to the Reds the following year. Mets pitching coach Jeremy Hefner interviewed all the candidates.

“He’s going to be in charge of all the development feeding into Jeremy,” Eppler said, going on to praise Jagers' "understanding of kind of movement science and the biomechanics that go into pitching, like the efficiency and the kinematic sequence.”

“He's also got a pitch design element to him as well,” Eppler said. “A lot of the players are thirsty for that.”

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Ronald Blum, The Associated Press