Thursday, June 1 2023

The New York Mets lost an ace Friday night, more than an ace really. When Jacob deGrom signed on with the Texas Rangers for five years and $185 million, it brought an unceremonious end to a tenure that often felt bound for the rafters.

He started out as a surprise Rookie of the Year, tacked on to a highly touted class of young starters, and wound up soaring past them to become the most dominant, most arresting pitcher many current fans have ever seen in person. That is an aesthetic and sentimental hole that, barring some sort of “Juan Soto pops up to replace Bryce Harper” miracle, won’t be filled. But to fulfill their ambitions, implied by the rest of the roster and explicitly stated by team owner Steve Cohen, the Mets do have to do that impossible sounding thing: Replace Jacob deGrom.

And frankly, they’ve had some practice at that task. They had to trudge on without him for more than a year between June 2021 and August 2022, a window that saw them add Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt. This time, though, it’s not temporary.

The tenor of the Mets’ offseason will now depend on how they respond, how GM Billy Eppler and company decide to utilize what was presumably a hefty line in the budget earmarked for deGrom. Because he signed so quickly, jumping the gun on this week’s Winter Meetings, they have options. Let’s think about their best ones now that retaining deGrom is off the table.

Mets ace Max Scherzer and reigning AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, a free agent, were teammates with the 2014 Tigers. Could they reunite following Jacob deGrom's departure? (Photo by Steven King/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)Mets ace Max Scherzer and reigning AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, a free agent, were teammates with the 2014 Tigers. Could they reunite following Jacob deGrom's departure? (Photo by Steven King/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Mets ace Max Scherzer and reigning AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, a free agent, were teammates with the 2014 Tigers. Could they reunite following Jacob deGrom’s departure? (Photo by Steven King/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Justin Verlander, Carlos Rodon or a bulk buy?

There are two free agent starters left who could step in alongside Scherzer to approximate last year’s infrequently achieved dream duo, but they both come with health risks that will make every fatalistic Mets fan (so, every Mets fan) queasy.

Justin Verlander roared back from Tommy John surgery at age 39 to win his third Cy Young and second World Series ring with the Houston Astros. He could be reunited with former Tigers teammate Scherzer on a high-salary, short-term deal. Having two members of the devastating 2014 Tigers — seriously, count the Cy Youngs in that rotation — is a double-edged sword: One one hand, they are two of the best pitchers of all-time, full stop. On the other hand, the fact that they were already in their primes in the early 2010s is a stark reminder of the exponential risk of wear and tear, of injury, of breakdowns that kneecap the October series they are tasked with dominating.

Carlos Rodon has a far different trajectory. A top pick and prospect, injuries suppressed his talent for years with the Chicago White Sox. Only in 2021 did he fully put it together. The hard-throwing lefty hopped to the San Francisco Giants in 2022 and emphatically proved his arrival (and current health) before opting out in search of a bigger deal. The Mets would certainly make sense as a landing spot for a fastball-slider pitcher whose approach mirrors deGrom’s in many ways, and who thrived in a similarly expansive ballpark to Citi Field.

The New York Post’s Jon Heyman has already connected Verlander to the Mets, and it stands to reason they will at least be giving Rodon a call, too.

If the Mets had their choice of the two — which won’t exactly be the case in a market boiling over with demand for starters — there will be plenty to consider. Rodon has a far shorter track record, but is five years younger than Verlander. Pairing Scherzer and Verlander is certainly the more marquee option, and would also likely allow the Mets to work on a shorter timeline than Rodon, a consideration for every big spender with Shohei Ohtani one year from free agency.

Right now, the Mets rotation behind Scherzer goes: Carlos Carrasco, Tylor Megill, David Peterson and Elieser Hernandez. If the Mets had their druthers, two of the last three would likely enter spring training as swingmen or depth arms.

So Door No. 3, a more expansive approach to the rotation, might be in order. They should absolutely be considering a reunion with Chris Bassitt, and shopping in his general aisle with Nathan Eovaldi or Kodai Senga, No. 3 starters with upside. Not committing $35-40 million per year to deGrom might allow them to reel in several options and assemble more depth. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Eppler use one spot on a gamble like Andrew Heaney, who displayed immense strikeout potential with the Dodgers in 2022, but has struggled with health and home runs.

They could also turn to the trade market. It remains to be seen if the Miami Marlins are serious about trading Pablo Lopez — a changeup artist with a 3.50 ERA over 282 2/3 innings in the past two seasons — but with a projected arbitration salary of only $5.6 million, he could be a boon to the Mets rotation without even putting a dent in the budget for other offseason additions.

Does this mean Brandon Nimmo is coming back?

The Mets also have a major piece of their hitting core floating on the market. Outfielder Brandon Nimmo will demand one of the heftier deals among hitters, and will have plenty of suitors once Aaron Judge makes his decision.

FanGraphs’ crowdsourced projections estimated a five-year, $100 million deal for Nimmo, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he winds up more in the neighborhood of $25 million a year.

All in all, it probably makes the most sense to make a charge at retaining Nimmo and locking down center field in an offseason with few other options at the position.

While Jeff McNeil and Eduardo Escobar’s positional flexibility affords the Mets multiple ways to add bats, even the Nimmo backup plans will probably be outfielders. Andrew Benintendi, a midseason Yankees addition now on the free agent market, bats lefty and fits the Mets’ recent preference for contact hitters. They could also make the Arizona Diamondbacks an offer to draw on their surplus of left-handed outfielders. But the most intriguing idea might be providing Cody Bellinger, a great defender in center, a landing spot to try to rediscover his power stroke on a one-year deal.

Source: Yahoo Sports

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