What’s next? Mets want Kodai Senga now, await Shohei Ohtani’s free agency in a year

Oct 3, 2022; Oakland, California, USA; Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Shohei Ohtani (17) during the tenth inning against the Oakland Athletics at RingCentral Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 3, 2022; Oakland, California, USA; Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Shohei Ohtani (17) during the tenth inning against the Oakland Athletics at RingCentral Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports / © Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

SAN DIEGO -- There was a time, maybe four or five days ago, when the Mets did not want to exceed a $300 million payroll by much.

Come to think of it, there was a time about a month ago when they hoped to stay under the $293 million “Steve Cohen” threshold of the luxury tax, and the severe penalties it brings.

Then Cohen and the Mets watched their rivals spend. And spend. And spend. The National League East rival Phillies agreed to pay Trea Turner $300 million. The Yankees waved $360 million at Aaron Judge, who turned down more than $400 million from the Padres -- who moved on to sign Xander Bogaerts for $280 million.

Suddenly, Cohen’s financial advantage did not seem so extreme. Other clubs were threatening to close that gap.

Cohen might not have been pleased by this development, but he wasn’t about to allow the Mets to concede first and second place next year in their own division, either. So, a little after 8 p.m. ET on Thursday, the Mets sighed, said “screw it,” and offered Brandon Nimmo an eight-year, $162 million contract -- more years and dollars than most in the industry predicted Nimmo would receive, despite widespread interest in him.

Naturally, Nimmo accepted. The Mets also added reliever David Robertson on a one-year, $10 million deal, potentially replacing Adam Ottavino, believed to be seeking a two-year deal.

This, after adding a future Hall of Fame pitcher on Monday in Justin Verlander. Next up: Kodai Senga, the free agent from Japan who Cohen and the Mets front office want badly.

And in the future? Let’s put it this way: Do you think the Mets haven’t already discussed a future that includes Shohei Ohtani? The early feel is that the two-way phenom will be next winter’s pursuit.

All these starry moves and pursuits are rooted in Cohen’s desire to win immediately, and the organization’s plan to spackle over flaws by spending big on veterans while waiting for the farm system to develop and begin churning out more affordable talent.

General manager Billy Eppler is hard at work on that pursuit, making frequent hires this offseason in the areas of infrastructure and player development. For now, though, the Mets know that aggressive, sometimes irrational contracts are necessary.

Is it a good idea to commit to Nimmo for eight years? Obviously not, at least if the Mets were operating in a vacuum. But this offseason has brought a free agent frenzy that one large-market GM called “horrible” and another longtime executive said was “gross.”

Baseball executives prefer to spread their owners’ billions around, rather than tie it up with stars in their 30s.

Neither agents nor fans would use the words horrible and gross. This has been an exciting winter for the industry, even if deals like the ones for Bogaerts, Nimmo, Judge and the others age poorly.

And if Steve Cohen wanted to finish the job he started by signing Francisco Lindor, Max Scherzer, Edwin Diaz and Verlander, he had to set rationality aside and remain ahead of the other spenders.

Credit him for doing so. It’s surely a fun time to be a Mets fan -- and it could be even more fun when we’re talking about Ohtani this time next year.