The day is July 29th, 2023. With just around 72 hours left until the August 1st trade deadline, New York Mets starting pitcher Max Scherzer finds himself in a rare state of uncertainty. It was just a year and a half ago that he signed his three-year $130 million contract with the lavishly-spending Mets thanks to their new multi-billionaire owner Steve Cohen. But after a first round exit in the 2022 postseason and a subpar beginning to the 2023 season, players and fans began to feel a shift coming from the ring leaders behind the scenes.
So, here Scherzer is, on that fateful day in July, listening to Mets General Manager Billy Eppler talk about how the organization that promised their fans a World Series under their new ownership is now ‘aiming for the 2025 and 2026 season.’ This was hard to believe for Scherzer, as the Mets were just coming off a 101-win season and had cemented themselves as the league’s top spenders this past offseason, spending almost $500 million over multiple years on free agents. But after a phone call with Cohen, this new timeline was confirmed to be true: the Mets were looking to sell.
And that they did. Hours later, Scherzer was on a flight to Arlington, Texas to pitch for his new team, the Texas Rangers.
In the coming days, former American League (AL) Most Valuable Player, and one of the newest faces to Flushing, Justin Verlander found himself being sent back to the Houston Astros in exchange for two top prospects. Beloved outfielder Mark Canha was soon to follow, being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers with Tommy Pham following suit, being shipped to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Mets’ league-leading 2023 payroll of $360+ million (before luxury tax) was shaved down to just $218 million heading into next season. However, it’s not the drastic change in spending that has transformed the outlook of this team, it is the pieces that they have acquired, and will continue to acquire, that truly shows the adaptation the Mets are making for the next few seasons. Someone call Sam Hinkie because ladies and gentleman, the New York Mets are rebuilding!
You can’t call it a rebuild unless the team has made an effort to ship out the old and bring in the new. This is exactly what the Mets front office has done. After trading over a quarter of their active roster, the Mets were able to get a haul of exciting prospects filled with potential.
Highlighting these acquisitions are 21-year-old Luisangel Acuña, younger brother of MVP candidate Ronald Acuña Jr.; Drew Gilbert, a 22-year old outfielder with five-tool potential; Ryan Clifford, a big 20-year-old lefty bat with the power to hit 30+ homers; and Marco Vargas, an 18-year-old shortstop currently tearing up the lower levels of the minor leagues. These are just a few names of the multiple minor leaguers the Mets acquired before the August 1st deadline, and none of them are expected to be producing at a major league level until 2025. We could see Acuna and Gilbert making some appearances in the big leagues some time next season, but from the way the Mets have handled their recent homegrown prospects, they most likely won’t be everyday players in the 2024 season.
Speaking of homegrown prospects, the Mets have a couple big names that have raised some heads in their tenure with the organization. At the top of this list is Kevin Parada, an offensively-geared catcher who recently got promoted to AA; Ronny Mauricio, a 6’4” middle infielder who recently made his long awaited MLB debut; Jett Williams, a former first-round pick with elite bat speed at the shortstop position; Alex Ramírez, a 20-year-old outfielder with great power/speed combo that has struggled this season in high-A ball; and Colin Houck, the 18-year-old infielder who was the team’s most recent first-round pick.
The Mets have accumulated a great combination of homegrown and acquired prospects, jumping their below average farm system into arguably one of the best in baseball. However, there is a slight issue with the many prospects that are listed above — that being none of them can pitch.
The Mets organization has been historically known for being home to some of the greatest pitchers of all time: Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Pedro Martínez, Dwight Gooden, Jacob deGrom, and many more. Yet, no pitchers are found in the Mets’ list of top prospects in the present. There are some pitchers in their farm system who have potential to be starting caliber rotations pieces (such as Mike Vasil, Blade Tidwell, and Calvin Ziegler) but none are expected to fill the shoes deGrom, Scherzer, and Verlander left behind. This brings the team to a dilemma of filling the spots in their rotation for the next coming years, but luckily Steve Cohen is already planning ahead.
The 2023 Free Agency Class
Now, we all know that two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani is set to become a free agent this offseason but let’s think a bit more inside the box. The Mets current rotation of Kodai Senga, David Peterson, Tylor Megill, José Quintana, and José Butto is realistically not going to carry this team to a playoff spot. However, there are multiple All-Star caliber starting pitchers in this upcoming free agency class that might appreciate the deep pockets of Steve Cohen. Let’s dive into a few unrestricted free agents:
Nola has been one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball over the past seven seasons. Since 2017, the Philadelphia Phillies ace is ranked third overall in games started, second in innings pitched, third in strikeouts, holds a 3.63 Earned Run Average (ERA), and 3.38 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) across this span. His combination of talent and longevity is something the Mets could use after their recent troubles with injuries to pitchers, and at just 30 years old, Nola should be an obvious pitcher to target.
Yamamoto has cemented himself as arguably the best pitcher in the Japanese League over the last few seasons. The 25 year old is up for grabs this offseason, as he looks to take his talent to America and the Mets are currently seen as the favorites to land him. Yamamoto has been able to accumulate an ERA below two over his last three seasons for the Orix Buffaloes while also pitching over 190 innings in 2021 and 2022. Yamamoto has an effortless windup that provides him with a 96 mph fastball and a destructive 90 mph splitter. It should be noted that the Mets have found recent success in Japanese pitchers with the emergence of All-Star Kodai Senga, making it more realistic that Mets GM Billy Eppler (the GM of the Angels when they signed Ohtani) will make another big splash in the international market.
The 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner and current favorite for the 2023 National League (NL) Cy Young Award is also an unrestricted free agent in this upcoming free agency class. If Snell does win this accolade, it may increase his asking price to over $30 million a year, scaring off some smaller market teams. Snell has been historically known for his lack of a high workload, but this season he’s pitched 167 innings with a league-leading 2.43 ERA. If the opportunity is available, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mets try to sign the 30-year-old lefty for a long-term deal.
Notoriously known as a pitcher who “can’t handle New York,” Gray has been able to put together a solid career outside his short tenure as a Yankee. The 5 ’10” righty has been seen as undersized throughout his career — but his statistics do not lie. Over 11 seasons, the 33-year-old Gray has a 3.50 ERA, 1.209 walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP), and 29.6 wins above replacement (WAR). This season, he’s been regarded as a serious contender for the AL Cy Young Award, posting a sub-3 ERA in 167 innings while leading the league in home runs per 9 innings (HR/9). Age will be seen as a big factor in Gray’s free agency interest, as he will be 34 come next season, but we all know with the Mets recent signings that Eppler and Cohen are more worried about production.
Other names to look out for are Jack Flaherty, Lucas Giolito, Frankie Montas, Clayton Kershaw, and Jordan Montgomery, yet recent struggles and other factors such as age and commitment remain up in the air for these arms.
It is also good to note that relievers Josh Hader, Blake Treinen, Jordan Hicks, and David Robertson will be available as well this offseason. Barring the return of Edwin Díaz, it would be nice to pair the elite closer with another high tier arm out of the pen.
The Mets should not be looking to acquire any more bats this offseason outside of a potential right handed bench player or a fourth outfielder. Since the infield is already clogged up with high level talent, it would make sense for the team to give Baty, Mauricio, and Vientos more playing time together to figure out what exactly their role is for next season. If outfielder Starling Marte is able to come back fully healthy in his age 35 season in 2024, that would be a big plus for the Mets outfield depth — but it would not be surprising to see him getting traded to shed some cap space. Righty outfielders such as Mark Canha, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., or Victor Robles could be seen as free agent replacements if such a trade were to occur.
Pro scouting director Jeff Lebow, farm director Kevin Howard, performance director Jim Cavallini, and baseball development director Bryan Hayes were all fired on the last day of August, preparing the team for a culture change led by their hopeful hiring of a new president of baseball operations this offseason. The big name that has been headlining the rumors is the former president of baseball operations for the Milwaukee Brewers, David Stearns. The Mets have been targeting Stearns to lead their front office for the last couple of seasons but have not been able to hold an interview with him until last month due to his current employment with the Brewers. However, the Mets were able to land Stearns, luring him with a five-year $50 million contract — a record-tying amount for a president of baseball operations.
It has been rumored throughout the failing season that Team Manager Buck Showalter may not be returning next season. This may come as a surprise to many since Buck just won NL manager of the year last season after leading the Mets to a 101-win season, but it seems that Buck’s managing style is not aligned with the current roster. There has not been any complaints from the players as far as we know, and in fact, many players have praised Buck for the way he has been handling this season. However, from the outside looking in, we can see there are definite flaws in Buck’s gameplan.
Young guys such as Alvarez, Baty, and Vientos are not getting the playing time they need in order to improve. Alvarez, the 21-year-old rookie who is leading all NL catchers in homers, has batted 8th or 9th in over half of his starts this season. Brett Baty hasn’t seen consistent playing time throughout the second half, resulting in him having a negative WAR since. To top it off, Mark Vientos has played in only 52 games this year. Bob Nightengale reports the Mets are, “expecting to let their new President of Baseball operations make the call” on who the manager will be for 2024. Buck has one more year on his contract after this season, but there is a significant chance he will be replaced before then. If this does happen, current Brewers Manager, Craig Counsell, would be the main target for Stearns to hire.
Both have worked in Milwaukee over the last few seasons and with Counsell’s contract expiring after this season, the two could be reunited in New York. Brewers Principle Owner Mark Attanasio met with Counsell on August 25th, stating they, “Decided that all the focus is going to be on the field,” and that, “everything’s going so well that we’ll get together after the season’s over and talk about it.” This may result in the Brewers resigning Counsell but the ball is in their court; if they are unable to keep Counsell happy, there is nothing stopping the Mets from giving him an offer.