The Mets want to add multiple starting pitchers this winter, president of baseball operations David Stearns tells Tim Healey of Newsday. However, that may not involve pursuing the top guys available. “You always love to bring in top-flight talent and top-flight pitching,” Stearns said. “Do I think we need one? No. You can compile pitching staffs in a variety of different ways. Certainly any time you have horses at the front of the rotation, it makes everything else a little bit easier. But it’s not impossible to do it without that.”
The fact that the club is looking to make a number of additions is fairly sensible. Last year, they traded away their co-aces Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander at the deadline. At the end of the season, Carlos Carrasco became a free agent and David Peterson underwent hip surgery that will keep him out of action until the middle of next year.
That leaves the rotation with Kodai Senga and José Quintana in two spots, with Tylor Megill, Joey Lucchesi and José Butto options for the back end. Megill had a 4.70 earned run average in 2023 but with subpar strikeout and walk rates of 18.5% and 10.2%, respectively. Lucchesi had a strong 2.89 ERA in his nine starts but with just a 16.4% strikeout rate, likely helped by a strand rate of 80.1%. Butto has just 46 innings of major league work and he just posted a 5.93 ERA at Triple-A in 2023.
Given the state of things, it’s understandable that the club will be looking to bring in multiple arms in order to improve the rotation for 2024. Exactly how aggressive they will be is an open question. The club had the highest payroll in baseball history in 2023 but that didn’t work out and it seems 2024 might be something of a transitional year. It’s tough to know exactly what it looks like for owner Steve Cohen to take a step back from record-setting spending, as that could still lead to the club forking out plenty of money. Agent Scott Boras was asked about this and phrased it thusly: “When you have the bigger jet, and you say you’re going slower, you’re still going faster,” Boras said, per Will Sammon of The Athletic.
That perhaps suggests the club is still indicating a certain level of aggression in its conversations with player agents, but the comments from Stearns also imply they might be happy to spread money around to various mid-level guys as opposed to targeting aces. At the top of the free agent market, pitchers like Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Blake Snell, Aaron Nola and Jordan Montgomery are likely to land nine-figure deals. There should also be sizeable eight-figure deals available to pitchers like Sonny Gray, Eduardo Rodriguez and Shota Imanaga. Then there will be guys like Luis Severino, Frankie Montas and Hyun Jin Ryu that should be attainable on low-cost bounceback deals. Time will tell how the Mets plan to assess these options but making a long-term investment would make sense even if they are pumping the brakes a bit. Quintana has just one year left on his deal and most of the club’s top prospects are position players, meaning there’s even more rotation uncertainty in the long term.
Stearns was also asked about first baseman Pete Alonso, per Sammon, and reiterated his previous position that he doesn’t expect a preseason trade. “I think I do not anticipate him getting traded,” Stearns said. “I don’t draw lines in the sand. And I’m never gonna say never. But I absolutely think it’s fair that I don’t anticipate him being traded.” Alonso is going into his final arbitration season before reaching free agency, so the club will have to pick a lane at some point. But with a good deal of uncertainty about the 2024 club, it seems they are leaning towards holding. If the club has another poor season in 2024, they could always pivot to a deadline deal.
Another option would be to pursue an extension. It doesn’t sound like anything is imminent there but it also doesn’t seem like the lines of communication are dead. “When it comes to the Polar Bear, we’re not in contract hibernation,” Boras said. He added that he follows the instructions given to him by his clients and Alonso has told him to listen to whatever the Mets have to say.
Sammon also rounds up a few other bits of Mets’ news from a busy week in the baseball world, including the fact that pitching coach Jeremy Hefner is going to stay on as pitching coach. With the club adding a new manager in Carlos Mendoza, it wasn’t known if he would then bring in someone from the outside for that job but Hefner will apparently stick around. Meanwhile, the club won’t hire a general manager this winter. Billy Eppler was going to be in that role before stepping aside amid an investigation into the club’s misuse of the injured list. Front offices are generally composed of dozens of decision makers, from assistant GMs to vice-presidents and so on, meaning the lack of someone with that specific GM title won’t mean much with Stearns the primary decision maker.
Turning back to the roster, neither outfielder Starling Marte nor infielder/outfielder Jeff McNeil are expected to require offseason surgery. Marte had groin surgery last offseason and never seemed to be fully healthy in 2023, finishing the year on the injured list due to ongoing issues with his groin. McNeil, meanwhile, was diagnosed with a partially torn UCL in his left elbow. He throws with his right arm anyway but it appears both he and Marte are making good progress and can perhaps return without going under the knife this winter. As for designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach, the club is still undecided on whether or not they will tender him a contract for 2024. The non-tender deadline is November 17, giving them just over a week to pick a path with him. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projected Vogelbach for a salary of $2.6MM.