If Mets trade Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, tricky questions arise for 2024 rotation

Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer

Image processed by Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer/USA TODAY Sports/SNY

Let’s say for the sake of discussion that the Mets will trade Justin Verlander And Max Scherzer this month.

Here are two related questions that have gone unnoticed in recent days: Who exactly would lead the starting rotation next season, when the team will likely have similar championship aspirations?

And would replacing the two future Hall of Famers this winter lead to the Mets jeopardizing their long-term future far more than they already have?

Despite all that has gone wrong with the 2023 Mets, one aspect of the team’s strategy continues to seem very wise: the aversion to long-term free agent contracts for starting pitchers.

Both Verlander and Scherzer underperformed, but the shortness of their contracts (two years plus an opt-in player for Scherzer; two years plus a vesting option for Verlander) means their declines won’t cripple the Mets for long.

For all their expenses of the last off-season, Brandon NimmoThe eight-year contract was the only irrationally long Mets contract.

The team backed down with little measure of relief and watched the Texas Rangers offer Jacob of Grom five years, and the Yankees offer Carlos Rodon six. DeGrom has had Tommy John surgery since then; Rodon recently made his season debut and could still become a Yankees champion — but so far Verlander has been the most productive of the trio in 2023, with the added bonus of being a short-timer.

Without Verlander and Scherzer, the Mets would have Kodai Senga, Jose Quintana, David Peterson And Tylor Megill as their top four options for next year’s rotation. They will obviously add more, but it will be difficult to do so without introducing the kind of long-term risk they have so far avoided.

The best free agent starters for next year are Shohei Ohtani, Blake Snell And Julio Urias. Snell, 30, is the oldest of this trio – and any free agent ace at 30 or younger can reasonably expect a five-, six-, or seven-year contract (and, while that’s not an Ohtani column, enough to say we can’t find anyone in baseball who thinks Ohtani will sign in New York).

Before the Mets trade Verlander or Scherzer, the front office will need to generate projections of what Urias and Snell will look like not just in 2024, but in 2025, 2026, 2027 and beyond. Is it really a better bet to give seven years to a young ace than to give three years to an aging ace?

In some cases, of course. In many cases, no way.

Another very intriguing rotation option for the Mets next year and beyond will be the Nippon Professional Baseball ace. Yoshinobu Yamamotowho is only 24 years old.

A reviewer familiar with Yamamoto described it as “Chris Bassit with more bike,” meaning he has a wide throwing repertoire like the hustler Bassitt, but a firmer fastball. This evaluator projected Yamamoto as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter on a championship team.

Unlike Senga, reviewers aren’t speculating that Yamamoto will end up in the bullpen. Because of that, he’ll likely earn a lot more than the five-year, $75 million the Mets gave Senga last September.

Mets General Manager Billy Epler has already traveled to Japan this year to watch Yamamoto. As was the case with Senga, Eppler’s deep connections and credibility there could help give the Mets an edge in Yamamoto’s free agency.

Elsewhere in free agency, there will be plenty of other starters for the Mets to explore, from Lucas Giolito For Eduardo Rodriguez (which has an opt-out) for Aaron Nola For Jack Flaherty For Luis Severino For Frankie Montas For Tyler Mahle For James Paxton For Alex Cobb.

Each of these players brings their own combination of benefits and risks, and one or two of them could be good play in the short term. But none project themselves as the ace of a team playing in the 2024 World Series.

Nor are we saying that the current versions of Scherzer and Verlander do. But for the Mets’ long-term health, the team needs to be sure before asking either to waive their no-trade clause that replacing them won’t leave the organization in an even worse place. .

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