With Jacob deGrom leaving the Mets to sign a massive five-year deal with the Texas Rangers, and doing it before the Winter Meetings, he in effect did New York a big favor.
Instead of GM Billy Eppler, the rest of the front office, and owner Steve Cohen having to focus on a potential resolution with deGrom, they can go about replacing him — and deciding if adding a replacement ace no matter what really should be the plan.
Some words on deGrom before discussing what should be next…
Two things seem to be true here.
The first is that deGrom did not like the New York City lifestyle and didn’t prefer to remain a Met. And that he bolted for Texas without giving the Mets a chance to match the offer or really involve them much in his free agent process speaks volumes.
But the second thing kind of renders the first one moot. And that’s the apparent fact that the Mets were never going to guarantee deGrom five years and probably wouldn’t have even guaranteed four.
So whether deGrom liked NYC or wanted to stay a Met is basically a pointless discussion. With the Mets (and probably any other team), the years and dollars weren’t going to come close to what they were in Texas. And it was deGrom’s right to chase the years and dollars, as most players do.
Now, the Mets are without the best pitcher in the sport who has a chance to attain his goal of becoming an “inner-circle” Hall-of-Famer if he can stay healthy. And while I wrote above about the Mets potentially replacing him, he can’t actually be replaced. They can find another ace, but no one like deGrom exists.
So, what should the Mets do?
According to SNY’s Andy Martino, the Mets continued dialogue with Justin Verlander‘s camp throughout the weekend — with Verlander doing his “due diligence” on the Mets organization. Per Martino, the Mets are also talking to Carlos Rodon and several starters who profile as mid-rotation guys.
When it comes to Verlander, there are lots of Mets fans out there who want nothing to do with him because he’s about to turn 40 years old. I think that’s ridiculous.
Yes, Verlander is older, but he is not your average 40-year-old athlete. He is coming off a Cy Young award during what was arguably his best season.
And there is absolutely no sign that Verlander is about to fall off a cliff.
Verlander’s average fastball velocity in 2022 (95.1 mph) was higher than it was before he had Tommy John surgery (94.9 mph in 2020) and higher than his career average (94.4 mph).
Meanwhile, his advanced stats show a pitcher who was at the very top of his game. Translation — what Verlander did last season was not a fluke.
Can he sustain it?
I’ve been writing for weeks about the deGrom vs. Verlander vs. Rodon debate, and have been of the opinion that the best injury risk was Verlander. I was comfortable with the Mets offering three years at $40 million or more for deGrom, which they did, but felt that the clear option if deGrom left was to turn to Verlander. I obviously still feel that way.
If I’m the Mets, I try to lock Verlander up with a high average annual value deal for two guaranteed years that contains a vesting option for a third year based on innings pitched over the first two. If it takes guaranteeing the third year to get the deal done, I’d do it.
If the Mets miss on Verlander, I would not turn to Rodon.
Let me be clear, though, that this is not a knock on Rodon’s potential.
Rodon, who is entering his age-30 season, has been terrific the last two years. And when he’s healthy and on, he is one of the best pitchers in baseball and has enormous upside. But when you look at Rodon’s eight-year career, he has had exactly one season where he has been both fully healthy and dominant. And that was 2022.
If Rodon stays healthy and remains dominant, his deal — perhaps for five or six years — could look great. But it’s hard to bank on that happening.
So in a world where the Mets don’t land Verlander, I believe they should pivot. What would that pivot look like?
First, I would call the Los Angeles Angels to see if Shohei Ohtani really is off-limits. If he isn’t, I’d try to acquire him for a prospect-rich package that doesn’t include Francisco Alvarez — but only do so if the Mets get the sense that Ohtani will sign an extension in Queens.
If Ohtani is really unavailable, the Mets should see if they can pry one of the Milwaukee Brewers’ aces away from them. If that fails, they should move to Plan C.
Plan C would be signing two mid-rotation pitchers (I’d favor a run at Kodai Senga and one other while steering clear of Jose Quintana), trying to re-sign Brandon Nimmo, and reallocating the deGrom/Verlander dollars to Trea Turner or Carlos Correa.
In other words, the Mets need to get aggressive now, especially after operating in a timid fashion during last year’s trade deadline. They are a win-now team and need to act like it.
If the Mets don’t sign or trade for an ace and if their biggest offensive addition is bringing Nimmo back, they will have made themselves far worse in the rotation and failed to improve the offense. That simply cannot happen, and I don’t think it will happen.
To be clear, this isn’t about making splashes for the sake of it. It’s about making the team better or — at the very least — not getting worse.
The Mets have a lot of work to do, and it starts now.
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