Mets in play for another top pitcher in case Jacob deGrom bolts
Part of free agency is akin to musical chairs. Teams that can play at the top of the market — such as the Mets — want to pursue their No. 1 target (or targets) with diligence and vigor. But not to a point that they risk watching Plans B and C evaporate and risk being left without any of their best options.
So think of the Mets doing a Zoom meeting Tuesday with Carlos Rodon as keeping doors open. In the Mets’ own best scenario, they would leave this offseason with Jacob deGrom. But they wanted to make sure that should deGrom sign elsewhere, that they land Rodon or Justin Verlander to team atop their rotation with Max Scherzer. And if not that, perhaps Japanese free agent Koudai Senga plus then using dollars saved from not securing one of the big three starters to retain Brandon Nimmo.
With designs on trying to win a championship in 2023, the Mets just want to assure that the music does not stop without them having secured substantial pieces.
That is why they already had met on Zoom with Verlander and in person with Senga, and now have added Rodon. In fact, I have heard the Mets have done multiple meetings (as many organizations have) as a way to gather as much information as possible on a variety of free-agent candidates. These are building blocks. An attempt to gain an initial impression of each other. Get a feel for seriousness and comfort. Amass as much intel as possible.
But at some point, the Mets are going to have to put deGrom on the clock and essentially say, “Can we get to a deal or not?” and then be ready to audible quickly elsewhere if the righty still needs more time or is leaning toward a departure.
The Mets acted decisively just before the MLB-imposed lockout last offseason, signing free agents Mark Canha, Eduardo Escobar, Starling Marte and Scherzer in a less than a 72-hour window. They did not want to risk leaving too many objectives for whenever the league reopened. There is no hard deadline like that this offseason. But most executives will arrive for the winter meetings in San Diego by Sunday night and be there until Wednesday afternoon’s Rule 5 draft. In that period the Mets badly want to get major work done.
Because even after retaining Edwin Diaz and adding a bunch of depth pitching pieces with minor league options, the Mets have to reconstitute nearly an entire staff plus add an outfielder, probably a center fielder. And the impetus to push forward in these areas is knowing deGrom’s intentions. Thus, at some point — and soon — the Mets are going to have to come to resolution with deGrom. Will that mean establishing a deadline and moving to Verlander, Rodon or other plans if deGrom is either not ready to make a choice or indicates he is leaning toward leaving?
DeGrom has said he wants to stay. But the Mets have not been positive about that. They also cannot know for sure just how far any other organization will go for the difficult puzzle that is deGrom — when he pitches, he has been the most dominant starter in the game, but has made just 26 starts the last two regular seasons and will pitch at 35 next year. Is another club ready to give deGrom the Scherzer deal (three years at $130 million) or even more. The Rangers and Dodgers have been considered among the teams that could make a strong play for the two-time Cy Young award winner.
Executives asked who they think will decide first among the big starters most often predict Verlander and many of them think he is going through the motions, but will remain where he is comfortable in Houston. Rodon is coming off his best and healthiest season, and doesn’t turn 30 until next month. He is viewed as having more suitors and likely needing a five-year (or more) commitment.
At this point, the Mets seem more fixed on landing another top-flight starter than on retaining Nimmo. If they stick at about their $300 million-ish payroll level of last season, it would be difficult (perhaps impossible) to do both. But if the Mets go to the next level of starter with Senga or Chris Bassitt, then shoehorning Nimmo back onto the roster becomes more probable.
If they cannot have the leadoff-hitting center fielder, the Mets are more likely to prioritize a defender at the position and keep Marte in right field. In that scenario, Cody Bellinger and Kevin Kiermaier become more prominent to the Mets.
But for the dominoes to begin to fall, they need clarity and ultimately resolution with deGrom. Does he want to stay? Is Steve Cohen willing to extend further to keep deGrom potentially in one uniform for his entire career and perhaps on a trajectory to having his number retired — as the Mets owner has demonstrated the past few years, celebrating and elevating Mets history is important to his vision and the business.
At this point, the music is still playing to make a deGrom return possible. The Mets, though, are lining up alternatives to make sure, just in case they need to veer, that they will have a seat at the big table of free agency.