After he was traded to the Texas Rangers, Max Scherzer said that Mets general manager Billy Eppler and owner Steve Cohen said that they were not going to go after “upper-echelon guys,” in free agency this winter — which prompted the future Hall-of-Famer to waive his no-trade clause.
Cohen himself confirmed that — at least most of it — when speaking down in Kansas City on Wednesday night.
“Max asked me straight: ‘Are you going to be all-in on free agency next year?'” Cohen recounted. “And I couldn’t give him that promise. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to bring in free agents. It may not be to the extent that we did in the past because I’m carrying a lot of dead money.”
As it currently stands, the Mets are slated to have roughly $204 million in contracts on the books and a $219 million competitive balance tax figure, per Roster Resource — and that’s before arbitration salaries are settled. Pete Alonso, the most glaring of those deals, is under team control for one more year through arbitration and will likely be making more than the $14.5 million that was settled on in 2023.
By Cohen’s comments, it certainly seems like a pursuit of Los Angeles Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani will be non-existent, but he and Eppler will have no other choice than to make significant moves in free agency.
Their starting rotation is remarkably thin after dealing way Scherzer and Verlander. By 2024, the only arms under team control with legitimate MLB experience are Kodai Senga, Jose Quintana, David Peterson, Tylor Megill, and Joey Lucchesi.
The free-agent market is teeming with arms to fill those gaps. Notable free agents that could add something to the top of the rotation include Blake Snell, Lucas Giolito, Julio Urias, Sonny Gray, and Aaron Nola. Perhaps they will make a run at one of these names, but each one will provide a hefty pricetag.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto, a 24-year-old Japanese star, has also been a name the Mets have kept an eye on. Eppler has good standing in Japan having signed Ohtani while with the Angels and Kodai Senga over the winter in New York. The right-hander, who has a 1.92 career ERA in Nippon Professional Baseball, is expected to have a higher tag than Senga’s five-year, $75 million pact with the Mets over the winter.
In the minors, Dominic Hamel, Mike Vasil, and the newly acquired Justin Jarvis (from the Mark Canha trade with Milwaukee) could make a push toward the majors in 2024 to provide middle to backend help.
The bullpen will also need help even with Edwin Diaz returning to the fold as the star closer he is. In his absence this season, the stable of relievers had been an Achilles heel of the team, especially in the middle innings That aspect of the pen will be something that has to be addressed if Cohen wants to remain “very competitive,” in 2024, as he said they’d be on Wednesday in Kansas City.
By that logic, it won’t leave much else for an offense that still needs corner outfield help after the loss of Mark Canha and Tommy Pham and a legitimate designated hitter even with Daniel Vogelbach under team control next season. It could give the Mets their first chance at flexing the muscles of their newly restocked and reloaded farm system, which received immeasurable boosts over the last week.
Luisangel Acuna — a second baseman who came over in the Scherzer deal — is expected to make the jump to the majors in 2024 and could push Jeff McNeil either to right field or to a super-utility role. So is long-time organizational prospect Ronny Mauricio, who has been transitioning from a middle-infield spot to left field.