Tag: mets

Are the Mets better off than they were entering 2022?

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!

Links to previous editions: 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019 | 2020 | 2021 | 2022

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.

2022 developments

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?

Catcher

Omar Narváezstock: 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 Nidostock: 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.

First Base

Pete Alonsostock: 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.

Second Base

Jeff McNeilstock: 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 Guillormestock: 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.

Third Base

Eduardo Escobarstock: 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.

Shortstop

Francisco Lindorstock: 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).

Left Field

Mark Canhastock: 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 Locastrostock: 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.

Center Field

Brandon Nimmostock: 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.

Right Field

Starling Martestock: 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.

Designated Hitter

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 Vogelbachstock: 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 Phamstock: 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.

Starting Pitcher

Justin Verlanderstock: 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 Scherzerstock: 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 Sengastock: 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 Carrascostock: 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 Petersonstock: 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 Megillstock: 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 Lucchesistock: 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!

Bullpen

Edwin Diazstock: 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 Robertsonstock: 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 Ottavinostock: 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 Raleystock: 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 Smithstock: 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 depthstock: 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

Multi-Year Trends

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.

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Mets half-season grades

Through the Mets’ first 21 series of the year (69 games), they looked like a champion. Every time someone got hurt, someone else stepped up. Every time a big hit was needed, a different hero came through. The team never lost more than 2 games in a row, and won 16 of those 21 series, losing only 3 and tying the other 2.

The Mets went 45-24 (a 106-win pace) with an offense that was arguably the best in MLB:
.262 batting average, .289 with runners in scoring position. .739 OPS, 5.1 runs per game.

Unfortunately the last 12 games have not been so kind. The offense has suddenly disappeared, especially in the clutch. As skids go, 5-7 really isn’t bad, but since the Braves have gone 25-7 over the last 5 weeks, the Mets’ division lead is nearly gone. Plus, this really doesn’t look good for the Mets:
.217 batting average, .146 with runners in scoring position. .628 OPS, 3.0 runs per game.

Let’s take a look at who’s done what to get us to this point.

Position Players

Pete Alonso – A
Pete’s strike zone judgment and pitch selection is the best it’s ever been, and he’s become more versatile as a hitter, taking the opposite-field single when the opponent is giving it to him. He’s not lining HRs on pitches away like in 2019, but he’s demolishing mistakes with enough regularity to challenge for the HR crown. His defensive effort remains top notch, though some poor decisions and awkward moments have cost the Mets some outs.

Starling Marte – A-
At age 33, Marte still looks like himself. Not many walks, but more than enough line drives to make up for it, and his glove plays very well in RF (as does his arm).

Jeff McNeil – A-
McNeil is largely back tot he player he was in 2018, hitting over .300, generally being a tough out with few Ks, and delivering plenty of singles in the clutch. The main strikes against McNeil are a few slumps, a hamstring injury, and a decrease in speed which has reduced his value in the field and on the bases, where he’s now more average than above-average.

Brandon Nimmo – B
Nimmo has parlayed a more aggressive approach into some big hits, but his walk rate is barely 2/3 of his career norm. Overall his bat has still been a plus, and his CF defense is the most consistent it’s ever been.

Francisco Lindor – B-
Forgetting Lindor’s contract, he’s been a significant asset, as an above-average hitter who plays shortstop. He’s also been an excellent clutch hitter for most of the year (except when mired in a slump). The main downsides have been an increased K rate (higher than last year’s previous career high) and a lot of mistakes in the field (where he currently rates as well below average at the shortstop position).

Luis Guillorme – B-
Luis would have warranted an A a month ago, but his bat has cooled in July. Before that, the patient, high-contact approach that got him through the minors was finally working in MLB, with an OBP near .450 in June. Now that that’s down to .360, his complete lack of power is more glaring, but he continues to wow at 2B (and occasionally 3B or SS) with his glove.

Mark Canha – B-
Long ABs and an excellent OBP (until a recent slump) has made Canha an important part of the lineup. Unfortunately he’s shown minimal pop and is limited in the OF by his subpar speed and arm.

Eduardo Escobar – C-
A hot last week has validated him keeping his job, at least for now. He’s been roughly replacement level, with an OBP below .300 and plenty of errors in the field. Bonus points for having a great attitude and being beloved by his teammates.

Tomas Nido – C-
A few clutch hits prevent this from being worse. Even for a defense-first catcher, a sub-.500 OPS is a problem.

James McCann – D
Mostly injured, but has been an automatic out when he plays (.181 avg). At least he continues to call a good game.

J.D. Davis – D
A DH who strikes out in a third of his ABs and hits only 2 HRs is problem, no matter how elite his exit velocities (at one point #1 in baseball).

Dominic Smith – F
Same as Davis but with 0 HRs and without the special exit velo. Good defense at 1B isn’t enough. I suspect his shoulder is still an issue and he won’t be a major league hitter until it heals. A sub-.600 OPS just isn’t him.

Starting Pitchers

Max Scherzer – A
I guess we could ding Max for throwing too many pitches with a tight side instead of coming out before pulling an oblique? Not sure we hold anyone else to that standard, so I’ll just grade him on his pitching, which was at the Hall of Fame level we expect. He’s not throwing his fastball by people as often as in the past, but his pitch sequences are better than ever, and his secondary stuff has lost none of its sharpness.

Taijuan Walker – B
Just like last year, Walker has had a minuscule HR rate to start the season. It’s not clear why he’s getting so many grounders or why so few of his flies are leaving the yard; unfortunately I suspect it’s not sustainable, and his tiny K rate will prove to be a problem. So far so good, though (2.86 ERA)! His spiffy new splitter appears to be a solid out pitch.

David Peterson – B
Peterson’s fastball has been unreliable, but he’s shown improved consistency with a slider that he uses the way Kershaw does, sweeping it across the knees to finish down and in on righties, who can’t lay off it. He’s also thrown a few key change-ups on the outside corner. He’s outperformed his BB and HR rates, so far avoiding the game-breaking HRs that plagued him last year. As an injury fill-in he’s been a godsend, but he looks miscast as more than a #5.

Chris Bassitt – C
A good number of Ks and BBs; a 6-5 record and league average ERA; tons of HRs. It’s been a weird mixed bag for Bassitt, whose stuff has often looked fantastic, but his location has generally been poor, and his command has left him at key times. When he falls behind in counts, he doesn’t seem to have a great Plan B, often coming in with hittable fastballs. His explanation for a series of poor starts was failing to get on the same page with his catchers, but he needs to improve some other things too.

Carlos Carrasco – C
On his good days, Carrasco has parlayed pinpoint command of a sharp slider and splitter into lots of quick outs. On his bad days, those pitches aren’t quite on the corners, leading to some walks and too much use of his fastball, which has been one of the most hittable in MLB. His ugly ERA reflects some blow-up starts where he torpedoed the team early; in his other starts, he’s been quite good. Unfortunately, the trend is going in the wrong direction. As he looks more and more like his pre-elbow cleanup self from last year, the team may need to rest him for a bit or come up with another plan.

Tylor Megill – C
Megill was utterly dominant, then hurt his arm, then was working his way back, then hurt his arm in a different way. Most of the damage done against him was as the injuries were forming. Hopefully he can get better at noticing when something’s wrong and speaking up before it’s too late. When he’s on, he looks like a potential ace. The size, the stuff, and the fragility are making me (optimistically) think of Josh Johnson.

Relief Pitchers

Edwin Diaz – B
Diaz continues to strike out an absolutely ridiculous number of batters, but he also continues to make enough big mistake pitches to be far from a sure thing. 18-3 in save chances may not be stellar, but it’s good enough, and watching him completely blow hitters away on his good days is a lot of fun.

Seth Lugo – C
Lugo has given up a lot of big hits due largely to poor fastball command. If he can begin hitting the glove and become more reliable, it’d be a huge lift for the Mets bullpen; but at this point we’ve been waiting a few seasons for that, so it may be time to accept him as a merely average reliever.

Drew Smith – C
Smith has looked like a revelation on some days, but he’s allowed a ton of walks and homers, as well as a few game-changing rallies. It’s nice to see him throwing hard and posting a solid number of Ks, but he’s far from a sure thing just yet.

Adam Ottavino & Joely Rodriguez – C
The Mets’ specialists have been erratic, being very effective against same-handed batters on the days when they are locating, and useless otherwise.

Manager

Buck Showalter – A
I love how he occasionally uses his closer against the other team’s best guys even if that isn’t in the 9th inning. I love how the Mets have started rallies by doing little things he’s brought up (sliding between bases to slow down tag plays, advancing on appeal play, etc.). The team has hustled. I’m not thinking of any awful decisions that arguably cost the Mets games, which is pretty astonishing.

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Are the Mets better off than they were entering 2021?

Written one the eve of the 2022 season but not published due to technical issues, here at last is the annual installment in this series tracking the Mets’ changing fortunes from year to year. Half-season grades will follow shortly in a separate article.

Links to previous editions: 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019 | 2020 | 2021

The story so far…

In 2021, as in many recent seasons, the Mets began with plenty of causes for optimism. Unfortunately, the organization suffered its biggest setback since the so-called Five Aces rotation fell apart in 2016 and 2017.

Optimism had been building since 2019 with the emergence of a core of homegrown studs, something every dynasty seems to start with, and something virtually every perennial playoff contender features. In 2021, the Mets’ new additions seemed primed to take the home-grown core of Conforto, McNeil, Smith, Alonso and Davis to the next level.

Instead, almost to a man, that homegrown core utterly collapsed.

Why was the optimism so high? Well, for starters, the previous year’s lineup could rake. They just couldn’t do it in the clutch. The 2020 team OPS+ stat was historically great, but the Mets couldn’t drive in runs, especially not with the game on the line. Heading into 2021, some hoped that random statistical regression and/or a mental reset would turn all those line drives into elite run production.

2021 developments

Unfortunately, the 2021 Mets came out of the gate with more of the same. As the team’s core hitters wallowed in unproductive funk, urgency built for some sort of change. On May 4, popular hitting coach Chili Davis was fired and replaced by minor league coach Hugh Quattlebaum. From there the offense only looked more and more hopeless, as it seemed that no one in the lineup could hit a fastball or a hanging breaking ball. Long after the season ended, reports surfaced of hitters suffering analysis paralysis from information overload.

For the first several months of 2021, however, offensive futility did not seem to be the story of the Mets’ season. The Mets’ backups and role players came through with just enough clutch hits to support the team’s elite pitching and defense in surging to the top of the National League East. With all of their rivals sputtering to start the season, the Mets took over first place in early May and held on to the top spot through early August. Mets pitching began the year with an epic feat of homerun suppression, especially at home. While home run rates were slightly down across the sport, the Mets seemingly weren’t giving up any long balls, and their new commitment to shifts and probability-based defensive positioning turned lots of hard-hit balls into outs.

For a team to be in first place at the All-Star break, while expecting several returns to form from injury and underperformance, seems like an enviable position. That is how most fans and pundits viewed the Mets: get a few guys going, get a few guys healthy, and the lead they’ve built will hold up, if not increase.

Instead the offense did not improve, and the starting rotation completely fell off a cliff. DeGrom got hurt, and everyone else started serving up the home runs they had denied in the first half. The bench players were still fine, and the bullpen was still fine, but with a floundering lineup and rotation, the Mets were doomed. Their final 60 games were ugly as the Braves left them in the dust, all amidst embarrassing player antics and a few bad moves from manager Luis Rojas.

After the season ended, owner Steve Cohen set out to hedge his bets and build a roster that wouldn’t repeat 2021’s dismal disappointments. It wasn’t a smooth process, as the Mets lost out on a few key pieces while searching for a general manager and/or president of baseball operations. (GM Zack Scott was let go after several months of waiting to see how his DWI case would resolve.)

Once GM Billy Eppler was on board, Cohen attempted to fix the roster by opening his checkbook, with Eppler signing many free agents to large, short-term deals. Buck Showalter, regarded by many as a great manager but unemployed since 2018, was brought on to manage.

Stock Up, Stock Down

A promising 2021 start, a disastrous 2021 finish, and a frenzied offseason overhaul – what does it all add up to for 2022? Are the Mets in a better position than they were entering 2021, or should we Mets fans be steeling ourselves for a sixth straight year of disappointment?

FanGraphs’ preseason projections are very similar to last year’s, with the Mets around 93 wins. Oddsmakers are less sanguine, showing 87-90 wins.

Catcher

James McCannstock: down
After an offensive surge for the White Sox, McCann returned to hitting like a backup catcher for the Mets in 2021. He had no chance against pitches low and away, and his pop largely disappeared as well. At least he played excellent defense, including much better game calling than the Mets’ recent primary catchers.

Tomas Nidostock: unchanged
Tomas Nido led the team in Win Probability Added at the All Star break, as his clutch hitting early on led the Mets to some low-scoring victories. After that blaze of glory, Nido regressed to his usual mediocre hitting. His defense remains a positive.

First Base

Pete Alonsostock: unchanged
After a spring training straight out of 2019, Pete showed up for 2021 with the same pull-happy swing he used in 2020. On the positive side, his pitch selection was better overall, and continued to improve as the season went on. He continued to add to his track record of durability, and his counting stats looked pretty good. Even if Pete can’t replicate his 2019 feat of spraying line drives into the seats, the Mets seem to have one of the more reliable home run bats in today’s game.

Second Base

Jeff McNeilstock: way down
McNeil did tinker with lowering his crouch and closing his stance a bit to approach the style that had worked for him in the past, but he was never able to replicate the level swing that made him such a tough out from 2018 to 2019. For whatever reason, McNeil rarely made good contact at the plate, leaving him a huge drain on the lineup. His constant yelling after making outs seemed to annoy some teammates, and he eventually toned it down, but I miss the days of him sprinting through the bag with his hair on fire. Leg injuries have slowed him a bit, and it is unclear what his defensive value is now. There is also some speculation that a dust-up with Francisco Lindor was prompted by McNeil ignoring defensive shifting plans.

Late in the season, Javier Baez came over from the Cubs as a rental (for first-rounder Pete Crow Armstrong) and got hot as the Mets were falling out of the race. He did more than most to excite fans down the stretch, but first he gave the year’s most ill-advised interview, proclaiming that the “thumbs-down” gesture he’d made prominent on the team was a “see how you like it” statement directed at the fans over their booing.

Third Base

Eduardo Escobarstock: up
Escobar is not a star, but he is a proven performer on both sides of the ball, which is a lot more than could be said for J.D. Davis entering 2021. Davis was backed up by Jonathan Villar, who wound up having a pretty solid season, so Escobar will need to top that in order to provide the Mets with improved Third Base production.

Luis Guillorme is the likely back-up, though his great hands and quick actions are more valuable at second or short. His minor league success with the bat, based on plenty of walks and few strikeouts, seemed to finally translate to the Majors in 2021 at age 26.

Shortstop

Francisco Lindorstock: way down
Like many successful athletes coming to New York, Lindor’s intelligent media presence early on eventually devolved into defensiveness as the pressure got to him. Not only did he apparently grab McNeil by the throat during a game, but he also came up with a ridiculous lie about it afterwards (“We saw a raccoon!”), making a farce out of what could have been a “passionate about baseball” moment. Far worse, though, was when Lindor jumped on the “thumbs down” gesture that Javy Baez used to boo the fans in August. Once this gesture was noticed, Sandy Alderson expressed his disgust, and the main culprits quickly went to the media to apologize.

For a player who eagerly assumed the reins of leadership shortly after he arrived, this sort of behavior may have been a factor in the team’s failure to live up to expectations. After the season, many reports cited a lack of leadership as a problem for the 2021 Mets. Although that may primarily reflect manager Luis Rojas’s disinclination to push players harder or govern with a sterner hand, it also cannot reflect well on Lindor.

On the field, Lindor underwhelmed in all aspects, showing an inability to square up the ball left-handed, a weak arm, and inconsistent hustle. His season stats were saved by a hot last 3 weeks after the Mets were essentially out of the race.

To see Trevor Story and Javy Baez each sign deals for $200m less than Lindor’s in the offseason rubs a little salt in the wound.

At the end of the day, however, Lindor is a shortstop with good range, solid contact rates and extra base power, which makes him a valuable player even if he’s not the MVP candidate the Mets envisioned.

Left Field

Mark Canhastock: unchanged
Free agent Mark Canha replaces Dom Smith as the presumed left fielder. No one is predicting Canha to put up the big offensive numbers expected of Smith after his spectacular 2020. On the plus side, Canha is an actual outfielder, rather than a first baseman shoehorned into left field, and there was never any certainty that Dom would slug .600 again.

Center Field

Brandon Nimmostock: down
Nimmo continued to be one of baseball’s best OBP guys, but he also missed another 70 games due to injury, firmly establishing him as brittle. The Mets should expect to rely on their outfield depth this year, which is solid, but the team will definitely miss Brandon when he’s not on the field.

With deeper positioning, Nimmo’s defensive numbers improved dramatically in 2021; as long as he doesn’t have to go back on the ball, his speed helps him chase down his fair share of flies. The Mets may have been lucky that his weak arm wasn’t challenged often.

Right Field

Starling Martestock: unchanged
It’s hard to compare Marte this year, coming off a .310 average and 47 steals, to Conforto last year, coming off a .927 OPS. The Mets lose power and patience, while gaining speed and average. A fantastic defender in his twenties, Marte’s metrics have been unimpressive in center field for several years now, but he still may be well above average when used in right.

One of the longest-tenured Mets, Michael Conforto went out with a whimper, showing no pop and minimal bat speed in 2021. He’s currently looking for his next team. The Mets are hoping for a high draft pick from whomever signs him, but his market has been slowed by an offseason injury.

Designated Hitter

Dominic Smithstock: way down
Dom looked terrible at the plate for almost all of 2021, to the point where many fans wanted him benched in favor of back-ups. Just recently, it was revealed that he messed up his shoulder after altering his swing follow-through due to a hand injury, which is a much more promising explanation than suddenly losing every hitting skill he had. Hopefully, with an improved shoulder and swing, Dom will be confident enough to be more selective, instead of constantly offering at pitches above and below the strike zone.

J.D. Davisstock: down
Davis showed early on that he could still hit, but a hand injury kept him out for much of the season, and he showed no power upon his return to the lineup. It remains to be seen whether he will get significant at bats for the Mets in 2022. His spectacular 2019 is looking more and more like a distant memory.

Robinson Cano returns from a PED suspension at age 39. Instead of cutting him, the Mets seem intent on mixing him in with their younger DH options who are very much in need of ABs.

Starting Pitcher

Jacob deGromstock: way down
In his first 12 starts, deGrom allowed 4 earned runs and drove in six. With Jake providing his own offense, the Mets won the last 7 of those starts. After June 21, this was deGrom’s stat line:

  • 72 IP, 27 H, 3 HR, 4 ER, 10 BB, 117 K
  • 0.51 WHIP, 0.88 FIP, 0.50 ERA
  • 3.38 H/9, 0.38 HR/9, 1.25 BB/9, 14.63 K/9, 11.7 K/BB
  • .113/.148/.205 opponent slash line
  • 2.94 Win Probability Added
  • 2 SB / 1 CS
  • Did not allow a baserunner in the first inning after his initial start.
  • Went 11 for 27 as a batter, hitting .407 with 1 double, 4 runs and 6 RBI.

In terms of everything except durability, this was the most dominant 12-start stretch since the deadball era.

Oh, that durability, though…

  • DeGrom missed his May 4 start with inflammation in his lat.
  • He missed 2 starts in mid-May after straining his shoulder on a swing.
  • He came out of his 11th start after 3 innings due to an injury from another swing (pulling a 98-mph fastball for an RBI).
  • In his 12th start he was limited to 70 pitches as he worked on rebuilding his pitch count.

DeGrom would make only 3 more starts before he was shut down – initially for a few weeks (with a sore elbow), and then for the rest of the season (when he sprained his UCL trying to ramp back up). Now his attempt to gear up for the 2022 season has cracked his scapula.

It may be that starting pitchers simply can’t throw 100 mph over and over unless they’re Nolan Ryan or Randy Johnson.

In case we never see it again, here’s how deGrom went about it in 2021: almost all fastballs and sliders to the glove side, but with absolute pinpoint location on that edge of the plate, from top to bottom. The fastball sat 99 with rise. The slider had a sharp bite, and deGrom varied the speed and size of the break on it. If any righty looked decent against the fastball away, Jake would lean on the slider. If any lefty survived the fastball and slider in, Jake would mix it up with a fastball and change-up away (these were not as precise, but often more than sufficient after all the hard stuff in).

Of note: deGrom had no elbow complaints until the league cracked down on sticky substances heading into the hotter months. Everyone on the team (especially his catchers) made a point of saying that deGrom never used the sticky stuff, but one can’t help but wonder if his fingers could have used a little help in the July heat to avoid what felled Tyler Glasnow (squeezing the ball to keep it from slipping is what did in Glasnow’s UCL).

Max Scherzerstock: way up
Marcus Stroman had a fantastic year for the Mets in 2021, and he’s being replaced by a 37-year-old. However, that 37-year-old is a surefire Hall of Famer who just missed adding a 4th Cy Young to his trophy case last year. Max Scherzer brings an arsenal of nasty pitches, a championship pedigree, fierce intensity on the mound, and a unique motion that has been keeping hitters from squaring up his fastball for over a decade. The Diamondbacks thought his odd finish, snapping his upper body forward and keeping his arm straight through his follow-through, would lead to injury, but Scherzer has been almost as durable over the years as he has been dominant.

As for Stroman, the Mets made no attempt to re-sign him, and Marcus signed a 3-year deal with the Cubs. Stroman clashed with the NY media at times and wasn’t afraid to have opinions on Twitter, leading some to suggest he was a clubhouse problem, but I never heard anything but praise from his teammates, especially the young pitchers he helped mentor.

Chris Bassittstock: up
Bassitt joins the Mets with a reputation as a control pitcher with a deep arsenal who doesn’t rely on velocity. He sports one of the A.L.’s best ERAs over the last few years, and starts the season healthy, which is better than the 2021 Mets could say about their prospective #3 starter.

Carlos Carrascostock: down
Carrasco showed only the briefest hints in 2021 of the pitcher who dominated in Cleveland. Opponents crushed him in the first inning, regularly putting the Mets in a hole. His command tended to improve as games went on, but he remained homer prone. He almost never threw his curveball, a key pitch for him in Cleveland. After several injuries, it remains to be seen if he has anything left at age 35. The Mets have to hope that an offseason elbow “clean-up” will make a big difference.

Taijuan Walkerstock: unchanged
Walker entered 2021 as a relative wild card, then looked like the find of the offseason in the first half, pitching his way to the All-Star Game. Walker showed great late movement on a variety of pitches, and although he was a bit wild early on, he threw more and more strikes as the first half progressed (though not always to the catcher’s target). In the second half, unfortunately, that formula completely fell apart, as Walker was clubbed to the tune of a 7.13 ERA and didn’t look like a competitive major league pitcher by the season’s end. With no injuries announced, Mets fans are hoping that Walker simply ran out of gas and will hold up better in 2022 with a full season finally under his belt after fits and starts earlier in his career.

David Petersonstock: down
In 2020, Peterson came out of nowhere (well, AA) and instantly looked like a clutch performer with a good slider and some late movement on his fastball. Unfortunately he couldn’t repeat any of that in 2021, with only a few really good starts, and plenty of meltdowns. Mets fans have to wonder whether he can bounce back, or whether there’s a reason we’d never heard of him two years ago.

Tylor Megillstock: way up
Megill was the latest in the Mets’ parade of “great then terrible” starting pitchers. With only a handful of starts above A ball, Megill broke into the majors with a 2.04 ERA over his first 7 starts, showing great velocity, good late movement on his slider and change-up, and a “slow heartbeat” that kept him looking calm in all situations. He also threw plenty of strikes without leaving anything in the middle of the plate.

Then things suddenly turned, with Megill getting his secondary stuff up and becoming a homerun machine, for a 6.13 ERA over his last 11 starts.

As with Walker, Mets fans have to hope the increased workload was to blame and that Megill will have more endurance in 2022.

Trevor Williamsstock: unchanged
Formerly known to Mets fans for giving up a homerun to Jacob deGrom, Williams joined the Mets at mid-season and was extremely reliable, avoiding walks and getting ground balls as both a starter and reliever. Ticketed for the bullpen to start 2022, Williams probably also represents the Mets’ best starting rotation depth option.

Meanwhile, old friend Noah Syndergaard initially gushed about the Mets extending him a qualifying offer early in the offseason, then took a few million more to jump ship for the Angels. It’s hard to know what Thor’s thinking really was, but his line to the media was uncertainty over the Mets front office. So he could be a casualty of Alderson taking too long to settle on Eppler. Given that Noah’s last good year was 2018 and his only pitches since 2019 were two cameos in 2021’s final week, the Mets may be lucky that the Angels outbid them.

Bullpen

Edwin Diazstock: unchanged
At this point, Mets fans know what to expect from Diaz: nasy stuff, erratic control, plenty of dominant outings, but far too many clunkers for your ninth-inning last line of defense. There are some days when Diaz is getting under the ball, and his slider is flat and his fastball is wild, and on those days what he really needs is a quick hook. If Showalter has the guts to yank his closer at those times, then we can just appreciate how Diaz blows opponents away when he’s on.

Trevor Maystock: unchanged
May had some good stretches and some bad stretches, putting up similar overall numbers to his recent seasons as a Twin. While not exactly a shut-down asset, May is a perfectly fine member of the late-inning relief corps.

Seth Lugostock: unchanged
Lugo was less reliable in 2021 than he had been for the past few years, with a few costly mistakes at big moments. His velocity and secondary stuff looked the same, so if he can locate a bit better and command his fastball, it’s easy to imagine better in 2022.

Adam Ottavinostock: down
Ottavino’s had some good years, but not recently, as he hasn’t been able to consistently locate his wipeout slider. He might be primarily a righty specialist, which is less than what Miguel Castro offered the Mets.

Joely Rodriguezstock: down
Established LOOGY Aaron Loup is replaced by LOOGY-hopeful Rodriguez, a desperation last-second lefty acquisition in exchange for the much more talented Miguel Castro.

Loup leaves the Mets after posting one of the team’s all-time best relief performances in 2021, with an 0.95 ERA and a team-leading 2 WPA. In a season of up-and-down pitching, Loup was the one constant who the Mets could rely on to slam the door on opponents’ rallies. He expressed a desire to return, but quickly signed elsewhere when the Angels made an aggressive bid for him early in the offseason and the then-in-progress Mets front office didn’t match.

Bullpen depthstock: unchanged
Chasen Shreve has had some recent success, while Sean Reid-Foley and Drew Smith have both struggled to stay healthy.

Gone is Jeurys Familia, who looked like his old self for a few months in 2021 before he started getting the ball up and allowing big homers.

Minor leaguers of note

The Mets dealt Pete Crow-Armstrong for a few months of Baez and J.T. Ginn for a year of Bassitt, while Matthew Allan got Tommy John surgery and had a setback in his recovery. That leaves the Mets’ top prospects as Ronny Mauricio, who still impresses with his tools and tantalizes with his youth despite poor offensive stats; Brett Baty and Mark Vientos, who can crush the ball but have serious contact issues; and the system’s crown jewel, Francisco Alvarez. Alvarez tore up high-A ball, something 19-year-old catchers don’t do very often, vaulting him to the status of a top-ten prospect in baseball.
None of this group projects to help in 2022 except perhaps for Vientos, who clubbed 25 HRs in 83 games in AA and AAA.

Summing it up

Changes since a year ago

Stock way down: Jeff McNeil, Francisco Lindor and Dominic Smith (performance); Jacob deGrom (injuries)

Stock down: Nimmo, J.D. Davis, McCann, Carrasco, Peterson, the middle of the bullpen

Stock unchanged: most of the bullpen, the bench, and the new OFs replacing their 2021 counterparts

Stock up: new acquisitions Escobar and Bassitt

Stock way up: Alvarez achieving top prospect status; Megill making the majors out of nowhere; the arrival of Scherzer

Multi-Year Trends

Jeff McNeil and J.D. Davis continued to fall from their 2019 peaks. At virtually every other position, the Mets have either stayed the same for a while, or have been up and down.

What it all means

The 2022 roster looks good on paper, but so did the 2021 squad that finished 76-86. The hope now is that a new manager, a few key new faces, and better luck on the injury front will help the team turn the page from recent disappointments. With an expanded playoff field in 2022 and a record payroll, the Mets really need to earn a postseason berth at minimum. Replacing the reviled Wilpons with a big-spending owner was supposed to change the team’s fortunes, and if that doesn’t happen this year, Mets fans may be wondering if their team is cursed or broken in some more intractable way.

Fans would also love to see some signs of a model for future success, seeing as how no team can simply buy top free agents year after year. With several high picks coming their way in the next draft, it seems likely that the Mets hope to follow the Dodgers’ blueprint from a decade back, spending money for success in the short term while laying the building blocks for a sustainable winner in the future. Certainly it would help the Mets if they can draft and develop players like Corey Seager, but they’ll also need a front office and analytics team that’s ahead of the curve, able to spot players like Max Muncy and Chris Taylor and help them take their performance to new levels. Billy Eppler’s time with the Angels was not at all promising in this regard, as the team consistently failed to fill out a useful roster around its superstars. Some claim owner Arte Moreno was overly involved, but Moreno, like Cohen, was certainly motivated to shell out big bucks for a winner. The Angels simply failed to develop young talent, and to identify and nurture pitching talent more generally.

Based on the 2021 hitting coach debacle, the Mets have yet to learn that more analytics and more effective analytics are two different things. Today’s best franchises don’t use pitcher tendency data to flood hitters’ brains; they use biomechanical metrics and training to improve swings and pitches. Hopefully Cohen will outgrow Alderson at some point and put baseball infrastructure decisions in the hands of a more innovative brain trust. We don’t know for sure that Eppler isn’t that guy, but we have no particular reason to think that he is, either. Much of Billy’s experience came under Brian Cashman, so if Eppler can turn Yankees-like budgets into Yankees-like results, that would certainly mean a lot more wins than the Mets have seen lately. That may not be the same as catching up to the Rays, er, Braves, though.

In 2021, Mets fans looked to see the start of a new era, both on the field and in the front office. They’ll be looking even more desperately for that in 2022.

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Series Preview: Philadelphia Phillies vs. New York Mets

It was unfortunate that the New York Mets had to play one of the hottest teams in baseball, the Atlanta Braves this weekend. After dropping the first two games, the Mets were able to hand the Braves its first loss of the season behind a solid performance from Bartolo Colon.

The Mets return to Flushing with a 3-3 record to host the Philadelphia Phillies (3-3) in the home opener at Citi Field, where the team went 40-41 last season. The Phillies are coming in off a series victory over a talented Washington Nationals club at home. In the season series between these teams in 2014 the Mets won 13 of the 19 contests.

Monday’s Matchup:

RHP Aaron Harang (1-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Jacob deGrom (0-1, 3.00 ERA)

I’ll give Harang credit that he has been able to stay in the league this long (14 years). The 36-year-old had a rough 2013 season posting a 5.76 ERA in 22 starts for the Seattle Mariners before being designated for assignment and picked up by the Mets. Harang allowed nine earned runs in 22 innings in his short stint with the Mets.

In his 2015 debut Harang held the Red Sox at bay for six innings and only surrendered two hits. Harang is a flyball pitcher, so pitching in Citi Field could play to his benefit.

As for deGrom, the reigning National League Rookie of the Year showed that he hasn’t skipped a beat by going six innings, allowing two runs and striking out six in first start of the season. He did an excellent job of using his fastball as a put away pitch in his 2015 debut, recording five of his strikeouts with it. Phillies hitters should struggle with that pitch, especially if he can locate it in the top of the strike zone or even above it.

Tuesday’s Matchup:

RHP David Buchanan (0-1, 18.00 ERA) vs. RHP Matt Harvey (1-0, 0.00 ERA)

Much like deGrom, Buchanan was a rookie that was able to have a reasonable amount of success in the NL East last season. Buchanan went 6-8 with a 3.75 ERA in the 20 starts he made in 2014. The Mets should have no problem putting the ball in play against him as he only struck out 71 batters in 117 innings pitched last season. Buchanan allowed six runs in three innings against the Red Sox in his first start last week.

Harvey definitely lived up to the expectations of his much-anticipated 2015 debut. The young phenom struck out nine Nationals hitters, including Bryce Harper three times, in his six innings of shutout ball. Harvey has faced the Phillies five times in his career and is 4-0 with a 1.08 ERA and has only allowed 15 hits in 38 innings. This could be fun one to watch for Mets fans.

Wednesday’s Matchup:

RHP Jerome Williams (0-0, 1.50 ERA) vs. LHP Jonathon Niese (0-0, 1.80 ERA)

Williams pitched for the Astros, Rangers, and finally found a home with the Phillies in 2014 before adding to the list of seven teams he has played for in his 10-year career. Williams pitched extremely well in the nine starts he made in Philly last season, posting a 2.83 ERA in 57 innings pitched. He was able to continue that positive trend into his first start of this year, where he held the Nationals to one run over six innings.

Niese made his 2015 debut against the Braves, throwing five innings of one-run ball in a 5-3 loss. The left-hander has pitched more innings against the Phillies (123), than against any other team in the league. Niese has enjoyed reasonable success against them, going 8-6 with a 3.00 ERA in 19 starts. Niese will need to be tough against this left-handed heavy Phillies lineup that has once-feared hitters like Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.

Players to watch

Phillies:

Philadelphia second baseman Freddy Galvis is off to a solid start so far this season, hitting .318 in first 22 at-bats. Ben Revere may not be off to a hot start at the plate (.167 avg.), but don’t expect him to stay cold for long as he hit over .300 in each of his last two seasons. Revere is also a threat on the base paths that Travis D’Arnaud will need to worry about.

Philadelphia has had a lockdown bullpen so far this season, allowing six runs, five of which have been allowed by Jacob Diekman. Middle-relievers like Ken Giles and Leury Garcia will be very valuable in this series if the Phillies back-end starters can’t go deep into games.

Mets:

Lucas Duda is swinging a hot bat for the Mets through the first six games, with eight hits (seven singles) in his first 21 at-bats. Look for Duda to capitalize against this weaker pitching and start to add up some extra-base hits. On the other side of the spectrum, Curtis Granderson has a whopping one hit in his first six games played — though he’s leading the NL in walks with 7. Facing a flyball right-hander like Harang could help Granderson bust out of his early-season slump.

Jeurys Familia will be the closer for the foreseeable future after Jenrry Mejia was suspended 80 games for testing positive for the new MLB performance-enhancer of choice, Stanozolol. Familia notched his first save as the team’s closer in the victory over the Braves on Sunday.

This is no longer the Phillies team that was a perennial contender in the National League. Jimmy Rollins is now a Dodger, Utley is 36 and Howard has almost played out that atrocious $125 million contract. While the Mets are (kind of) trending upward, the Phillies are in a slow, painful decline. It’s not ridiculous to say that this team could be very similar to 2011-2014 Astros over the next four years.

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Wilpons on Verge of Important Re-Fi

According to the New York Post, Mets ownership is close to refinancing a $250 million dollar loan. The re-fi is expected to give the team more financial flexibility:

Until recently, it wasn’t certain investors weren’t going to insist the team owners pay down some of the loan to get the refinancing done.

Wilpon and Katz will not be asked for any cash paydown, sources said.

Plus, interest payments are expected to stay about the same, a source with direct knowledge of the situation said.

The Mets spent about $87 million on free agents this offseason – a marked jump in spending from the past few years, in particular last offseason, when they spent only $5 million. Perhaps optimism about this re-fi was part of the reason the Wilpons felt comfortable loosening their wallets this winter.

They’re still not spending with the big boys – and no one is going to outspend the Yankees, whether you play in New York or not – but the point is to have the financial flexibility to make the moves you have to make, rather than settling on a team full of minor league contracts with invites to Spring Training.

I doubt this news will inspire any more huge transactions this offseason – Stephen Drew is still in play, but the Mets seem to be treating him as a nice-to-have, not a must-have.

As much as I’ve been critical of the Wilpons, they are at least making an active effort to get out from under the debt left to them by Bernie Madoff.

I hope the next time Fred Wilpon says his financial troubles are over, like he did last year, that it’s really the truth.

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Wilpons Apparently Limit Budget to $25-30 Million

According to John Harper of the New York Daily News, Mets ownership is changing their tune about the team’s budget.

Following the season, Jeff Wilpon stated that finances were no longer a problem for the team.

“It’s all in the rear view mirror,” Wilpon said about past financial woes.

If that were actually the case, then the high cost of free agents wouldn’t matter, right? What am I missing? In this article from October 29th, Wilpon was paraphrased as saying:

…the Mets will have the financial wherewithal to address those needs. After years of working with a bloated payroll thanks to big contract to Johan Santana and Jason Bay, and the financial burden of pending legal matters from the Bernie Madoff scandal, Mets Sandy Alderson will be unencumbered when the Mets hit the market, Wilpon said.

Fred Wilpon has made similar assertions, even as far back as February. And in every case, they seem to present GM Sandy Alderson as the only roadblock to spending. From Fred:

Asked if the team payroll, which is now about $90 million, will soon enough return to the $140 million level it stood at several years ago, Wilpon said: “I asked Sandy about that. He said he couldn’t invest that much money.”

From Jeff:

“Depending on how it all presents itself, that has always been part of the plan, to use the money coming off the books and improve the team,” Wilpon said.  I can’t tell you exactly how it’s going to happen, as we get further into the offseason, we’ll know a little better.

It’s the Wilpons’ money, and now, according to Harper, they are dictating to Alderson how much to spend. That was the case all along. They told previous GMs Omar Minaya and Steve Phillips how much to spend (and when to spend it) as well. The GMs proceeded according to their marching orders.

Having a lavish budget doesn’t guarantee a contender, but it certainly gives a team more flexibility to acquire the pieces it needs. If what Harper says is true, Alderson once again has to get creative on a relatively limited budget dictated by an ownership group that is still financially limited, no matter what they’ve said publicly.

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