The New York Mets lost an ace on Friday—more than an ace, actually. When Jacob deGrom signed with the Texas Rangers for five years and $185 million, it brought an unceremonious end to a tenure that often seemed doomed to the rafters.
DeGrom started out as a surprise rookie of the year, joined a highly publicized class of young players, and eventually flew past them to become the most dominant and most exciting pitcher many current fans have ever seen in person. It’s an aesthetic and sentimental hole that, short of some miracle “Juan Soto appears instead of Bryce Harper,” will not be filled.
And now, in order to fulfill his ambitions, as the rest of the roster implies and bluntly stated by team owner Steve Cohen, the Mets must do what seems impossible: replace Jacob deGrom.
Frankly, they had some practice in this task. They had to drag on without him for over a year from June 2021 to August 2022, out the window when they added Max Scherzer and Chris Bassit. This time, however, it is not temporary.
The off-season tenor Mets will depend on how they react to Friday’s news as GM Billy Eppler and Co decide to use what appeared to be a hefty line in deGrom’s budget. Because he signed so quickly, rushing into the Winter Meetings this week, they have options.
Let’s think about their best now that holding deGrom is out of the question.
Justin Verlander, Carlos Rodon or wholesale?
There are two starting free agents who could team up with Scherzer to move closer to last year’s rarely achieved dream duo, but they both come with health risks that will make every fatalistic Mets fan sick (that is, every Mets fan). .
Justin Verlander returned from Tommy John surgery at age 39 to win his third Cy Young ring and second World Series ring with the Houston Astros. He could reunite with former Tigers teammate Scherzer on a high-salary, short-term deal.
Having two members of the devastating 2014 Tigers—seriously, count Cy Young in this rotation—would be a double-edged sword: On the one hand, they’re two of the best pitchers of all time, period. On the flip side, the fact that they were already in their prime in the early 2010s is a stark reminder of the exponential risk of wear, injury, and breakdown that will pile up on the knee in the October series they are to dominate.
Carlos Rodon has a completely different trajectory. After becoming a top player and prospect, injuries stifled his talent with the Chicago White Sox for years, and it wasn’t until 2021 that he fully brought it to life. The strong southpaw moved to the San Francisco Giants in 2022 and decisively proved his arrival (and current health) before pulling out in search of a bigger deal.
The Mets would certainly make sense as a touchdown spot for a fastball pitcher whose approach mirrors deGrome’s in many ways and who thrived in a stadium about as large as Citi Field.
John Heyman of the New York Post has already put Verlander in touch with the Mets, and it goes without saying that they will at least call Rawdon as well.
If the Mets had a choice of two – which isn’t exactly the case in a market brimming with demand for starters – it would be something to think about. Rawdon has a much shorter track record, but is five years younger than Verlander. Pairing Scherzer and Verlander is by far the more important option and will likely allow the Mets to operate on a shorter timeframe than Rodon, a consideration for every big spender with Shohei Ohtani a year after free agency.
Right now, the Mets are rotating behind Scherzer: Carlos Carrasco, Tylor Megill, David Peterson and Eliezer Hernandez. If the Mets had their own drummers, two of the last three would probably go to spring training as swingmen or deep arms.
Door #3, a wider approach to rotation, might be in order. The Mets should definitely consider reuniting with Chris Bassit and buying in his lineup with Nathan Eovaldi or Kodai Senga starting at No. 3 with upside potential. Not committing $35-40 million a year to deGrom could allow the team to consider multiple options and gather more information. It also wouldn’t be a surprise to see Eppler using one spot in a game like Andrew Heaney, who showed huge strikeout potential with the Dodgers in 2022 but struggled with health and home runs.
The Mets may also turn to the trading market. It remains to be seen whether the Miami Marlins will take trading Pablo Lopez — the shift master with a 3.50 ERA in 282 2/3 innings over the past two seasons — seriously — but with the projected arbitrage salary is only $5.6 million.he could be a boon to New York’s rotation without hurting the budget for other offseason recruits.
Does this mean Brandon Nimmo will be back?
The Mets also have most of their striking core floating in the market. Outfielder Brandon Nimmo will demand one of the best deals among hitters, and he will have a lot of fans once Aaron Judge makes his decision.
FanGraphs crowdsourcing forecasts put a five-year deal at $100 million for Nimmo, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets around $25 million a year.
All in all, it probably makes sense for the Mets to make an attempt to keep Nimmo and lock down midfield in the offseason with a few other options in place.
While the positional flexibility of Jeff McNeil and Eduardo Escobar gives the Mets multiple ways to add bats, even Nimmo’s backup plans are likely to be outfielders. Andrew Benintendi, who joined the Yankees mid-season and is now a free agent, hits left-handed and fits in with the Mets’ recent preference for contact hitters.
They could also make an offer to the Arizona Diamondbacks to use their surplus left-handed outfielders. But the most intriguing idea for the Mets might be to give Cody Bellinger, a great center back, a touchdown spot to try and rediscover his powerhouse as part of a one-year deal.