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Jacob deGrom Leads Mets’ Off-Season Shopping List

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LAS VEGAS — On Wednesday, the Mets formally announced their first major move of the off-season: the re-signing of closer Edwin Díaz to a five-year, $102 million contract, the most important for a relief pitcher in baseball history. The Mets, who won 101 games throughout the 2022 regular season, expect to compete for a playoff spot again next 12 months, and a reliable late-innings reliever is crucial for a top team.

However the Mets, who’ve quite a few other players who reached free agency, have more work to do. Chief amongst them: attempting to re-sign Jacob deGrom, the ace who exercised the opt-out clause in his five-year, $137.5 million contract extension, passing on $30.5 million in 2023 for the prospect at getting a bigger deal.

Despite the fact that he missed large chunks of the past two seasons with injuries, other teams will probably flock to deGrom, 34, a two-time National League Cy Young Award winner. In 156⅓ innings over the past two seasons, he posted a 1.90 earned run average. After he returned from a shoulder injury last season, he produced a 3.08 E.R.A. in 11 starts and guided the Mets to their only win of their wild-card-round loss to the San Diego Padres.

Last winter, the Mets lured one other ace who had multiple Cy Young Awards, Max Scherzer, to Flushing with a deal value $130 million over three years, setting a record for highest average annual salary, at $43.3 million, despite Scherzer’s being 37 on the time.

Billy Eppler, the Mets’ general manager, said he spoke to deGrom before the team went home for the off-season after their early playoff exit. And before deGrom triggered his opt-out clause this week, Eppler said he and Stephen Veltman, deGrom’s agent, had a few conversations.

“We just sort of made a pact to remain in contact,” Eppler said Tuesday on the annual Major League Baseball general managers’ meetings, held this 12 months in Las Vegas.

Eppler declined to quantify his level of optimism that the Mets could retain their star, but he did say deGrom had expressed a desire to stick with the one organization he has ever known. Eppler added: “There’s a great deal of interest there on his part. That was articulated various times throughout the season and reiterated in our most up-to-date conversation.”

There are several teams around M.L.B. in need of starting pitching, including the Texas Rangers, who’ve a latest ballpark and the resources to draw a top free-agent veteran starter like Clayton Kershaw, a Dallas native, or deGrom. Signing deGrom would very likely require a multiyear deal north of $100 million.

Should the Mets prove successful, they’d be carrying 4 nine-figure contracts: for shortstop Francisco Lindor ($341 million over 10 years), Scherzer, Díaz and deGrom. The team is owned, in any case, by Steven A. Cohen, the hedge fund manager with a reported net value of $15 billion who has shown a willingness to spend to overhaul the franchise, who approved a M.L.B.-leading $288 million payroll in 2022 and who didn’t mind that a latest payroll luxury tax was nicknamed after him.

“When Steve Cohen reached out and signed Scherzer, he really raised the flag that we’re here to be a championship-level organization,” Scott Boras, the agent for Scherzer and plenty of other stars, said Wednesday. He added later, “It brought a very credible illustration of what the brand new Mets organization is about, and that had not been there for a very long time.”

Asked Wednesday if it was difficult to have such large contracts on one team while other roster needs remained, Eppler said: “It will be a heavy allocation to say the least. But you’d look to unravel other areas of your roster internally if that may very well be done or within the trade market where you don’t must pay the free-agent rate, so to talk. That’s a needle that will be threaded, but you’d must be mindful of it.”

The Mets, in fact, produce other rotation holes to plug beyond deGrom. Chris Bassitt, a reliable starter who had a 3.42 E.R.A. in 2022, is a free agent. So is Taijuan Walker (3.49 E.R.A.). On Thursday, Eppler told reporters the Mets are picking up the $14 million club option for Carlos Carrasco (3.97 E.R.A.).

Eppler said the Mets told center fielder Brandon Nimmo, like deGrom a homegrown standout who’s a free agent, that they would really like to maintain him. Boras, also the agent for Nimmo and Walker, had colourful ways of describing the demand for each players.

For Nimmo, Boras used movie allusions (including a questionable pun): “There are loads of teams within the free-agent market which can be within the waters for a middle fielder. Whoever Pixar guy will probably be the lucky one to be finding Nimmo.”

For Walker, Boras turned to a geographical play on words: “He’s one in all the few players that’s under 30 and he’s had multiple 150-inning-pitched seasons. So essentially, Taijuan is on an island. And I feel the one query is who’s willing Taipei?”

Free agency doesn’t officially begin until Thursday, but teams are free to barter with their current players beforehand. Eppler said he didn’t understand how soon deGrom desired to sign, but said the Mets would also do their due diligence on other options within the meantime.

“That’s a part of the communication from our side to them — and to everybody — is that we’ve got business to do,” he said. “There are players we wish to accumulate and things we wish to perform this wintertime, so we’re going to get all the way down to it.”

He added later: “We would like to remain in communication with one another and be very transparent with one another, so that they’ll feel like we now have a way for what we’re doing and hopefully we now have a way of what they’re doing. And we’ll see what happens.”

The San Francisco Giants and outfielder Aaron Judge, who spent seven seasons with the Yankees but is now a free agent for the primary time in his profession, have been linked for obvious reasons. Judge grew up lower than two hours away from San Francisco in Northern California, attended Giants games as a toddler and watched Barry Bonds. And the Giants are a big-market team that missed the playoffs in 2022, were below average offensively and have relatively little committed to their 2023 payroll.

Asked concerning the team’s interest in Judge, who’s the presumptive favorite for the A.L. Most Helpful Player Award and who smashed an A.L.-record 62 home runs this 12 months, Farhan Zaidi, the Giants’ president of baseball operations, declined to discuss specific free-agent players Wednesday.

But broadly, Zaidi said: “From a financial standpoint, there’s no person that will be out of our capability to fulfill what we expect the contract demands will probably be. After which it’ll just be an issue of whether there’s mutual interest and the way we put together the most effective possible team.”

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