SAN DIEGO — As the winter meetings wrapped up Wednesday afternoon, the fancy downtown hotel that served as the epicenter of the baseball world for a whirlwind three-plus days quickly quieting, the Mets had filled out most of their previously barren rotation in a major way.
In addition to finalizing and announcing their two-year, $86.66 million contract with righthander Justin Verlander, who passed his physical, the Mets also agreed to a two-year, $26 million deal with lefthander Jose Quintana, sources said.
And they’re not done looking for starting pitchers. Star Japanese righthander Kodai Senga, in whom the Mets are interested, remains available.
“We feel pretty good about where [the rotation] is right now, but still open to adding more,” general manger Billy Eppler said. “If we can continue to add impact [players], we want to stay open to that.”
The Mets turned to Verlander to re-solidify the top of their rotation after Jacob deGrom left for the Rangers last week. Instead of the Max Scherzer/deGrom combo that never really paid off in 2022, the Mets will try Scherzer and Verlander, who have a combined six Cy Young Awards.
“These are both really high-end, championship-caliber pitchers,” Eppler said of basically swapping deGrom for Verlander. “We’d be able to count on just over one hand how many of this type of pitcher there are in the game right now. So when you can grab one — or in our case, we feel we have two — that’s pretty special.”
Verlander will be 40 next season, an age at which most pitchers are former pitchers. But he just won his third Cy Young Award in maybe his best season yet. Eppler said Verlander’s commitment to routine, as well as his extraordinary track record, made the Mets comfortable that he would remain excellent for another couple of seasons.
“This guy is a consummate professional, so while the age is what it is, the body and the way his body works and the way the stuff works is a little bit different,” Eppler said. “Disciplined people tend to achieve a lot of their goals because they take their craft very seriously. They understand that some sacrifices have to be made and maybe not always doing what you want to do but doing what you need to do and what you think is right. That really came out in our Q & A with Justin.”
With Quintana, the Mets aimed to bolster the middle of the rotation after days and weeks of being heavily involved in the free-agent market for a mid-tier starter. He is known for virtually always being available and healthy, a skill that matters greatly to the Mets, in addition to being generally effective.
“Players drive the value for us in two main verticals. Productivity: Are they good when they pitch? And then the availability one: How often do they pitch?” Eppler explained Tuesday, before landing Quintana. “We love both of those verticals to be as high as possible . . . You try to strike a balance.”
For now, the rotation includes Scherzer, Verlander, Quintana and Carlos Carrasco. They also have David Peterson, Tylor Megill, Joey Lucchesi and Elieser Hernandez, among other depth options. Adding yet another starter would push all of that group from the starting five to the next five, positioning the Mets well for the inevitable attrition that comes with a 162-game season.
Quintana won’t do much to bring down the average age of the rotation — he will turn 34 next month — but he’s about as reliable as anybody. Since 2013, his first full major-league season, he has made at least 29 starts every year (except for the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign when he suffered thumb and lat injuries).
Last season, Quintana had a 2.93 ERA with the Pirates and Cardinals. He was particularly good after a midseason trade to St. Louis, posting a 2.01 ERA in a dozen starts and earning the start (and pitching well) in Game 1 of the NL Wild Card Series that the Cardinals lost to the Phillies.
Another name to watch in the Mets’ pursuit of pitching: Trevor Williams, who excelled in a utility role in ’22. Now a free agent, the San Diego native popped into the winter meetings to meet with teams Wednesday and said he had not ruled out a return to the Mets, with whom he had been in touch regularly. He has been weighing his options after receiving interest as a starter and as a starter/reliever swingman.
Eppler wasn’t ready to rest after adding four players — including relievers Brooks Raley and Zach Greene — in three days. Another San Diego native, he had family inquire about his availability for Wednesday night, even though they already knew the answer.
“They sent LOL after they sent the text,” he said, “because they know it’s not happening. So I’m going to go upstairs and get to work, stay working.”
The Quintana File
MLB seasons: 11
All-Star, 2016, Chicago White Sox