Home News Max Scherzer’s potential opt-out may give Mets déjà vu, shape plan

Max Scherzer’s potential opt-out may give Mets déjà vu, shape plan

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SAN DIEGO — Now that Jacob deGrom has used his opt-out to escape New York, let’s flash forward 11 months when the Mets probably will be facing the same situation with Max Scherzer.

If your first instinct is to think, why deal with that now when the deGrom pain is still fresh for the franchise and its fan base, then know this is a current issue for the Mets. Unless they would like to make reconstructing a rotation as annual a tradition as, say, Thanksgiving.

Scherzer can opt out. Carlos Carrasco is a free agent after the 2023 season. Both Tylor Megill and David Peterson are still trying to prove they are legit, at least, back-end starters. The farm system might be closer to delivering some starting pitching in 2024, but it is no certainty.

Thus, the Mets are heading toward a scenario that looks very much like this one — reassembling an entire pitching staff, notably a rotation in which deGrom, Chris Bassitt, Taijuan Walker and even Trevor Williams were, or are, free agents.

So as the Mets pursue starting pitching this offseason, they must emphasize more than just 2023. I think they should be all in on Justin Verlander. Might that mean a two-year, even $90 million contract? Maybe. Perhaps it will take three years. And Verlander turns 40 in February.

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But he is coming off an AL Cy Young season. And quite frankly I think he is a better bet for two or three years than deGrom for five and Carlos Rodon for at least five. He has, along with Scherzer and Gerrit Cole, that obsessive pitching gene to keep learning and evolving and reshaping his pitches and repertoire. I never sensed, for example, that deGrom has close to that same burning passion for the craft and it makes me wonder about his adaptation as he ages further.

Verlander would continue to give the Mets a dynamic 1-2 punch atop the rotation with Scherzer — obviously with a lot of age risk — and also provide (with health) a 2024 ace if Scherzer does opt out and leave.

And, if he finishes upright in 2023, Scherzer will opt out. He does not want to exit New York with the fervor of deGrom — I sense, in fact, that Scherzer likes the day-to-day urgency of the place. But he does want the top of the market like deGrom just got.

There was no more strident player during collective bargaining negotiations than Scherzer, none who wants to see what a true unfettered market would bring players. And if Verlander is going to at least threaten to top Scherzer’s record annual value of $43.33 million entering his age-40 season, then a healthy Scherzer completing his age-38 season in 2023 will either move Steve Cohen to extend him or go out into free agency to chase the upper end of the market for the third time in his career.

The thing is that even if the Mets, say, pay just Scherzer and Verlander $80 million-plus in 2023, they still have to invest even more into the rotation — and not just for 2023. In part that is about not having strong internal options. Megill, Peterson, Elieser Hernandez and Joey Lucchesi are controlled beyond 2023, but is there even a sure 150-inning starter in that group, much less two or three? According to MLB.com, the Mets’ top seven prospects are all position players and the site does not expect the arrival of their top three pitching prospects — Blake Tidwell, Calvin Ziegler and Matt Allan — before 2025.

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So the Mets have to find innings in the market for 2023 and beyond. The player who probably projects best to that is Bassitt. But word is that the righty, who turns 34 in February, also is looking for five years. As one pitching-interested executive said of Bassitt, “Because of his age, he knows this is his one shot to maximize his dollars.” So does asking for five years lead to Bassitt getting four? Do the Mets push to do that because even with the poor ending in 2022, the righty was their most reliable starter?

Do the Mets try to retain Taijuan Walker, flip Jameson Taillon to the other side of the RFK Bridge, push hard for Japanese star Kodai Senga, reunite Andrew Heaney with his one-time Angels GM Billy Eppler, try to play the upside with Ross Stripling or perhaps even go for Noah Syndergaard II?

There also is the trade market. Would Miami keep Pablo Lopez in the NL East — Miami appears open to discussing any starter not named NL Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara. Seattle’s Marco Gonzales and Oakland’s Cole Irvin are lefties who eat innings, but lack the strikeout panache that Eppler favors. Would a reclamation project with strikeout stuff such as Toronto’s Yusei Kikuchi be intriguing — with his downside perhaps as a swing-and-miss lefty reliever? Cleveland is open on its rotation back end of Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac.

Before even getting to a bullpen that also needs a lot of refurbishing behind the re-signed Edwin Diaz, the Mets need at minimum to add two more starters this offseason, perhaps three. And considering what they face after the coming year, the Mets need a Max effort to add starters that can help beyond 2023.

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