SAN DIEGO – “What am I not allowed to talk about today?”
That’s how Billy Eppler, general manager of the New York Mets, began when he addressed the media on Monday at the MLB winter meetings. The correct answer—and the elephant in the room he meant in his rhetorical question—was Justin Verlander, current AL Cy Young Award winner.
On Friday, Jacob deGrom signed with the Texas Rangers and thus became Unsigned for the first time in his professional baseball career. Over the next five years, fans in Arlington will feel the consequences – hold your breath when the story unfolds in front of you, high when he’s on the hill, and wringing hypotheses when he’s not – of this movement. But for now, it resonates at least as deeply in Queens.
After the news broke – deGrom reportedly didn’t give the Mets a chance to match the Rangers’ five-year, $185 million offer. Eppler wrote to him. “I said, ‘I’ll miss you regularly,'” he said on Monday. – And congratulations.
And then, apparently, Eppler set about looking for the next best in terms of talent, which could be even better in terms of actual production: Justin Verlander, who reportedly signed a two-year, $86.66 million contract with an option to endow a third year. , with the Mets just as the winter meetings began. But while Eppler was talking, the deal was still unofficial, which brings us back to glib hedging.
With a wink, citing his inability to say more, someone asked Eppler if he planned to replace deGrom.
To which he replied: “I am working on these plans.”
A deviation, but in another sense still true.
But it might be better to ask if the team has plans to replace Chris Bassitt or Taijuang Walker, who threw a total of 339 innings for the Mets last year and are both free agents this winter.
The Mets will pair Verlander with last offseason’s Max Scherzer to replicate their enticing 2021 teammate formula. Together they have six Sai Yangs and over 30 seasons combined. They rank first and third on the leaderboard in active wins, first and second in strikeouts.
But while 29 other teams would love to have the pair in their rotation, it takes a lot more than two pitchers pushing 40 to go from Opening Day to October.
“You’re going to try to have a 162-game season – no matter what team you’re on, you’re going to need a lot of players in the starting lineup for that. So depth is very important,” Eppler said. “It’s almost two different views of the regular season and, if you’re lucky, playing in the playoffs.
“Impact at this point in time serves you a little better than depth. So I think you’re trying to handle both situations and just prepare as best you can.”
Verlander, like Scherzer and de Grohm, is that hitting pitcher. As a 39-year-old returning from an entire season lost in Tommy John rehab, he posted a 1.75 ERA in 2022, which is the lowest in baseball and good for an ERA+220, meaning he was over twice as good as the average major. – league starter. He unanimously won his third Cy Young, finishing in the top five for the ninth time.
It’s also surprisingly durable – and not just for those who really remember the 80s. He has led all of baseball in innings four times, and his 175 innings in 2022 would be second on the Mets team behind Bassit. Both Verlander and Scherzer are exceptions to the aging curve, remarkable anomalies defined by their defiance of the decline in health expected of middle-aged athletes.
And yet: they will never be younger than they are now. By the next playoffs, they will be 39 and 40. Verlander, who entered November for the first time in his career this year, will enter 2023 with 3,370.2 innings (postseason included) as a major league player, Scherzer 2,815. one.
Verlander’s persistent, uncharacteristic struggles in the World Series remain largely a mystery, but we know they come at the end of an initially long season. Scherzer struggled in his last few starts last season, and in 2021 missed his final playoff start with the Dodgers after what he says he lost an arm.
Inevitable senile degradation follows even the highest peaks.
It’s not that Verlander or Scherzer, for that matter, won’t be worth the record $43.33 million the Mets will pay them next year. Rather, in order for these “hitting” pitchers to be most effective at critical moments, the Mets may need to ration their options. And indeed, to get to those big moments, the Mets have to add depth. Making the playoffs is hardly a guarantee, even for a team with 101 wins.
With Bassitt and Walker gone with deGrom, the rotation outside of the double supports looks like some combination of Carlos Carrasco, Tylor Megill, David Peterson and Eliezer Hernandez, who the Mets acquired from the Marlins last month. Only Carrasco has more than 100 ERA+ in his career, or simply put, this is not enough. Even a five-man rotation is never really five guys on the wire – the guys get hurt, especially the old ones.
With a loss and a win for the Mets, two of the best starters have left the free agency market, but there are still many exciting opportunities to pursue: a reunion with Bassitt or Walker, a luxury for Carlos Rodon or Kodai Senga, a bet on Tyler Anderson, Nathan Eovaldi or Jameson Tylon.
At least until help comes from within the organization. The top seven Mets prospects are positional players. Their best pitcher is a 21-year-old who pitched nine in Rookie and A-ball tournaments last year and is not expected to play in the majors until 2025.
As for strategy, Eppler only said that his team would be “opportunistic” and remembers that the winning streak differential “can be achieved by scoring a lot more.” When asked to speculate about the end of his rotation, he laughed a little. “We are far from it,” he said. “A lot can change.”
In some ways, it’s a brutal sport when a team signs a future Hall of Famer only to have fans wonder if they’ll do enough to capitalize on this top-notch talent.
But the winter is young: what’s next?