Mets 2022 Winter Meetings to-do-list

Justin Verlander
Justin Verlander / USA TODAY Sports/SNY treated image

The MLB Winter Meetings take place in San Diego, Calif. from Dec. 4 to 7, and it is at those meetings where the Mets could be aggressive while reshaping their roster ahead of the 2023 season.

Now that Jacob deGrom has signed with the Texas Rangers, the Mets' biggest offseason question has been settled. How will they respond?

Here's what should be on the Mets' to-do list...

Find an ace to replace Jacob deGrom -- or pivot

DeGrom's decision to bolt the Mets for a five-year deal with the Texas Rangers was somehow both shocking and predictable.

That the Rangers were desperate or bold enough to guarantee five years (choose your own descriptor there) was surprising, but that deGrom -- who did not seem to like the New York City lifestyle -- jumped at the chance to leave the Mets without giving them a final say is not.

But while deGrom is gone, the Mets are not scrambling.

That's because before deGrom's departure, the Mets had already spoken with free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon. And GM Billy Eppler suggested late last week that the team would be ready to pounce on one of those pitchers before the deGrom domino fell. So it's clear that with deGrom off the board, the Mets are set up to strike. But will they?

Justin Verlander
Justin Verlander / Troy Taormina - USA TODAY Sports

It appears that the Mets' main competition for Verlander is the Los Angeles Dodgers, with the Houston Astros seemingly on the outskirts of the negotiations. Houston is focusing on its offense, signing Jose Abreu and showing interest in Willson Contreras. And they have plenty of intriguing in-house starting rotation options.

SNY's Andy Martino reported that the Mets' talks with Verlander continued throughout the weekend. Despite Verlander's age, he really is the best bet over Rodon for a number of reasons.

The first is that Verlander's deal in terms of guaranteed years will almost certainly be shorter than Rodon's -- perhaps by three or four years.

The second is that despite Rodon's relative youth (he is entering his age-30 season), he comes with serious health questions -- and even performance ones. During his big league career, Rodon has had one dominant and healthy season out of eight.

If the Mets miss on Verlander, I'm of the opinion that they should pass on Rodon and fill the rotation in other ways. That could mean taking a swing at trading for Shohei Ohtani (which might be a fool's errand) or signing two pitchers from the group including Kodai Senga and Andrew Heaney. And if they don't land Ohtani (again, it seems unlikely), they should go after Trea Turner or Carlos Correa to significantly improve the team in a different way.

Come up with Brandon Nimmo backup plans

Nimmo's market is robust.

That's not a surprise when you consider that he's the best free agent outfielder not named Aaron Judge, that he's been one of the most valuable offensive outfielders in baseball since 2018, and that he now has even more value because he recently turned himself into a plus defender in center field.

Nimmo has been one of the Mets' key cogs, and losing him would hurt immensely.

If Nimmo lands elsewhere (and he's expected to receive more than $20 million annually), the Mets could look to find some external offense at another spot on the diamond. But in doing so, they'll also have to figure out who plays center field.

Starling Marte and Brandon Nimmo
Starling Marte and Brandon Nimmo / Vincent Carchietta - USA TODAY Sports

And in a world without Nimmo, the Mets would likely have two choices as far as center goes.

The first would be to slide Starling Marte from right field back to center, which might not be the best idea since Marte is entering his age-34 season and hasn't played regularly in center since 2021.

The other would be to find a new center fielder via free agency or trade. But a look at the free agent options leaves a lot to be desired.

The Mets could add a defense-first guy like Kevin Kiermaier or take a flier on AJ Pollock, who had a down 2022 offensively after performing very well from 2017 to 2021. But Pollock has been pretty bad defensively in center over the last few seasons.

That means if the Mets lose Nimmo, it really might make sense to explore the recently DFA'd Cody Bellinger, who will at the very least play an above-average (and possibly elite) center field and has huge upside with the bat. And it will probably only take a one-year deal to sign him.

Another option would be a reunion with Michael Conforto, who could play right field with Marte in center.

See if Shohei Ohtani really is unavailable

To expand on what was discussed above, I'll believe the Los Angeles Angels aren't trading Ohtani this offseason when he either signs an extension with them or the offseason ends.

Shohei Ohtani
Shohei Ohtani / Denny Medley - USA TODAY Sports

Angels GM Perry Minasian recently said that Ohtani isn't available, and maybe he really isn't.

But it's hard to see why Ohtani -- who is set to hit free agency after the 2023 season -- would sign an extension with an Angels team that is kind of in disarray.

And if Ohtani doesn't extend with the Angels this offseason, why would he do so during the season?

In the event the Angels can't ink Ohtani, they'll have the choice of trading him and getting an enormous haul back (it will be bigger this offseason than it will be during the season) or losing him for nothing but draft pick compensation.

And the Mets, with an emerging farm system and some of the very best prospects in all of baseball, probably have the pieces it would take to land Ohtani -- and I think they can do it without parting with Francisco Alvarez.

Trying to swing a deal for Ohtani -- with the plan being to extend him soon after -- would make all the sense in the world.