Written one the eve of the 2023 season, here after the trade deadline is the tenth annual installment in this series tracking the Mets’ changing fortunes from year to year. A lot has changed since March!
The story so far…
After the Mets’ last period of contention ended with an ugly season in 2017, the Mets organization entered a period of revolving-door leadership. In 2018, manager Mickey Callaway came in to turn things around. In 2019, GM Brodie Van Wagenen came in to turn things around. In 2020, manager Luis Rojas came in to turn things around. In 2021, Steve Cohen bought the team and brought in a new front office to turn things around. Some of these moves worked better than others, but none of them got the Mets to the postseason.
2021 was a particularly discouraging season, thanks to declines from all of the team’s core players, injuries that shelved the team’s biggest star (Jacob deGrom), and finally a late-season collapse.
Mets fans entered 2022 desperate to see if Steve Cohen’s money and a few key new faces could finally right the ship. Those new faces included manager Buck Showalter, hitting coach Eric Chavez, and a bevy of high-priced free agent players signed by new GM Billy Eppler.
The Mets also looked forward to an enormous opportunity in the mid-season amateur draft, with many early-round picks.
As the season began (a week late, after a labor dispute lockout that lasted into March), it was a strange feeling to root for a Mets team led by an Indian (Lindor), a National (Scherzer), a Pirate (Marte), and other players who had made their names for other organizations. However, enthusiasm quickly built, as the Mets’ hitters finally showed some discipline and clutch ability, grinding out quality at bats up and down the lineup, including some key RBI singles to win games. This was exactly what fans had been missing over the previous two seasons, when the Mets had hit well overall, but had routinely failed when it mattered most.
For much of the year, the Mets were clicking on all cylinders:
- Though fairly low in the power department by 2022 standards, the Mets were leading the National League in runs, while posting the league’s lowest strikeout rate, well into the summer.
- The bullpen was better than expected, with career years out of the team’s primary setup man and closer, and clutch performances throughout. Nearly everyone got opportunities in big spots, and they delivered more often than not — this allowed the Mets to avoid leaning too heavily on one or two guys, and their relievers posted the fewest back-to-back appearances in the game.
- The starting pitching was overall very healthy and consistent.
- Buck Showalter impressed on all fronts – his demeanor, preparation, and pitching moves all seemed top-notch. I was particularly happy to see him frequently deploy his best reliever in the 8th inning if the game was on the line or the opponents’ best hitters were up, instead of always waiting for the 9th.
- The team ended play on August 27 with an 82-46 record, on track to challenge the 1986 squad for the title of winningest Mets team ever.
Unfortunately, things went south in September. With the red-hot Braves chasing them down (from a full 10 games behind in June), the Mets stumbled against the lowly Nationals and Cubs in early September, and came into the season’s penultimate series against the Braves with only a one-game lead. The Mets just needed to win one game to nail down the season tiebreaker for the division (as opposed to the wild card, if the teams finished the season tied). Instead, they were swept by a Braves team that out-slugged them in every game, despite the Mets throwing their three best starting pitchers and taking early leads. The Braves went on to win the NL East by virtue of the tiebreaker.
The 2022 Mets wound up winning 101 games, the second most in franchise history, but the primary fan sentiment was anxiety as the team limped into the playoffs.
In the three-game Wild Card series against the Padres, the Mets again sent their best pitchers to the mound, but Max Scherzer lost command of his fastball and gave up seven runs to blow Game 1, while Chris Bassitt couldn’t get through four innings amid control issues in Game 3. The Mets were eliminated in that game, tallying only one hit as the offense completely collapsed.
The crowds at Citi Field were not what one would have hoped for late in the year. After 2021’s late fade, fans came into September 2022 hoping for proof that this year’s apparent juggernaut was different. When they didn’t get that proof, the mood soured quickly. Apparently we Mets fans have been demoralized too many times, and we will need more success, especially in the clutch, to revive our faith.
Stock Up, Stock Down
A 101-win 2022 season, a disappointing 2022 finish, and a record offseason spending spree – what does it all add up to for 2023? Should the Mets be more bullish on their team than they were at this time last year, or less?
Omar Narváez – stock: up
James McCann hit so poorly in 2022 that Nido’s bunting ability alone often made Tomas the better offensive option. Replacing McCann this year is Narváez, who brings a similar track record to the one McCann brought to the Mets: consistently good defense, one standout year on offense, and not much else. McCann was probably my favorite game-caller since the Mike Piazza era ended, but I won’t miss his non-competitive at bats.
Tomas Nido – stock: down
After some heroics at the plate in 2021, Nido’s offense in 2022 was defined mostly by his ability to bunt. Tomas contributed just enough singles and successful sacrifice bunts to not be an albatross at the bottom of a loaded lineup, but a .239/.276/.324 line is not good. He returns in 2023 as the presumed backup catcher, though the split with Narvaez might wind up closer to 50/50. Nido’s above-average defense continues to be an asset.
Waiting in the wings is Francisco Alvarez, who made his big league debut late in 2022, with the Mets desperate for offense in a season-deciding series against the Braves. Unsurprisingly, Alvarez was anxious, showing poor pitch selection, over-swinging and making a number of key outs. He did show a very quick bat, though, as well as the ability to hit the ball a mile. Showalter said he’d be fine with Alvarez spending 2023 in AAA, but it would surprise no one if Francisco is back in the big leagues as soon as his defense is deemed ready.
Pete Alonso – stock: up
Pete set the Mets’ all time single season RBI record in 2022, with an impressive 131. He contributed lots of home runs with men on base, and a significant number of clutch opposite field singles as well. 2019 may have been Pete’s most impressive season, but in 2022 he showed the best consistency, versatility, and clutch ability we’ve seen from him so far.
Jeff McNeil – stock: way up
In 2022, McNeil finally looked back to his 2018 self, using a quick stroke to spray line drives all over the field. In mid-July, his batting average sat at .315y. A 10-day slump brought him down below .290, but he then hit .378 over the season’s final 62 games to finish at .326, becoming the first Met to lead MLB in hitting. He struck out zero times in his final 50 plate appearances, a feat I wasn’t sure was possible in today’s game. Jeff was a tough out all season – it seemed like he fought off more tough pitchers’ pitches than the rest of the lineup combined.
Although he has lost some speed on the bases, his defense at second base has stayed above average, thanks to his quick reactions and willingness to dive for anything close. It’s good to know that we’ll have his hustle, contact hitting, and defensive versatility for years to come, now that he’s agreed to a contract extension.
Luis Guillorme – stock: up
Luis started the 2022 season on an offensive tear, but cooled down by mid-season. In the end, he still got on base enough to be a significant asset overall when combined with his excellent defense. Guillorme started at several positions, but primarily at second base when McNeil was manning a corner outfield spot. On those occasions, watching Luis execute double plays with his lightning-quick hands was an absolute treat.
Eduardo Escobar – stock: down
For a long time, Escobar looked like the Mets’ biggest free agent bust in recent memory, taking a .216/.269/.384 line into mid-August. This prompted a Brett Baty call-up, but two weeks later, Baty broke his thumb sliding for a ground ball, and Escobar suddenly became a clutch hitting machine. In September, Eduardo hit .340/.393/.650 with 24 RBI in 26 games, winning NL Player of the Month.
It is hard to know whether 2023 Escobar will be the first half disaster of 2022 (waving at pitches out of the strike zone while playing inconsistent defense), the final month hero, or something in between. He now constitutes a bigger question mark than he did heading into 2022.
Francisco Lindor – stock: up
Lindor may never fully earn the ridiculous contract Cohen gave him, but he did have a very good 2022, ranking second on the team in bWAR to McNeil. Compared to 2021, Lindor’s offense improved in every facet, especially the quality of his at bats in key moments. He showed just as much power but with much better pitch selection, and he never had the awful, prolonged slumps that plagued him in 2021 (though his K rate did continue to climb).
His defense, unfortunately, took a step backwards, as he blew several plays with late or awkward reactions and inaccurate throws. There were no obvious signs of physical decline, so perhaps this was merely a fluke; however, it may also be a result of playing every single day. Lindor missed one game all year, after breaking his finger in a door, which was followed by his worst slump of the season. Perhaps Showalter would be well advised to force the occasional day off on his proud stars (in addition to Lindor missing only 1 game, Alonso missed only 2).
Mark Canha – stock: unchanged
It didn’t seem like the Mets were entirely sure what they wanted to do with Canha in 2022. His contract seemed commensurate with an everyday job, but his production with the A’s did not make that a slam dunk on an aspiring contender –- a slow corner outfielder whose bat is more good than great doesn’t seem like a championship caliber piece. At times during the season, it appeared that the Mets wanted to use Mark as much against lefties as they could, giving many of the LF/DH at bats to other players against righties. Unfortunately, Canha hit better against righties than lefties, forcing the team to abandon this strategy.
As the season progressed, Showalter showed a willingness to sit Canha to try to work in more dynamic offensive players, especially when the Mets’ offense was not at their best. I rarely agreed with this, as Canha, despite his flaws, sustained a high on base percentage throughout the year, hovering around .370 (he was hit by 28 pitches, easily a Mets single season record). Every juggernaut offense seems to get a few of those under-the-rader, high-OBP seasons — they are the fuel that makes the RBI guys go.
Tim Locastro – stock: unchanged
Down the stretch in 2022, the Mets brought up Terrance Gore from the minor leagues to pinch run and steal bases. Gore did that as well as possible, running early in the count, and being successful. This year, the Mets have acquired a player with more offensive and defensive versatility in Tim Locastro, but it would be reasonable to expect that Tim’s primary duty will be as a pinch runner. Locastro may be faster than Gore, but Tim has not demonstrated as conclusively that he can do the job Gore did so well last September. Is rostering Locastro all season a better move than promoting a pure specialist from the minors when needed? MLB no longer has a 40 man roster in September, but 28 is still enough to accommodate that sort of thing.
Brandon Nimmo – stock: up
Nimmo did not have his most effective year at the plate, but he had by far his healthiest one. His walks declined as his chases increased, and he didn’t quite match his career slugging numbers, but he was still above average in both departments, and he played more games than ever before in his 7-year career.
Nimmo also had his best defensive season to date, with his overall consistency punctuated by a few memorable highlight catches, including a home run-robbing leap on a full sprint to back deGrom. Clearly Eppler believes that Nimmo can sustain his health in his thirties, as he gave Brandon an 8-year contract for over 20 million per season. Nimmo is now the most senior Met, and as a homegrown player who performs well and is good with the media, it could be argued that he is as much the face of the franchise as high-priced stars like Lindor and Scherzer.
Starling Marte – stock: down
Marte came over to the Mets with declining defensive metrics, having fallen way off since his prime years. He also led the major leagues in stolen bases in 2021, while posting a career-high batting average. With the Mets in 2022, Marte showed a bit different skill set: he did not run a ton, but his arm and glove played very well in his new home in right field (good call by the Mets to move him from center).
Marte never has walked very much and presumably never will, but he hit as many line drives as anyone on the team, was among the Mets’ most clutch bats, and was the team’s best at squaring up an inside fastball. When Marte missed the end of the season, it left a noticeable hole in the Mets’ lineup, especially when facing elite velocity.
With the new pickoff rules and bigger bases in 2023, fans may be wondering if Marte can add the stolen base back to his repertoire. Perhaps more important is how well he can stay on the field, as he enters his age 34 season with a variety of leg and core issues. Also, much like Mark Canha, Marte is an HBP magnet, which constitutes an additional health risk.
The most disappointing aspect of the 2022 Mets lineup was definitely the DH spot. Both Dominic Smith and J.D. Davis had showed massive offensive upside in the past, but they both took big steps backward in 2022, giving the Mets essentially nothing.
Davis was eventually traded, in one of the most shockingly stupid, obviously bad deals in recent memory. Eppler swapped J.D. for an even more limited player in 35-year-old platoon DH Darin Ruf, and somehow threw in two young pitchers with significant upside (Nick Zwack and Carson Seymour) as well as Thomas Szapucki, who had just dramatically improved his strikeout rate in AAA. None of these players projected as cornerstones for the Mets, but they constitute a better package than the one the Braves gave the Angels for their closer, Raisel Iglesias. This was an embarrassing overpay by Eppler, who should clearly have said no when the Giants asked for more than J.D. alone. Since Eppler hasn’t yet done anything of note with the Mets other than use Cohen’s money to outbid the field in free agency, many fans are wondering if Billy will turn out to be an asset or a liability.
Unsurprisingly, J.D. Davis performed well in an everyday role for the Giants down the stretch and now looks set to be a regular in 2023, his age 29 season, while Darin Ruf (who cost the Mets plenty by hitting .152/.216/.197 until they benched him) is a hair away from being out of baseball.
Mets fans must also bid a fond farewell to the other half of the Cookie Club, Dominic Smith, who looked lost in 2022, constantly offering at pitches above and below the strike zone.
Daniel Vogelbach – stock: unchanged
Fortunately, the Mets’ deal for the long side of their new DH platoon was much more reasonable, sending Colin Holderman, a relief pitcher with 5 years of team control but an inconsistent history, to the Pirates for a few months of Daniel Vogelbach. Vogie has long been one of the least aggressive hitters in baseball, seeming content to wait for the exact pitch he wants, and not offer otherwise. He is a good high-ball hitter, and can hit some absolute rockets, but his home run numbers in 2022 were nothing special. His primary contribution to the Mets was drawing a lot of walks, but that’s a bit less valuable for one of the worst base-cloggers in MLB. Vogelbach is even slower than you would think for a guy his size — we’re talking Bartolo Colon level — and he often failed to advance successfully on plays where nearly anyone else would have. I imagine fans will have few complaints on that score if his power stroke returns.
Tommy Pham – stock: down
Tommy Pham has had an up and down career recently, and it is unclear why the Mets chose him as their righty DH/corner outfield option. Pham has been patient in some years and not in others; he has shown power in some years and not in others; and his defense hasn’t been average or better in quite a while. He may also have a problematic personality: he slapped Joc Pederson over fantasy football, missed time after being stabbed in a parking lot altercation, and has never shown even a hint of a smile in any interview I’ve seen. Best case scenario: Pham is exactly the type of tough, no nonsense, intense personality that the Mets have often needed in the past.
Justin Verlander – stock: unchanged
Arguably the most accomplished pitcher in baseball comes over to the Mets after winning a Cy Young Award with a historic 1.75 ERA in 2022. Verlander’s results last season were jaw-dropping, but it’s worth wondering whether chopping two thirds off his home run rate may have been a fluke. Aside from limiting homers at an unprecedented rate, all of Verlander’s stats were down from his pre-Tommy John days, including huge drops in fastball velocity and strikeout rate. At age 40, expecting more 2022-quality results out of Verlander does not seem realistic. That said, he can decline plenty from that pinnacle and still qualify as an ace. Mets fans should be looking forward to watching one of the best pitchers of this generation.
Alas, one of Verlander’s primary assets throughout his career has been health and durability, and he starts 2023 on the injured list with a minor strain of an armpit muscle. The Mets have to be crossing their fingers really hard in hopes that this is a one-time blip for this aging star.
Verlander has some big shoes to fill in 2023, as he replaces the Mets’ most beloved player since David Wright retired: Jacob deGrom is gone, signing a 5-year, $185 million dollar deal with the Rangers. To say that Mets fans will miss Jake is a massive understatement. At his best, deGrom was as good as any starting pitcher has ever been, and he was one of the most quietly intense competitors you’ll ever see on a baseball diamond. His final year with the Mets was a frustrating one: he returned from 2021 elbow troubles to look great in spring 2022, but then cracked his scapula prior to opening day. When he eventually returned in August, he was completely unhittable in short outings, rarely giving up a run before the 6th inning. His performance did go downhill as the year continued, however, and he never got to the point of looking strong after 80 or 90 pitches. For Jake’s sake, I hope his arm holds up, but no matter how much I wanted the Mets to bring him back, I cannot blame Eppler for not topping the Rangers’ offer. At least deGrom’s final Mets start was a victory in the playoffs.
Max Scherzer – stock: unchanged
Wow is Max Scherzer a joy to watch! Of all the Mets’ recent additions of established stars, Scherzer did the most to make us see him as a Met quickly, with his ferocious dedication to winning every time he took the mound (and his clear passion for baseball every other day to boot). Scherzer now relies more on his secondary pitches than his fastball, but his unusual motion seems to be throwing hitters off as much as ever, and his command of his breaking balls has never looked better. As long as Max can avoid throwing hangers, which tend to get hit for home runs, he has lost zero effectiveness from his prime. His durability has definitely declined from his 220-inning days, but his 2.29 ERA in 2022 was a career best!
The most concerning parts of Scherzer’s 2022 were a lingering oblique injury in May, and suddenly losing his fastball movement in the playoffs. I expect he’ll be just as good in 2023 as he was in 2022, but at age 38 that can’t be seen as anything close to a sure thing.
Kodai Senga – stock: down
Chris Bassitt had some extreme inconsistency in his time with the Mets, but his overall numbers were quite good, and he played a huge role in contributing to a rotation that gave the Mets quality starting pitching day in and day out. Replacing him is a high-upside question mark from Japan, who scouts are conflicted on. Apparently Senga’s forkball is a pretty unhittable pitch, but his other stuff is reported to be mediocre, and scouts say his high-velocity fastball plays down due to poor command. I would have loved to acquire Senga as a multi-inning, high leverage reliever, but the Mets gave him a 5-year contract to be a starter. It will be fun watching him strike out opponents with his “Ghost Fork”, but the odds have to be against him contributing more overall than a proven commodity like Bassitt (who signed with the Blue Jays for 3 years and $63m).
Carlos Carrasco – stock: unchanged
After an utterly awful 2021 and an offseason elbow “clean-up”, Carrasco returned to form to begin 2022, throwing sliders, curveballs, and a new split change up with accuracy to both sides of the plate. His fastball remained one of the least effective fastballs in baseball, but he didn’t overuse it. He tied Bassitt for the team lead with 15 wins, had several highly efficient outings where he pitched deep into the game while shutting down the opponent, and spent most of the season as an anchor in the Mets’ rotation.
Unfortunately, Carlos fell apart so badly down the stretch that he was not even in consideration for a start when the Mets got to the playoffs, and he was not a lock to even be on the roster. This year, reports have surfaced of a recurrence of the elbow issues that derailed his 2021. If his 2021 performance is what we can expect from Carrasco with bone chips in his elbow, then he should get those chips removed now and hope to return before season’s end, because the 2021 Carrasco was well below replacement level. All eyes will be on whether he can finish his slider and curveball, and throw them often enough to stay away from his hittable fastball. Perhaps Carrasco could benefit from a change to his fastball grip to get more movement, but I have heard no reports of him attempting that.
David Peterson – stock: up (personally); down (compared to Walker)
A spring training injury to José Quintana opened a rotation spot for Peterson, who won it thanks to a near-flawless spring. Hopefully his dominant March is a continuation of the maturation David showed in 2022. His walk rate was still high, but he was much less prone to blow-up innings, and to mistakes in general, than in his poor 2021. His slider across the knees to righties, a la Clayton Kershaw, is a legitimate big league weapon if he can maintain consistency with its break and location. In 2022, some days were better than others in that regard.
I loved the José Quintana signing, as he was absolutely brilliant during the stretch drive with the Cardinals in 2022, and has generally had a very good career. Disappointingly, an out-of-nowhere rib injury in spring training has put his 2023 in doubt.
Gone to the rival Phillies is Taijuan Walker, yet another member of the 2022 rotation who was, though not spectacular, extremely valuable for his overall reliability.
Tylor Megill – stock: down
Peterson beat out Megill to take Quintana’s roster spot, but with Verlander coming up lame on the eve of the season, Tylor now makes the roster as well. Megill blew us away with his surprise debut in 2021, before injuries and fatigue eventually derailed him. In the beginning of 2022, he looked more dominant than ever, but once again physical issues cut short his apparent trajectory to stardom. After 6 strong outings to begin the year, Megill made only 3 more starts in 2022, allowing a combined 17 hits and 14 runs over 8 innings. He came back in mid-September to try to help the team as a reliever, but he looked nothing like his old self, and that has continued in spring training this year. Perhaps he will find it easier to stay healthy throwing at 93 mph as opposed to 99, but it’s not clear if he will be able to succeed with reduced stuff.
Joey Lucchesi – stock: down
Joey should complete his rehab from Tommy John surgery sometime this year, but until he proves himself, he has to be seen as a step down from versatile swingman Trevor Williams, who excelled for the Mets in both the rotation and bullpen. Hopefully Lucchesi hasn’t lost the feel for his signature churve!
Edwin Diaz – stock: up (performance) and then down (injury)
Through the end of May, Edwin Diaz looked like a serviceable closer who would impress with his stuff and strikeouts, but overall produce merely good, not great, results. Then, beginning in June, he went on one of the most ridiculous rolls in recent memory, going 21-0 in save chances while adding in four holds and one win, holding opponents to a ridiculous .130/.187/.152 line with 0 HRs over his final 40 appearances.
He did it by throwing his slider 58% of the time, a pitch FanGraphs ranked #2 among relievers (and #10 among all pitchers!) in total Runs prevented. His final 2022 numbers: 32-3 in Saves, .160/.230/.216 allowed, 17.1 K/9. That strikeout rate is the second highest ever for a pitcher with over 50 innings, and the highest ever for a pitcher with over 60.
Eppler seemed to think this would continue: after the season, he handed Diaz a record contract (in both years and dollars for a reliever) to return. Unfortunately, Diaz then tore his patellar tendon celebrating a win for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic and is now expected to miss the 2023 season.
David Robertson – stock: way down (compared to Diaz)
Robertson comes to the Mets with an impressive resume, but with his best years apparently well behind him. He still has a good curveball and a useful cutter, but his reliance on the curve means the occasional hanger gets crushed. Robertson is one of the more reliable bets in MLB to be at least okay, but asking him to be the team’s primary closer may be unrealistic.
Adam Ottavino – stock: up
2022 was perhaps Ottavino’s best year (at age 36!), with his running fastball nicely complementing his sweeping slider to torment both lefties and righties (though still especially righties!). It will be key for Adam to continue limiting base runners, as a walk is basically a double, due to his methodical delivery and complete inability to hold runners.
Ottavino reprises the role he eventually filled in 2022, serving as the team’s primary setup man and righty specialist. It may be unrealistic to expect a repeat of 2022, but the Mets have reason to be higher on Adam than they were when they first signed him.
Brooks Raley – stock: up
In 2022 the Mets acquired Joely Rodriguez in what looked to be a bit of a desperation move to add literally any lefty to their bullpen. In 2023, the Mets instead bring in Raley, a lefty with a recent history of success.
Drew Smith – stock: unchanged
Smith had his best big league season yet at age 28, pitching a career high 46 innings with a K rate over 10 and a walk rate under 3. At the same time, he allowed nearly 2 home runs per 9 innings and posted a FIP well worse than league average, leaving him better suited as bullpen depth than as a high-leverage guy.
Bullpen depth – stock: down
Gone is Seth Lugo, who had been with the Mets longer than anyone but deGrom and Nimmo. The Padres offered him the starting pitcher job he’d always wanted, and he took it. Lugo was no longer elite in 2022, but he was still an above-average pitcher with a reliable track record. Fans can fondly recall his clutch performances down the stretch in 2016, his dominance late in 2019, and his success in helping lead Puerto Rico to the 2017 WBC finals.
Also gone is Trevor May, who entered 2022 with a strong recent track record but ultimately contributed nothing due to injuries and ineffectiveness.
The Mets instead start 2023 with a bullpen that includes injury-prone veteran Tommy Hunter, spring training star John Curtiss, and two out-of-options guys in rookie Stephen Nogosek and retread Dennis Santana. This does not look promising. If not for injuries to Bryce Montes de Oca (Tommy John surgery), Stephen Ridings, and Sam Coonrod, it might look better… or it might not.
Minor league back-ups include oft-injured Jimmy Yacabonis, trade acquisition Jeff Brigham (for Jake Mangum), free agent Denyi Reyes, and organizational arms Josh Walker, Zach Muckenhirn, and Grant Hartwig.
Minor leaguers of note
2022 was a very successful year for the Mets’ top minor league hitters. Mark Vientos and Francisco Alvarez both earned big league cups of coffee with strong performances in the upper minors, and Brett Baty might have locked down the big league third base job if not for an injury that ended his season in late August. Ronny Mauricio did not have a good 2022 minor league season, but he won the Dominican League MVP in the winter and impressed everyone this spring.
Baty projects as a well-rounded hitter and slightly below average defender at third base, while Vientos and Alvarez both project as mashers if they can make enough contact. Also key is whether Alvarez’s defense improves enough that he won’t hurt the team at catcher, and whether Vientos can handle any position other than first base.
Beyond these big four, the Mets’ minors were apparently barren before the draft brought in Kevin Parada, Jett Williams, and Blade Tidwell. Scouts seemed to like these picks, though the Mets’ chance for a truly epic haul hit a snag when no one signed Michael Conforto (who had declined the Mets’ qualifying offer).
If the major league team needs a spot start or two, low-upside control pitcher José Butto seems the most ready. Sadly, once-touted prospect Matthew Allan has suffered another elbow injury and seems unlikely to make it at this point.
Summing it up
Changes since a year ago
Stock way down: closer (Robertson vs. Diaz)
Stock down: Marte, Escobar, Nido, Pham (vs. J.D. Davis), much of the starting pitching rotation and depth (departure of Bassitt/Walker/Williams, decline of Megill), bullpen depth
Stock unchanged: Canha, Guillorme, Vogelbach (vs. Smith), Carrasco, Scherzer, Verlander (vs. deGrom)
Stock up: Nimmo, Lindor, Alonso, Ottavino, Raley (over Joely R.) and Narvaez (over McCann), as well as the organization’s top minor league bats
Stock way up: MLB batting champion Jeff McNeil
It’s been up-and-down for the Mets at most positions. Many hitters were good in 2020 and 2022, and bad or hurt in 2021 (Lindor and Nimmo, for example). The steadiest bat from season to season has been Pete Alonso, and the most erratic has been Jeff McNeil.
The only Mets player on a consistent upward trajectory across multiple seasons has been top prospect Francisco Alvarez.
What it all means
Are the Mets facing some sort of identity crisis heading into 2023? Long looking up at their reviled big brother Yankees, who simply spent their way to victory via high-priced free agents, the Mets are now going the same route. The team’s 2023 payroll is the highest in MLB history, and after you factor in the luxury tax, it’s not even close. All this despite the failed Carlos Correa contract (Cohen agreed to give him $250m before Correa failed a physical).
Reporters asked Brandon Nimmo about this dynamic after he signed his enormous new contract, and Brandon replied that he was ready to embrace a front-runner role and the opposing fans’ hate that comes with it. These are not the Mets that I’m familiar with!
Steve Cohen says he is aiming for a Dodgers model, using free agent spending to bridge the gap while the minors build a sustainable talent pipeline. He has earned the ire of other owners by spending whatever it takes to build the best team he can for the next few years while the minors get up to speed.
The major league team is very old with no young pitching ready to help, so staving off injury will be key. The offense lacks power, struggles against good pitching, and looked tired down the stretch last year. Was 2022 some players’ last gasp, or not? It’s also worth wondering why Eric Chavez, the hitting coach through 2022’s epic offensive turnaround from a woeful 2021, is now the team’s bench coach. Chavez came into 2022 intent on simplifying things for Mets hitters after the over-thinking epidemic of 2021, and indeed, the 2022 team looked much more confident at the plate. 2022 assistant hitting coach Jeremy Barnes, who lacks Chavez’s MLB pedigree, will take the reins in 2023.
A team that won 101 games last year and returns a fairly similar squad for 2023 has got to have fans optimistic about another playoff appearance, especially with three NL Wild Cards available. At this point, however, it really seems like the Mets will need to win some big games to make fans happy. Another early exit in the playoffs would be a tough pill to swallow. To that end, winning the division would be huge, but unfortunately the Braves added two more cheap superstars in 2022 (Michael Harris & Spencer Strider came out of nowhere to finish 1-2 in the Rokie of the Year vote), and look poised to dominate the NL East for five years or more.
Speaking of the future, the Mets brought in a new player development team after the 2022 season, headlined by Jeff Albert (hitting director) and Eric Jagers (pitching director). Jagers is a particularly interesting hire — he’s a 28-year-old former performance coach at Driveline, an academy that specializes in cutting-edge training techniques. Hopefully he can change things up a bit, as the Mets organization hasn’t developed any difference-making arms since Noah Syndergaard came up in 2015. The Mets’ minor leagues also need an overhaul when it comes to producing depth: their last 10 drafts have produced the fewest big-leaguers in the game. (That said, those same draftees are near the top in total WAR, thanks largely to Conforto, Nimmo, McNeil and Alonso.)
Was 2022 the start of a long run of Mets dominance, or was it merely the high point for an old team in a tough division? I would say that 2023 is a pivotal year for the franchise… but that doesn’t seem very meaningful, since that’s been every year lately. Let’s just say that if there ever was a good time to top a 101-win season, this is it.