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Mets’ pitching moves part of MLB player competitions to watch in 2023

New York Post logo: MainLogo New York Post 2/4/2023 Joel Sherman

Here is a sentence not used often this offseason:

That was an area in which Steve Cohen saved money.

Out the door from the Mets’ rotation went Jacob deGrom, Taijuan Walker and Chris Bassitt, at a total cost of $320 million, and in walked Justin Verlander, Kodai Senga and Jose Quintana for $187.7 million.

That $132.3 million difference does not exactly fall into the Wilpon-ian agenda, since — among other items — Cohen authorized spending more than that ($162 million) just to retain Brandon Nimmo.

But starting pitching was a Mets strength last season. Even with deGrom limited to 11 regular-season starts, the rotation led MLB with a 25.5 strikeout percentage and was fifth in Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement (15.9).

Of course, the replacements are not exactly bargain-basement players. Verlander won the AL Cy Young and finished third in WAR, Quintana was 20th in WAR and threw 5 1/3 shutout innings against the Phillies as the Cardinals’ playoff opener, and Senga is a five-time Japan Series champion, who had a 1.94 ERA in 2022.

DeGrom (Rangers), Walker (Phillies) and Bassitt (Blue Jays) collectively signed for 12 years with an average annual value of $26.67 million compared to the nine years the Mets have with Verlander, Senga and Quintana at a $20.86 million average annual value.

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Justin Verlander landed with the Mets to replace Jacbos deGrom.

DeGrom joins a reconfigured Texas rotation with Nathan Eovaldi, Jon Gray, Andrew Heaney and Martin Perez. Walker enlists with the high-end Philly trio of Aaron Nola, Ranger Suarez and Zack Wheeler, plus perhaps phenom Andrew Painter, who will not turn 20 until April 10, but nevertheless is going to be given a chance to make the NL champ’s rotation. In Toronto, Bassitt joins the standout duo of Kevin Gausman and Alek Manoah, as the Blue Jays hope for rebounds by Jose Berrios and Yusei Kikuchi and a late-season return after Tommy John surgery by Hyun Jin Ryu.

In teaming Verlander atop the rotation with Max Scherzer plus Quintana, Senga and Carlos Carrasco with Tylor Megill and David Peterson for insurance, the Mets should remain strong.

Texas Rangers starting pitcher Jacob deGrom, center, shakes hands with new manger Bruce Bochy after trying on his new jersey during a press conference at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022. General Manager Chris Young, left, introduced the star pitcher who signed a five-year contract until the year 2027. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP) © Provided by New York Post Texas Rangers starting pitcher Jacob deGrom, center, shakes hands with new manger Bruce Bochy after trying on his new jersey during a press conference at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022. General Manager Chris Young, left, introduced the star pitcher who signed a five-year contract until the year 2027. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP) Jacob deGrom signed with the Rangers this offseason. AP

But I will be watching all season how Verlander, Senga and Quintana perform compared to deGrom, Walker and Bassitt. It is part of a game I make up annually to spice up the season in which I create competitions to track. This year, they include:

Brandon Nimmo vs. Carlos Rodon

Why an outfielder versus a pitcher? Follow the money. Both were guaranteed $162 million by New York teams. Both Scott Boras clients earned those dollars coming off the healthiest and best seasons of injury-tainted careers.

You could convince me that both are just at the outset of outstanding runs that will contribute to Mets and Yankees championships. And you can convince me that Nimmo is the free agent Jacoby Ellsbury 2.0 and Rodon the free agent Mike Hampton 2.0.

© Provided by New York Post Carlos RondonCorey Sipkin for the NY POST Cody Bellinger vs. Michael Conforto vs. Joey Gallo

The Cubs, Giants and Twins are hoping it is 2019 again, when this trio combined to hit 102 homers with a .276 batting average, .954 OPS and 15.3 WAR. Due to a shoulder injury, Conforto did not play in 2022 while Bellinger and Gallo combined for 38 homers, a .190 average, .648 OPS and 2.3 WAR. Bellinger and Gallo ended up Dodgers teammates to finish last season, combining for just two starts (both by Bellinger) in a four-game Division Series loss to the Padres.

But Bellinger is just 27, while Conforto and Gallo are 29. They are all lefty swingers. All (at their best) were well-rounded. So that they will still get opportunities is no surprise. Conforto signed for two years at $36 million with the Giants, but can opt out after one year. Bellinger signed for one year at $17.5 million with the Cubs, hoping he will be at least the dominant part of a center-field platoon. Gallo signed for one year at $11 million with the Twins.

see also © Provided by New York Post Shohei Ohtani’s fate with Angels among top spring training storylines

The Dodgers, though, did not give up on former well-rounded lefty-swinging outfielders who had fallen hard. They signed Jason Heyward to a minor league deal. The Cubs, now gambling on Bellinger, will owe all but the minimum salary of the $22 million owed Heyward in 2023 after releasing him.

Xander Bogaerts vs. Carlos Correa vs. Dansby Swanson vs. Trea Turner

Maybe this should be Correa’s RBIs versus Correa’s MRIs. Attention is going to be intense on Correa’s health after much larger free-agent deals fell apart, first with the Giants then with the Mets, due to concerns about his lower right leg, stemming from a 2014 minor league fibula break.

Correa also was part of what was supposed to be the best free-agent shortstop class ever last offseason — with Marcus Semien and Trevor Story (who both played second) plus Javier Baez and Corey Seager. Baez and Story so far have been disasters for the Tigers and Red Sox, respectively. So these things can go bad quickly.

Had Correa signed with the Giants or Mets, the total bill for him, Turner, Bogaerts and Swanson would have exceeded $1 billion. Still, it is a combined 35 years for $957 million. That is the potential for a lot of regrets. Just for example, will the Giants and Mets have them for not overlooking the medical concerns to sign Correa, or will the Twins have them for bringing him back? What of the Phillies with Turner (11 years, $300 million), the Padres with Bogaerts (11 years, $285 million) and the Cubs with Swanson (seven years, $177 million)? Are those bonanzas or booby-prizes?

© Provided by New York Post Carlos Correa eventually signed back with the Twins this offseason.AP Shohei Ohtani pitcher vs. Shohei Ohtani hitter

A quick reminder that Ohtani finished second for the AL MVP last year and fourth for the Cy Young. He had a hitting season comparable to Manny Machado, and a pitching season comparable to Aaron Nola and Julio Urias. Next offseason, Machado (if he opts out of his Padres contract) projects to the best position player available in free agency, Nola and Urias project to be the best pitchers, and Ohtani projects to, well, maybe $500 million in total if you calculate hitting, pitching and marketing.

No player has more skills or storylines. Will the Angels finally contend or not with Ohtani — plus Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon? And if not, will Ohtani be one of the biggest prizes in trade-deadline history? And no matter what, will he stay on the pathway toward the largest contract ever? For a third straight year, will he stay healthy and unique enough to hit and pitch at the top of the sport? The same human had a 2.33 ERA and .875 OPS last year, qualifying for both the ERA and batting titles.

What will an encore look like?


New York Post

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