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What do the Mets do next after missing out on Yoshinobu Yamamoto?

Once again, the Mets failed to lure a star to Queens. Where will David Stearns and Co. pivot from here?

New York Mets owner Steve Cohen looks on before a game against the Cincinnati Reds at Citi Field on September 17, 2023 in New York City. The Mets defeated the Reds 8-4. Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Despite Steve Cohen’s very deep pockets (and even some weekend wining and dining), the New York Mets have been spurned by top free-agent target Yoshinobu Yamamoto, with the Japanese ace instead signing with the Dodgers on a 12-year, $325 million deal. It’s a tough pill to swallow for the team and its fans, who had reason to believe they had real shot to land the best pitcher remaining on the market — a player whose age (just 25) and frontline stuff made him the ideal candidate to shepherd the Mets into a new era and wash away the taste of a bitterly disappointing 2023 season.

Now, Yamamoto is headed elsewhere, and New York is left licking its wounds. But while we forgive fans for not necessarily reaching the acceptance stage yet, Hot Stove season leaves very little time for mourning. Stearns still has a ton of questions to answer this winter, and some very fundamental decisions to make about the direction he wants to take this team. Without Yamamoto, does he have any interest in trying to compete in 2024? Or should he simply keep his powder dry, see what he has and try to load up for 2025? Let’s break it all down.

What should Mets do next after missing Yoshinobu Yamamoto?

Take some fliers on starters (and don’t chase Blake Snell)

The Mets went 75-87 in 2023; this team was not a move away from World Series contention, even if that move was as substantial as Yamamoto. The righty was an ideal fit given his age and competitive timeline — as well as New York’s rotation questions — but even if the team had convinced him to sign, prioritizing the short term was never the best course of action. 2024 is going to be a year for retooling, and in that vein, Cohen and Stearns shouldn’t fire the money cannon at somebody else just for the sake of doing something. They should instead retain their financial and roster flexibility, filling out the rest of their starting rotation with buy-low candidates who won’t hurt them too badly if they bust — and who will fetch them a nice return at the trade deadline if they pop. James Paxton makes a lot of sense here, as would veteran lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu; players who can be had on short-term deals and could be valuable rentals for a contender come next summer.

Build bullpen depth

The rotation isn’t the only thing that needs work — we probably don’t have to remind Mets fans of just how much of a disaster the team’s bullpen was in 2023. Getting Edwin Diaz back will go a long way to fixing those issues, but there are still real depth concerns behind the All-Star closer — especially with David Robertson and Adam Ottavino moving on. Stearns already added righty Jorge Lopez earlier in free agency, but another option or two — a reunion with Robertson? righty Ryan Brasier or Ryne Stanek? lefty Yandy Peralta? — would do wonders.

Find another outfielder

Stearns did good work acquiring righty Adrian Houser and outfielder Tyrone Taylor in a salary dump from the Brewers on Wednesday, but New York’s corner spots could still use some work. Ronny Mauricio’s torn ACL likely bumps Jeff McNeil back to second base full-time, creating a hole in left field, while Starling Marte can hardly be counted on for a full, healthy season at this point in his career. Another lefty like Joc Pederson or Michael Brantley would make a lot of sense here as a veteran who can play left, right or serve in a DH platoon with Mark Vientos without compromising the team’s future financial flexibility.