Kodai Senga signing the latest example that the Mets are all-in to win the World Series

Steve Cohen / USA TODAY Sports/SNY Treated Image

Steve Cohen took over as Mets’ owner with the highest of expectations from an ecstatic fan base and if it’s possible he has now exceeded them, outspending all projections this offseason to accumulate high-priced talent and raise the roof on what will be by far the highest payroll in baseball history.

The total is likely to be in the $350 million range after Cohen on Saturday night signed the Japanese star pitcher Kodai Senga to a five-year, $75 million deal, and that doesn’t include the $80 million-plus he’ll pay as a tax for going way over the highest of the MLB tax thresholds.

To say Cohen is all-in is on winning a championship is like saying Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander are going to the Hall of Fame. Uh, no kidding.

In the week since Jacob deGrom bolted for Texas, in fact, Cohen has committed a mere $359.7 million on guaranteed contracts for Verlander, Jose Quintana, Brandon Nimmo, David Robertson, and Senga. Not to mention the $102 million to re-sign Edwin Diaz.

And that’s on top of the $258 million the Mets spent in free agency last winter on Scherzer, Starling Marte, Mark Canha, Eduardo Escobar, and Adam Ottavino.

Mercy, let us take a moment to catch our breath and get out the calculator, shall we?

Whoa, that’s $719.7 million in guaranteed contracts.

And the thing is, it’s not really the way Cohen wanted to do this. Remember, he said at his introductory press conference two years ago that he had no intention of spending like a drunken sailor. That he wanted to model his organization after the Dodgers, drafting and developing at a high level as a way of defraying the high cost of spending for free agents.

Well, that may still be his grand plan but it turns out Cohen had little choice but to be that drunken sailor if he’s going to make good on his prediction at the time that his new team would win a championship in “three to five years. “

Such was the state of the farm system when Cohen took the reins, with precious little major league-ready talent to plug in and keep costs down, especially on the pitching front. As a result, he now has a five-man starting rotation that will earn $129 million in 2023, plus another $28 million for his top two relievers.

And five of those seven pitchers are 34 or older as of January when Quintana turns 34.

That’s a dangerous way to try and win a championship, something that was painfully obvious last October when the guy known as Mad Max looked very un-Scherzer-like in October, either due to the lingering limitations of an oblique injury or perhaps the effects of a long season at his age of 38.

All of which begs the question of whether the 2023 Mets will become The Best Team Money Can Buy, that is to say a better version of the 2022 team that failed when it counted most.

They’ll be banking on mostly the same formula: elite starting pitching, an excellent closer, and a high-contact offense that lacks power in comparison to the other top competitors in the National League, especially the Braves and Phillies in their own division.

Will that be good enough? The Mets did finish fifth in the majors in runs scored last season, ahead of the Phillies, and although the offense sagged late in the season, it’s worth remembering the Mets likely would have held on to win the NL East had they not lost Marte in September to a broken finger.

In any case, it’s hard to imagine Cohen makes any more big signings, such as a JD Martinez to be the DH. And it’s possible the Mets will get a bump in power from two rookies, Francisco Alvarez and Brett Baty.

If Alvarez holds his own in spring training, in fact, I’d give him the chance to DH as well as catch some, and find out if his auspicious minor league power carries over to the big leagues. If not, the Mets’ farm system should be much deeper than it was at the trade deadline last year, allowing GM Billy Eppler to deal key prospects if necessary for a power bat.

Aug 7, 2021;  Yokohama, Japan;  Team Japan pitcher Koudai Senga (21) throws in the 6th inning against USA in the baseball gold medal match during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Yokohama Baseball Stadium.

Aug 7, 2021; Yokohama, Japan; Team Japan pitcher Koudai Senga (21) throws in the 6th inning against USA in the baseball gold medal match during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Yokohama Baseball Stadium. / Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

Either way, the Mets are built to win with pitching, now more than ever after Cohen’s spending spree on Verlander, Quintana, and now Senga, as well as Robertson and Diaz.

It’s fair to say this rotation could be better and deeper than the 2022 version, which was mostly excellent. Remember, because of injuries the Mets got only 34 starts combined from Scherzer and deGrom, and Verlander’s track record says there’s a much better chance of him pitching a full season in 2023 than deGrom.

In addition, Quintana was a savvy signing at two years and $26 million. At least he will be if he delivers anywhere near the level he did after a trade to the Cardinals last summer, pitching to a 2.01 ERA over 12 starts.

And then there’s the 29-year old Senga, who looms as something of a wild card. He has ace-like potential, as evidenced by his 1.94 ERA in Japan last season, with high velocity and a wipeout splitter, but scouts worry that spotty command and mediocre breaking stuff could lower his ceiling against major league lineups.

If he proves to be more of a No. 3-4 type starter, that’ll do fine for the Mets, with their firepower at the top of the rotation. But if Senga has the type of success Masahiro Tanaka did in his first half-season with the Yankees, before he injured his elbow, dominating hitters with his splitter, he could give the Mets a chance to win a championship practically on the strength of pitching alone.

Don’t forget, Carlos Carrasco is still there and would be an outstanding No. 5 starter, given his ability to still dominate when he’s right. And Taylor Megill and David Peterson offer tremendous depth, especially considering how brilliantly Megill pitched as a starter before injuring his shoulder last season.

The one area that still needs work is the bullpen, but with Robertson and newly-acquired Brooks Raley setting up Diaz, the Mets have a strong late-inning foundation.

In that sense, the pitching alone gives this team a chance to be better than in 2022. And, after all, the Mets would happily take the same position they were in with a week to go last year, believing that with another chance their top three starters wouldn’t fail them as they did in Atlanta last October, and as two of their top three did in the Wild Card series.

Cohen had to open the vault to create such a possibility for 2023, spending more than even he probably ever expected, in some ways as an answer to what other teams are doing this winter, as cash is flowing wildly.

In short, then, Cohen is proving to be exactly who Mets’ fans hoped and prayed he’d be as the owner, willing to spend whatever it takes to win.

Now if only the high-priced talent can live up to expectations in a similar fashion.

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