Yoshinobu Yamamoto mets yankees
Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

We still have about a month left of regular-season baseball left to play. But for many teams out of contention — like the Mets — focus has shifted toward preparing for 2024. Will it really be a “transitory” year? Or will New York be aggressive in free agency again?

It sounds like that will depend on the players pursued by general manager Billy Eppler (and whoever else is in charge of the front office). According to SNY’s John Harper, there are two impending free agents the Mets would spend big on. Those two are Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Shohei Ohtani.

Rival executives already think the Mets are favorites to land Yamamoto:

“I’d say they have to be the favorite,” said one rival team executive. “Their GM (Billy Eppler) has a strong history with Japanese pitchers, and signing Senga has worked out well for them. Also, Yamamoto is young enough (age 25) that he fits what they seem to be doing, replenishing their farm system.”

Another exec made essentially the same points and added: “I think it’s all about Yamamoto being young. The guy will be expensive but I don’t think Steve Cohen is going to stop spending just because it didn’t work with (Max) Scherzer and (Justin) Verlander. He might not be giving someone like (Blake) Snell a seven-year deal but signing Yamamoto fits as far as the pivot they made.”

We know the Mets are far from the only team interested in Yamamoto’s services, who is just 25 years old. However, given Eppler’s track record with recruiting Japanese pitchers and the 2023 success of Kodai Senga (plus Steve Cohen’s deep pockets), it seems like they’ve got a good shot.

Here’s what Harper said about Ohtani’s upcoming free agency and how it relates to the Mets:

Ah, yes, Ohtani. It should be noted that the same scouts and execs see him as being in a separate category as a free agent who would supersede any financial restrictions the Mets may be thinking about this winter.

The feeling around baseball is that the Angels’ superstar wants to remain on the West Coast, but if he shows a willingness to come east, the expectation is that Cohen would still make a big play for him, even now that Ohtani’s elbow injury creates uncertainty.

As one scout put it, “Just as a hitter Ohtani would be hugely valuable to the Mets. They underachieved this year but they have enough talent that with Ohtani they could have a much more productive offense.”

If Ohtani isn’t willing to come east, however, the feeling is the Mets will limit their spending beyond someone like Yamamoto.

It’s a bummer we don’t get to see a fully healthy Ohtani enter free agency. But still, Ohtani as a hitter would be a boon for the Mets’ offense. He’d join Pete Alonso as another elite power threat. Plus, it’d force manager Buck Showalter to stop penciling in Daniel Vogelbach as the club’s designated hitter.

Even with Ohtani’s recent UCL injury, what Harper said checks out with earlier reports. The consensus is Ohtani wants to stay on the West Coast (with the Dodgers as likely favorites). If he’s willing to consider expanding his geographical preferences, Cohen and the Mets will surely be interested.

So, we can expect a more measured approach for the Mets in free agency, outside of Yamamoto and Ohtani. But as we all know, Cohen has shown us that can change very quickly as the situation evolves.

You can reach Matt Musico at matt.musico@xlmedia.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @mmusico8.

Matt Musico is an editor for ESNY. He’s been writing about baseball and the Mets for the past decade. His work has been featured on numberFire, MetsMerized Online, Bleacher Report, and Yahoo! Sports.