The Mets got a late start to their offseason work, since new general manager Billy Eppler said during his introductory news conference his main focus on improving the roster will be starting pitching, and that’s been the most active part of the market so far.
Eduardo Rodriguez got five years and $77 million from the Tigers. Noah Syndergaard signed with the Angels for one year and $21 million after rejecting the Mets’ qualifying offer. Justin Verlander got a one-year, $25 million deal with an option for a second year to stay in Houston. Jose Berrios — not even a free agent — signed a seven-year, $131 million extension with Toronto.
So where does that leave the Mets?
With a lot of work to do.
Fortunately for the Mets and Eppler, owner Steve Cohen made it clear money would not hold them back when it comes to signing free agents or making trades.
Because their farm system — by the Mets’ own admission — isn’t particularly strong, free agency seems the way they will go, and they have several options.
They could look to keep Marcus Stroman, who pitched well in Queens last season.
Steven Matz, who spent the first six seasons of his career with the Mets before putting together perhaps his best season with Toronto in 2021, is another option.
The best starter available, at least in the short term, is Max Scherzer, but the right-hander may stay with the Dodgers after a successful run following his midseason trade from Washington to Los Angeles.
Kevin Gausman is in line for a massive payday, coming off a career-year with the Giants, as is Robbie Ray, who won the AL Cy Young Award with the Blue Jays.
Carlos Rodon came out of nowhere to pitch brilliantly for the White Sox, and San Francisco’s Anthony Desclafani, who was solid in 2019 before a rough 2020, bounced back with another strong year last season.
As Eppler noted Friday, he expected to be in touch with the agents with most — if not all — of those free agents soon, especially because the sport is expected to shut down on Dec. 2, when the collective bargaining agreement is set to expire.
Before then, Eppler will also be looking for a manager and to fill other holes on the roster, but starting pitching figures to be at the forefront.
In his five years as GM with the Angels, his biggest move — on the mound or at the plate — came when he signed Shohei Osani.
Though that worked out, Eppler had a checkered record when it came to pitching.
He gave Matt Harvey $11 million on a one-year deal when the former Met was coming off a shaky comeback season with the Reds. Harvey made just a dozen starts and had a 7.20 ERA.
Trevor Cahill was another disappointment in 2019 on a one-year, $9 million deal.
But Eppler was also never given the green light by Angels owner Arte Moreno to spend like he was on Friday.
“I’ve let Billy know, for the right deals and the right free agents, to go get the players we need,’’ Cohen said. “We want to be competitive, we want to win our division and be in the playoffs and get deep into the playoffs. We’ve got to field a team that has the ability to do that. I’ve let Billy and Sandy know, it’s whatever they need.”
Now it’s up to Eppler to figure out how to use it.