A lot can change in a year, especially when things don’t go according to plan. Coming off a 101-win season in 2022, the Mets went all-out in spending money to compete for a World Series title. But injuries and poor performances by multiple players sank that plan and the Mets decided to pivot, trading older players on short-term or expiring deals for minor league players.
Near the trade deadline, we heard that the idea was to focus on 2025 or 2026 as the next time that the Mets would be targeting the World Series. That meant that 2024 was going to be a transitional year for the club. We heard these things from the old pitchers that the club traded. The brass for the Mets were much more careful in their choice of words.
There’s a moronic belief among some that you can’t rebuild in New York. You’ll never hear a club executive use the “R” word. Instead, they’ll throw out words like “competitive” and “opportunistic” to describe the team’s approach for this offseason. There’s nothing wrong with those particular words. It’s just that they’re vague and can allow individuals to put their own spin on what they mean.
No one has ever hit and pitched in the majors at the same time for as long and as well as Shohei Ohtani. It would be opportunistic to sign him. It’s incredibly rare for a talented pitcher to be available for just money for their age-25 season, like Yoshinobu Yamamoto – it would be opportunistic to sign him. You can make the “opportunistic” case whenever you want.
At the end of the day, actions speak louder than words, regardless of the intense care that went into choosing the words. If the Mets sign Yamamoto and trade for Juan Soto, that means something completely different than if their big offseason moves are to add Jeimer Candelario and Seth Lugo. Those latter moves could definitely be termed as ones that were “opportunistic” and ones that made the team “competitive,” but few will be happy if those are the highlight of the offseason.
We know the Mets need to add starting pitching. The question is how many and for how many years? The Mets had four depth starters who performed well for the club down the stretch. Do you hold a rotation spot for one (or more) of them in 2024? There were many arms that finished the year in Double-A that were very intriguing and are at least possibilities for a rotation spot in 2025. When you assemble the team this offseason, do you hold open a rotation spot for one (or more) of them in two years?
Which youngsters on the hitting side of things who saw time in the majors do you hold open spots for in the next two seasons? The catcher is obvious but beyond that? Is Brett Baty still a future MLB starter? Is Ronny Mauricio a starter and if so, where? Does the power that Mark Vientos showed in the majors down the stretch make him a 500-PA guy, even if most of those occur as a DH?
And what about the minor leaguers, both those that were in the system this time last year, along with ones acquired at the deadline? Jett Williams has stated that his goal is to make his MLB debut in 2024 and after the year he put up last season, it may not be wise to dismiss that particular ambition. Where does he fit in defensively and are you willing to sign a guy at that slot to more than a one-year deal?
Ronald Acuna Jr. and Drew Gilbert both have more playing time in Double-A than Williams. The line fed to us by the mainstream media – whether it was their own thoughts or ones delivered to them by the team – is that these two were future stars, ones who would be in the majors sooner rather than later. The same question that was asked for Williams needs to be asked for this duo, too. Do you essentially recruit over them, with acquisitions to fill their slots on more than a one-year deal?
There are always free agents who are interested in signing one-year, “prove it” deals. Michael Conforto is one such player who might be amenable to that type of contract. But how many are there and do they play the positions that work for the Mets? We might not view someone in that category now but the market might push them into the role. Are the Mets confident enough in this approach to display that type of patience?
From a strictly 2024 point of view, it seems wise to consider C, 1B, SS and CF set. Jeff McNeil gives the club another position, although we don’t know if that’s in the infield or outfield. That gives the team five positions set, with four to fill, which counts DH. For 2024, do you write Mauricio into the lineup? Let’s say they do. Furthermore, let’s say they put him at 2B and move McNeil to the OF. That leaves 3B, a corner OF and DH to fill.
That’s more open spots than you would prefer, yet still workable. But then how do you handle Acuna, Gilbert and Williams? And do you recruit over Baty and Vientos?
My take is you definitely hold a spot for Williams but it’s far from certain which spot that is. The flexibility of Mauricio and McNeil definitely helps. But the Mets need to be getting Williams reps at that spot in the minors in 2024. If Williams plays 115 games in the minors this year and 100 of them are at shortstop, well, that’s a missed opportunity.
Additionally, my belief is that the three players acquired for the old pitchers are all potential MLB regulars, just not stars. If some combination of those three, along with other non-Alvarez, non-Mauricio, non-Williams youngsters get you Soto – that would be terrific. It’s probably not very likely but you have to kick the tires. And not just on Soto. A package with Acuna, Baty and Gilbert (possibly Kevin Parada, too) should bring back something very worthwhile.
With no trade, my choice would be to start Baty in the minors but not to recruit over him. Coming into 2023, Baty was a top-40 prospect, ranking as high as 17 on Baseball Prospectus’ list. My opinion is that it would be a mistake to give up on him now. It would be nice to see a consecutive 200-PA sample where he stung the ball at Triple-A, something like a 900-plus OPS. His last stint in the minors saw him post an .822 OPS in 79 PA. That’s nice yet we need to see more.
So, my plan would be to go into this offseason believing six offensive spots were set for 2024, with two more – Baty and Williams – as players for 2025 and beyond. That leaves 3B, a corner OF and DH to find solutions for via free agency or trades. Of course, that leaves the wild card of Starling Marte. It seems foolish to plan on him being a starter given what we experienced last season. But it also seems a bit crazy not to allow him a chance for 500 PA if he’s back healthy and a reasonable facsimile of what he was for the club in 2022.
Perhaps the way to solve that is to look at Marte as the DH. If he’s unable to go, you have Vientos as the second option at designated hitter. If Marte’s healthy enough to play the OF, you move McNeil to 2B and put Mauricio at 3B. That leaves the Mets looking for one-year options at 3B and the OF, assuming Soto doesn’t fall into their laps.
It’s just a ton of moving parts, with both short and long-term implications. And it’s only made more difficult with the uncertainty of how much Steve Cohen is willing to spend on what he allegedly told Max Scherzer was going to be a transition year here in 2024.