Following his last Mets start in late July of last season, Max Scherzer seemed to be very perturbed about the David Robertson trade. While reporters had their microphones and recorders on him, Scherzer had no problem stating his problem with the team’s sell off. Well, the next afternoon, he was part of that sell off. His comments following his waiving his “no trade clause” were that he was told by Billy Eppler and Steve Cohen that 2024 would be a transitory year and so he had no problem waiving it.
But in the coming weeks, facing consistent questioning about whether the Mets would be rebuilding or trying to be competitive, Cohen said that they would definitely be competitive. Too, when David Stearns was hired, at his introductory press conference he was asked what the game plan was. Stearns reiterated that the team was going to be competitive, but he said this would definitely be a year where many young players would get an “extended look” to show their talents on the major league stage.
As the winter progressed and Mets went about their business signing free agents, there was a marked difference from previous recent off seasons; the usual splashes were missing. The only real effort made by the team to give a nine-figure contract was to Yoshinobu Yamamoto when they offered a $325MM contract over 12 years that was given to the Dodgers to match. The Dodgers did just that and the Mets were not given any more consideration other than the initial opportunity to be used to drive up the price it would take for Yamamoto’s childhood favorite team to sign him.
Stearns signed many players this offseason, but almost all of them to one-year deals except for Sean Manaea who was given a two-year deal but an opt-out after the first year. This general lack of commitment and signing only players willing to take a one-year deal has not sat well with fans that do not see commitment to this roster or the big names they were used to seeing.
While “competitive” is obviously a very subjective and general term, we understand enough about the teams that made the playoffs last year to see if the Mets can compare. The Dodgers, Braves and Phillies are established, strong teams in the National League, but the only ones. So, let’s look at each area of the team to see if the Mets are in fact “competitive” in our eyes.
Alonso, McNeil and Lindor are all players that have recently been all-stars. While McNeil had an off-year last year, his track record projects an expected level of success. As for third base, it is expected that Baty will get first crack at the majority of the playing time due to his higher prospect status, but Vientos has worked on his defense with Lindor in Puerto Rico this winter and his success at AAA shows he is ready for the next step. We have not heard anything yet of Baty’s offseason defensive work, but his struggles on that side of the ball suggest that he also needed to put in lots of work there. Wendle and Inglesias are recognized strong defenders and Short has versatility and speed as his assets, but all three are light hitting players. The Mets need the big three to carry their weight while allowing the two prospects to battle for the hot corner, and hope that at least one emerges as a solid MLB regular. If we include Francisco Alvarez and either Tomas Nido or Omar Narvaez as the backup as part of the overall infield, this is seems to be the strongest area of the team and most stable.
Moving to the grass, Brandon Nimmo had a second consecutive strong offensive season but slipped defensively. Thus, Stearns brought in Harrison Bader to give Nimmo a chance to play left field more often and rest his legs for offense. Also, Bader has been one of the top center field defenders since coming up with the Cardinals. A trade with the Brewers brought Tyrone Taylor who is a very good defender in all three outfield positions as a backup. The problem is right field. Starling Marte last year was mostly injured and while this winter has “looked good” playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic, bat speed and defense have not been noted as returned. His return to even close to 2022 form would be a boon for the lineup. Something closer to 2023 form would be a red flag that as he is going into the later thirties in age, he may not heal or recover from his maladies well enough to be what the Mets signed him to be. That leaves us to his backup, DJ Stewart, who wowed initially last August then had a miserable September. Stewart is expected to serve as a fifth outfielder and provide left-handed power off the bench and be a DH option. A strong Marte allows the Mets to give a chance to players like Vientos at DH with less pressure. A struggling Marte means Vientos needs to produce right away in order – or to use Stewart more often than planned – to provide the lineup balance and keep the internet from blowing up about how the Mets cheaped out on signing Jorge Soler, JD Martinez, or Justin Turner as a more established DH.
Now to the pitching. Stearns told us that last year the bullpen was made up of pitchers that were very similar to each other. The pitchers were all fastball/slider types that all threw from a similar arm slot and the same speed, hence there was no variation in what opposing teams saw. Also, Stearns told us that Phillies relievers threw 1,598 fastballs that were at least 96 miles per hour while Mets relievers threw four of those, all year. Stearns said he wanted a “diversity of looks and stuff” and added many relievers to both major league and minor league deals. Indeed, it appears he has built a solid bullpen with upside and velocity. Edwin Diaz, Adam Ottavino, Brooks Raley, and Drew Smith will be joined by hard throwing lefty Jake Diekman and righty fireballers Shintaro Fujinami and Jorge Lopez. That will give the Mets four relievers that average 96 on their fastball and if Bryce Montes de Oca comes back from TJ surgery effectively, they could add another triple digit heater into the mix. More bullpen depth and competition will come from other signings as well including Michael Tonkin, Austin Adams, Andre Scrubb, Kyle Crick, Yohan Ramirez, Josh Walker, Grant Hartwig, Reed Garrett, Sean Reid-Foley and Justin Slaten. To add to this mix are Nate Lavender, a lefty who did very well in the offensive environment that is AAA last year (doesn’t throw more than low 90’s but has great deception), and Paul Gervase, who also has done very well in AA and is ready for the final test.
On paper, the weakest area of the team seems to be the starting rotation, and the lack of a true ace makes this starting rotation look lackluster. Kodai Senga will be asked to repeat his outstanding rookie year. Manaea had a good stretch in September over a few starts, but failed initially in the Giants starting rotation and went to the bullpen. Luis Severino was abysmal last year and is mainly a bounce back candidate. Jose Quintana had a nice second half after coming back from injury, and being healthy all year is something this rotation needs. Adrian Houser was acquired from the Brewers along with Taylor and can serve as the fifth starter. Tylor Megill seems to have exactly the same 2023 as Manaea without the successful bullpen numbers and was specifically mentioned by Stearns as a starting pitcher he believes in. In fact, Megill has worked on adding a splitter to his arsenal and his final six starts last year show an average of almost six innings per start, a 2.55 ERA and .231 BA against. David Peterson will miss the first half of the season, but should be back around late June. Last year after a brutal start, he got some pointers from Quintana and pitched to a 3.88 ERA the last two months with 60 strikeouts in 48 innings. Jose Butto in his seven starts during the year compiled a 3.16 ERA and averaged over five innings per start. Lastly, Joey Lucchesi coming off a 2.89 ERA but a 4.22 FIP, has not thrown a starting pitcher’s workload since 2019 when he was 26.
In FanGraph’ write-up of the Mets prospects in the upper minors, Eric Longenhagen gives positive reports on Mike Vasil, Christian Scott and Dominic Hamel as three pitchers that are close to being MLB ready starting pitchers and can make an impact. Too, along with Tyler Stuart in AA, they must be added to the 40-man after the season or be exposed to the Rule 5 draft. If the Mets are in fact high on all these arms, it may be another reason for all the one-year deals.
In all, the Mets seem like a team that should contend. Their strongest area is an infield with at least four above average or better starters to give the lineup a good foundation. Next best area would be the bullpen due to its diversity and depth. The outfield is good defensively but has offensive question marks in center field and right field. And finally, the starting rotation could be solid if unspectacular or could be a volcano all year if these upside signings all show their warts. There are unproven options to change the mix up, but this area may be in flux all year.
Finally, we turn to the rookie manager, Carlos Mendoza. Steve Cohen said that he did not want anyone learning on his dime, but that is exactly what will happen with the firing of Buck Showalter. Can Mendoza handle it? This area concerns me more than any other.