SAN DIEGO – Two down, one to go.
The Mets have let agents at the winter meetings know their intention has been to obtain three starting pitchers this offseason.
So far, they have enlisted two free agents – Justin Verlander for two years at $86.6 million and Jose Quintana for two years at $26 million.
They were one of the final three teams bidding for Jameson Taillon, along with the Cubs and Phillies. Taillon signed for four years at $68 million with Chicago. Recognizing that Taillon was pivoting to the Cubs, the Phillies enlisted now former Met Taijuan Walker for four years at $72 million. And then the Mets signed Quintana.
But the Mets also remain interested in Japanese star Kodai Senga and Ross Stripling, among others in the free-agent and trade markets.
If they were able to secure one more starter, the Mets would have a more veteran five-man rotation again with Verlander, Quintana, Max Scherzer, Carlos Carrasco and the still-to-be added pitcher. That would leave Jose Butto, Joey Lucchesi. Tylor Megill and David Peterson for depth (all have minor league options) or to help in the still currently thin bullpen.
But the addition of another starter such as Senga or Stripling also could motivate the Mets to trade Carrasco. The righty, who turns 36 in March, is due $14 million in 2023 on the final year of his contract. Perhaps a team that either struck out in free agency or didn’t like the prices would be interested in one year of the veteran Carrasco. The Mets, with Quintana and reliever Brooks Raley added, have a payroll now that projects just north of $293 million for competitive balance tax calculations.
The fourth and top tier of the system – dubbed the Steve Cohen tax at its creation – begins at $293 million. As a second-time violator, the Mets would have to pay 90 cents on every dollar over $293 million. So trading someone such as Carrasco to try to keep down the tax could motivate the Mets, since Cohen in September told “The Show with Joel Sherman and Jon Heyman” that a team should be able to win with a $300 million payroll. If that is the budget, the Mets do not have much room left without subtracting contract(s) with money left on them.