Even with another ace, their own centerfielder, another starter and a couple of late-inning relief pitchers already crossed off the offseason to-do list this week, general manager Billy Eppler and the Mets still have plenty of holiday shopping remaining.
Their 2023 payroll, as calculated for luxury-tax purposes, already is above $330 million, according to the publicly available measures. That is by far the highest in MLB history. So at this point they might as well keep going, right? Steve Cohen can afford to pay the tax penalty.
The Mets on Friday night officially announced their deals with Jose Quintana (two years, $26 million) and David Robertson (one year, $10 million). Brandon Nimmo’s eight-year, $162 million megadeal, which was agreed to Thursday, was all but finalized but not announced.
Here is a look at what is left for the Mets to do and some ideas on how they can do it.
Probably another starting pitcher. Even after bringing in Justin Verlander and Quintana, the Mets continue to be interested in further supplementing their rotation. They are heavily attracted to Kodai Senga, the Japanese star who is coming stateside. And Chris Bassitt, their most reliable and effective starter in 2022, is among the best remaining free agents.
The Mets have one rotation vacancy behind holdovers Max Scherzer and Carlos Carrasco and additions Verlander and Quintana. To be sure, the group of David Peterson, Tylor Megill and others should yield a serviceable No. 5 starter, and a spring training competition for the job would benefit all. But signing Senga or trading for another No. 3-type starter would turn the would-be candidates into depth, ready to step in after inevitable injuries. Remember when Megill wound up starting on Opening Day?
A lack of quality rotation depth has burned the Mets in recent years. Adding to the middle of the rotation would help the bottom of it, too.
Relievers. Yes, plural. Think about it this way: The Mets have four established major-league relievers in Edwin Diaz, Robertson, Brooks Raley and Drew Smith. If they go with an eight-man bullpen, that leaves four spots.
They have a bunch of guys who will compete for some of those openings. A non-exhaustive list: Tommy Hunter (who did well with the Mets in 2022), Zach Greene (a Rule 5 draft pick from the Yankees), Stephen Nogosek (who is out of minor-league options), Yoan Lopez (who had cameos with the Mets last season) and Commack native Stephen Ridings (who throws hard but has been injured often).
How many spots do the Mets want to leave for that group? Let’s say two. That would mean filling two more spots with external names.
Those won’t necessarily be brand names like Robertson. Eppler hinted this week that the Mets will try to create high-leverage relievers instead of acquiring established ones. That is something the Dodgers, for example, have excelled at in recent years, plucking pitchers from obscurity and turning them into key contributors.
“People who have experience in leverage, we’re going to try to gravitate toward that if we can,” Eppler said. “But at the end of the day, we want to see the tools there too. Because that’s going to be a better proxy for that pitcher’s ability to get out a good hitter.
“A fastball that plays well — and that doesn’t necessarily mean velocity. I care more about how the hitter reacts to the fastball than what it says on the scoreboard velocity-wise. And what the secondary or off-speed pitch looks like, whether it’s the shape of the breaking ball, the action in the second half of the breaking ball or the deception of a changeup or split-finger.”
A fourth outfielder. The Mets would serve themselves well to get a proper replacement for Tyler Naquin, who wound up playing often when Starling Marte got hurt late last season.
Kevin Kiermaier sounds like a good idea, but he probably would prefer to sign with a team that would guarantee his ability to play every day. If — at 33 (in April) and coming off hip surgery — Kiermaier badly wants to play for a contender after almost a decade with the close-but-not-close-enough Rays, the Mets should make that happen. Pay a premium to convince the three-time Gold Glover. Given the periodic health problems of Nimmo, Marte and Mark Canha, Kiermaier could find himself playing often as an ostensible backup.
Designated hitter, wild card, general creativity. Always assume that the Mets are working on something or somethings that we don’t know about and that don’t necessarily fit neatly into the roster as it exists now.
The Mets appear comfortable figuring out DH playing time with some combination of Daniel Vogelbach, Darin Ruf, Francisco Alvarez, Mark Vientos and others, but that is subject to change. DH is their clearest path to a lineup upgrade, which Eppler said in general terms the Mets are pursuing.