With Yamamoto a Dodger, how will Mets respond?

December 22nd, 2023

NEW YORK -- So the Mets didn’t land , the top starting pitcher available who went to the Dodgers late Thursday night on a 12-year, $325 million contract. What does that mean for the rest of the winter? For the long-term plan in Flushing? Considering how much of New York’s early offseason efforts revolved around Yamamoto, the club’s inability to land him will have a profound impact on everything to come.

Yamamoto was a unique free agent not just in this year’s climate but in general; rarely does a 25-year-old with ace potential reach the open market. The Mets pursued him because of his talent, yes, but they also did so because he fit their long-term vision of a more competitive window opening in 2025. That’s why owner Steve Cohen and president of baseball operations David Stearns flew to Japan to court Yamamoto. Much like Shohei Ohtani (but in very different ways), Yamamoto was a free-agent unicorn.

So what now? The Mets still have an incomplete roster, and that starts with…

Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery?
Nope. While it’s possible Cohen grows restless and orders a pursuit of one of the next-best starters on the open market, that doesn’t appear to be New York’s plan. (And Cohen hardly sounded restless Friday in a New York Post interview, saying, “We’re going to be thoughtful and not impulsive and thinking about sustainability over the intermediate long-term, but not focused on winning the headlines over the next week.”)

For those reasons, you can probably count out courtships of Snell, Montgomery and even Shōta Imanaga, three pitchers on the wrong side of 30 who can seek long-term contracts of five years or more. If the market for one of those two pitchers craters, things could change, but a marketplace that just engineered more than $1 billion in contracts for Ohtani and Yamamoto probably won’t be sinking anytime soon.

Other starting pitching?
This is where the Mets will be (and already have been) shopping. Earlier this offseason, they signed Luis Severino -- a talented but oft-injured pitcher -- to a one-year contract. Just this week, they traded for Adrian Houser -- a high-floor, low-ceiling pitcher also with one year left under team control. Whomever the Mets find to round out their rotation, it’s probably going to be someone they can acquire on a similar short-term commitment. Think along the lines of the two-year, $26 million contract the team gave José Quintana last offseason.

Free-agent candidates who might accept one- or two-year deals include Michael Lorenzen, Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas and Hyun Jin Ryu, among others. Look for the Mets to shop in this aisle.

Lucas Giolito also makes sense as a buy-low candidate, coming off a season that saw him post a 7.13 ERA in the second half. Relatively young at 29 years old, Giolito could be willing to accept a one-year pillow contract to re-establish his value. Even if he requires a multiyear deal, the Mets might have interest at the right cost for a pitcher who received Cy Young votes every year from 2019-21. His market is more likely to stay reasonable than, say, Snell’s.

What about the outfield?
While it’s tempting to think the money saved on Yamamoto could go to an outfield/DH bopper such as Teoscar Hernández or Jorge Soler, the Mets haven’t shown much apparent interest in those players early this offseason. Those players, both 31, appear likely to command longer contracts of three years or more. The Mets would prefer to stick to short-term deals in the outfield as well, giving them roster versatility as well as payroll flexibility down the road. The benefits are obvious: taking a step back now would, for example, set the Mets up to make a strong run at Juan Soto next winter.

Two names that do fit the mold are Michael A. Taylor and Kevin Kiermaier, a couple of 30-something center fielders who are strong enough defensively to play every day and push Brandon Nimmo to a corner. They would also be gone by the time top prospects Drew Gilbert and Jett Williams are ready to contribute at the Major League level.

Is that enough hitting, though?
Maybe, maybe not; the Mets will be returning nearly all of an offense that is talented on paper but ranked 20th in the Majors in runs per game last season. One way the Mets could supplement it would be to sign a third baseman such as Justin Turner, now that Ronny Mauricio probably won’t play next season after tearing his right ACL. Or they could import a full-time DH like J.D. Martinez, who remains productive at age 36.

How about the bullpen?
The Mets have already signed one reliever -- Jorge López -- to a big league contract, traded for another and acquired three more on Minor League deals with camp invites. This is largely going to be the pattern from here on out; while the Mets will almost certainly land another arm or two on guaranteed contracts, with a small army of candidates still available, they’re probably going to avoid someone like Josh Hader and the massive, Edwin Díaz-like contract he’ll command.

The theme here is the same as throughout the rest of the roster: prudence for now, knowing there will be plenty more opportunity to spend Cohen’s money in the future.