Right-hander Jameson Taillon is one of the top names on the second tier of free-agent starting pitchers this winter, and MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reports that the Mets, Phillies, Cubs and Orioles are among the teams pursuing him. The Mets were already known to have interest in Taillon, as SNY’s Andy Martino recently reported that they made a strong effort to close a deal with the right-hander last week. Martino noted that with Justin Verlander atop the Mets’ priority list, the Mets might not be inclined to beat the market for Taillon.
Any of the four teams in today’s report would represent a perfectly logical landing spot for Taillon, who did not receive a qualifying offer from the Yankees and thus can be signed without the forfeiture of any draft picks or international bonus space. There’s some injury risk, to be sure, as Taillon has twice undergone Tommy John surgery and heavy contracts for two-time Tommy John patients are fairly rare.
That said, however, Taillon has reestablished himself as a quality mid-rotation hurler since his 2021 return from that second ligament replacement operation. In two seasons with the Yankees, the former No. 2 overall draft pick and top prospect pitched to a combined 4.08 ERA with a 21.9% strikeout rate and a strong 5.7% walk rate. The Yankees carefully monitored his workload in his first post-surgery season in ’21, as Taillon averaged just shy of five innings per start in his 29 trips to the mound. However, he averaged better than 5 2/3 innings per start in 2022, improved his ERA, lowered his walk rate and upped his ground-ball rate.
It’s hardly a surprise that the Mets have been fairly aggressive in their early efforts to land Taillon, as they recently lost Jacob deGrom to the Rangers and also saw each of Chris Bassitt, Taijuan Walker and Trevor Williams reach free agency this winter. At the moment, Max Scherzer, Carlos Carrasco, David Peterson and Tylor Megill would comprise the top four spots in manager Buck Showalter’s rotation.
Even with a pronounced need in the rotation, the Mets are still projected by Roster Resource to carry a $234.7MM payroll — with a hearty $246.6MM of luxury obligations on hand at present. The Mets paid the luxury tax in 2022, so they’d be a second-time offender and thus face steeper penalties in 2023. They’re facing a 30% tax on the first $20MM over the tax line, plus 42% for the next $20MM, 75% for the next $20MM and 90% on any money spent thereafter.
The Phillies, too, are trending toward being a repeat luxury tax payor. Though they’re currently more than $40MM shy of the $233MM tax barrier, they’re known to be heavily interested in the high-end shortstops in free agency and are also looking into rotation help (hence the apparent Taillon interest). Taillon would slot into the rotation behind co-aces Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, joining Ranger Suarez and likely Bailey Falter to form the starting five in Philly. Prospects Andrew Painter, Mick Abel and Griff McGarry loom in the upper minors.
From a financial perspective, it’s different story for the Cubs and Orioles, neither of whom are anywhere near the luxury tax. Both clubs, however, are looking to add some win-now pieces after rebuilding efforts of varying extent. The Cubs have Marcus Stroman, Kyle Hendricks and Justin Steele locked into rotation spots in 2023, but the fourth and fifth spots remain more fluid. Keegan Thompson, Adrian Sampson and Hayden Wesneski are all candidates currently, but it seems likely Chicago will add at least one starting pitcher this winter.
Over in Baltimore, the O’s have already agreed to a one-year deal with Kyle Gibson, but Taillon would be more of a statement addition who’s viewed as a multi-year piece of the puzzle. Beyond Gibson, the O’s have Dean Kremer, Tyler Wells, Kyle Bradish, Austin Voth, Bruce Zimmermann, Spenser Watkins and Mike Baumann as options, to say nothing of top prospects Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall. Baltimore also hopes to welcome lefty John Means back from Tommy John surgery later in the 2023 season.
There are surely plenty of other clubs who’ve held discussions with Taillon and his representatives at Excel Sports. That he’s one of the non-ace starters who’s still reasonably young — he’ll pitch all of next season at 31 — and won’t require any draft compensation could make interest sufficient enough to make him one of the first notable starters off the board. We ranked Taillon 14th on our annual Top 50 Free Agent list, predicting a four-year deal at $56MM