After the 2022 season finished sooner than expected, the Mets immediately launched into a crucial offseason. Many impact players were headed for free agency, and Max Scherzer was the only veteran hurler guaranteed to be back in the starting rotation.
You know the rest of the story. Other than re-signing Edwin Diaz early on, things were at a standstill until Jacob deGrom signed with the Texas Rangers. That’s when the floodgates opened. Justin Verlander, Brandon Nimmo, Jose Quintana, Kodai Senga, David Robertson, Omar Narvaez, and Adam Ottavino all agreed to sign with New York.
It was an expensive offseason for team owner Steve Cohen. But he wants to win. And clearly, he’s OK putting his money where his mouth is to make it happen. Of course, a narrative surrounding the club is that they spent all this money and “didn’t get any better“.
We won’t know whether they did or not until this coming October or November. But if we look at each area of the roster, there’s a case for Verlander being the biggest X-factor.
The offense almost got drastically better with the addition of Carlos Correa. Since that didn’t happen, this group largely looks the same. We can hope Narvaez provides more offense than James McCann did, and that Francisco Alvarez and Brett Baty join the club at some point to provide a youthful spark. Even with all their imperfections, the Mets’ offense produced the third-highest wRC+ in baseball last year.
New York’s bullpen looks like it’ll be better from top-to-bottom. It’d also be unfair to expect another historic season from Diaz as the club’s closer. Plus, bullpen production is generally quite volatile from year to year. The rotation is interesting because it pretty much got rebuilt from the studs.
Having Scherzer already there served as a good foundation. Carlos Carrasco is a more than serviceable fifth starter based on his 2022 production. Senga is an unknown, but Quintana is a dependable innings-eater and Verlander is the reigning American League Cy Young winner.
New York is likely just hoping for Verlander (and Scherzer) to stay healthy. Many Mets fans were seeing stars every time they thought about Scherzer and deGrom being in the same rotation last winter. It was a vision that didn’t even become a reality until the beginning of August because of another injury to deGrom.
With all things equal, deGrom is the better pitcher. But it was hard for him to be that for the Mets these past couple of years while on the injured list. And that was nobody’s fault — it’s just how the cookie crumbles sometimes. DeGrom could come right back and toss 180-200 innings for the Rangers in 2023. You know, just like he consistently did for New York prior to 2020.
We can’t know for certain if any player will stay healthy all year, Verlander included. But even with him pushing 40 years old, he’s put together a tremendous track record of durability. The 2020 and 2021 seasons were lost for him because of Tommy John surgery. Outside of that, he’s thrown fewer than 170 innings in a year just once since 2006. That happened in 2015 when he racked up 133.1 frames for the Detroit Tigers.
Expecting Verlander to post a 1.75 ERA again isn’t realistic. However, he hasn’t produced an ERA worse than 3.50 since 2014. And while deGrom is the better pitcher when he’s healthy, JV is replacing a hurler that produced a 3.08 ERA over 64.1 innings. That ERA is well within his range of outcomes while more than doubling the innings output.
Having the consistency of him and Scherzer at the top of the rotation is already a huge upgrade. Having depth in Tylor Megill and David Peterson will hopefully help those two vets stay fresh for the stretch run, while also helping Senga acclimate to his new surroundings/routines/etc.
On a roster that’s seen plenty of turnover the past few months, simply pitching every fifth (or sixth) day should be a significant boost for the Mets. It’s what they were hoping for last year and didn’t get it. There’s a chance of history repeating itself in 2023, but New York’s chance of getting the optimal solution is better than it would be with deGrom.
So, yea — I’m not buying the Mets-spent-all-this-money-and-didn’t-get-better bologna. Plus, do you really need to improve a 101-win team? The regular season wasn’t a huge concern. If the Mets win 85 games, squeak into the playoffs, and win the World Series this year, nobody is going to care, right? Right.
There’s plenty of risk baked into the Mets’ Verlander investment. What he brings to the rotation could make him a huge difference-maker, though.
Matt Musico can be reached at [email protected] and you can follow him on Twitter: @mmusico8.