In the immediate aftermath of the sudden end of the Mets’ season last weekend, general manager Billy Eppler moved on to the next one by having a one-on-one, middle-of-the-night conversation with perhaps the most prominent figure in their offseason to come: Jacob deGrom.
DeGrom is the biggest name in the Mets’ big batch of pending free agents. Since the start of spring training, he repeatedly has expressed his intentions to opt out of his contract after the season. His status as maybe the best pitcher in baseball when healthy — and a resume that includes a 2.52 career ERA and two NL Cy Young Awards — may motivate some team, the Mets or otherwise, to offer him a contract that would break Max Scherzer’s record for highest average annual salary ($43.3 million). But he is heading into his age-35 season and has a lengthy injury history, so signing him comes with obvious risk.
There has been speculation within baseball that deGrom might want to be closer to his Florida home, or doesn’t like New York, or will be influenced by other non-financial factors. DeGrom hasn’t publicly addressed any of those ideas, but his return to the Mets is far from guaranteed.
“He knows how we feel. I know how he feels. It’s a good conversation,” Eppler said, describing that chat as happening “Sunday night, late — that might even have been Monday morning by then, technically.”
Eppler twice referred to deGrom as a future Hall of Famer, which isn’t quite the inevitability it is for, say, Scherzer.
“We’ve had a good amount of dialogue — he and I — over the course of this season,” Eppler said. “And I think we have a sense of what makes maybe the other one tick. Things are positive. The relationship is positive. We’ll see where it ultimately goes, but he knows how we feel.”
Eppler’s comments came Friday morning at an end-of-season news conference alongside manager Buck Showalter at Citi Field, during which the GM said he had “no regrets” over what the Mets did and did not do at the trade deadline, that winning 101 games in the regular season was “pretty special” and that losing in the first round of the playoffs meant the Mets “fell short of what our ultimate goal was.”
But with a forward-looking mindset, Eppler also observed: “There’s going to be a lot of work to do this wintertime.”
Among the Mets’ most major challenges will be to rebuild a pitching staff on which up to four starters, and most of the relievers, will reach free agency.
“You’re gonna kind of test what you have internally,” Eppler said. “And then continue to look into free agency and the trade market to supplement that. I think it’s pretty safe to say we’re going to have to hit the market to fill that out because it can’t be filled out entirely from internal candidates. So it’s going to be a big point of focus.”
In addition to deGrom, the Mets have Chris Bassitt (mutual option), Taijuan Walker (player option) and Carlos Carrasco (team option) as question marks. Eppler declined to say whether the Mets will pick up their end of Bassitt’s option or exercise Carrasco’s, noting that the deadline to do so isn’t until after the World Series.
In the bullpen, Edwin Diaz, Adam Ottavino, Seth Lugo, Trevor May, Joely Rodriguez, Mychal Givens (mutual option) and Trevor Williams are due to reach the open market.
With Scherzer, 38, and little else on the 2023 depth chart, Eppler said age of rotation members is “a factor, but it’s not the sole factor.” Walker is 30, Bassitt will be 34, Carrasco 36.
“I wouldn’t say [getting younger] is a goal or a stand-alone goal,” Eppler said. “Age factors into our forecasts and our scouting reports and how we’re looking at players. Age is something that’s brought up, but so are tools and so are the usability of those tools.”
Are the Mets comfortable penciling David Peterson (3.83 ERA, mostly as a starter) and/or Tylor Megill (5.13 ERA, mostly as a starter) into the rotation for next season?
“I wouldn’t say right now,” Eppler said. “We just have to see what other opportunities exist.”