MLB free agency officially opened Thursday, meaning Jacob deGrom is free to negotiate with other teams and the Mets are in the market for pitching. A lot of pitching.
The offseason got off to a solid start with the club re-signing closer Edwin Diaz to a five-year deal worth $102 million. It has a signing bonus, an opt-out, a club option, no-trade protection and it’s backloaded for competitive balance purposes. Speaking at the general manager meetings in Las Vegas, Mets’ GM Billy Eppler said the last part was key in getting a deal done.
Backloading the deal is necessary with a roster makeover underway. The Mets do intend to be aggressive in their dealings with deGrom as Eppler says he has been in touch with the homegrown ace and his representatives. But the Mets still need to fill out their rotation and add a few bullpen pieces as well.
David Peterson and Tylor Megill will be used in some capacity, whether as spot-starters or long relievers, but the Mets are not ready to commit to using them in the rotation just yet. The pitching pipeline is not flowing at a high rate right now and the Mets are attempting to address that with the hiring of Eric Jagers as the director of pitching development. The former Cincinnati Reds assistant pitching coach spent time with the Philadelphia Phillies and at Driveline Academy. Jagers is considered a young, forward-thinking pitching coach who can maximize the talent of pitchers in order to progress them to the major leagues.
It’s important to remember that free agency is a marathon, not a sprint. With that said, let’s take a look at some of the top pitchers on the market to see if they could be a fit for the Mets. We’ll divide this into a few categories, starting with the group that could return to the Mets next season.
RUNNING IT BACK
DeGrom, Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker all opted out of their contracts to become free agents.
Walker is projected to make about $12-14 million annually over the next 2-3 years as a free agent and Carlos Carrasco would make $14 million if the club picks up his option. Bassitt would come at a much higher cost, likely around $20 million annually and at 33, he’s probably aiming for a deal of three or more years.
But Bassitt was an integral part of the Mets’ rotation last season. He was a workhorse, throwing 181 2/3 innings and making 30 starts as Max Scherzer and deGrom battled through injuries. He gets the ball on the ground with his sinker and doesn’t give up a ton of hard contact. Bassitt had some trepidation when it came to pitching in New York but came to appreciate the fans and the intensity of the atmosphere, and said he proved something to himself with a successful season in a tough market. Maybe his fondness for the area and the relationship he developed with deGrom will end up being beneficial for the Mets this winter.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are still mulling whether or not to give Clayton Kershaw a qualifying offer. He’s threatened to go home to the Texas Rangers in the past and the Rangers are expected to make a big splash this winter. However, the Mets’ desire to emulate the Dodgers is well-documented, so could they become a Wild Card contender for the 34-year-old, three-time Cy Young Award winner?
Justin Verlander is 39 but he’s still a Cy Young contender. He missed the 2021 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery but he had a sensational 2022 season with the Houston Astros and finally recorded his first World Series win on the mound en route to the Astros’ second title in five seasons.
This would reunite him with his former Detroit Tigers teammate Scherzer. However, the two have never been particularly close off the field and the Mets probably want to keep one of their franchise faces happy.
For the second year in a row, Carlos Rodon will test free agency as an All-Star. Rodon was the second-most valuable pitcher in 2022 with a 6.2 fWAR and he got the bats swinging with a league-high 11.98 strikeouts-per-nine innings last year. He opted out of his contract with the San Francisco Giants to seek a nine-figure deal. At 29, he has age working in his favor and the Mets can certainly afford a contract of that value.
Kodai Senga, who will be 30 in January, has a blistering 100-MPH fastball and four pitches. There is some concern with the transition from Japan but he’s an enticing option.
BEST OF THE REST
Tyler Anderson had a 4.0 WAR for the Dodgers last season due in large part to a reworked changeup. He only had moderate success with the Colorado Rockies but the 32-year-old turned his career around in Southern California. However, there are questions as to whether or not he can replicate that performance away from the Dodgers’ system.
Nathan Eovaldi or Zach Eflin could be middle-rotation options. Eflin was somewhat underwhelming last season and was limited by a knee contusion but he’s only 28 and had a good showing in the postseason out of the bullpen, with a 3.38 ERA over 10 2/3 postseason innings and a save.
Noah Syndergaard, who left the Mets last winter for the Los Angeles Angels and was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, is no longer the same pitcher he was in Queens. He can still get outs but the 30-year-old doesn’t have the same velocity and hasn’t been as effective as he was in his early years with the Mets.
THE RELIEVER TO TARGET
With the Mets needing to replace Trevor May and Trevor Williams, a bullpen piece will be in order. Robert Suarez had a sizzling debut season with the San Diego Padres after spending much of his career in Japan and Mexico. There are some questions that come with such a small major-league sample size but the 31-year-old should still garner plenty of interest.