Every year, each MLB team starts off with a plan of how the season will unfold. Inevitably, things happen to blow up that plan. Very few teams end up like the 1976 Reds, who had their eight starting position players each reach at least 552 PA, while six starting pitchers combined for 156 starts. Instead, most teams have some version of the 2023 Mets, where the team had to consistently adapt on the fly.

Last year’s Mets lost their starting catcher, saw their Opening Day third baseman benched in the season’s first month before being traded, had their left fielder busted into a reserve role before being dealt, their right fielder play barely over half a season, three starting pitchers with IL stints, with two of those being traded near the deadline, another starter fall off the cliff following a 15-win season, their depth starters all fail early in the year, their closer lost for the season before the year started, their emergency closer traded and watched 20-plus relievers put up lousy years.

And we also have to consider that their All-Star second baseman floundered the first four months of the season, their main DH did next to nothing for three months, their hot shot rookie third baseman flopped and their cleanup hitter batted just .217 and saw his wRC+ drop 20 points from the previous season.

In that context, it’s almost a miracle that they won 75 games.

The Mets had somewhat reasonable Plan Bs – depth starters, option relievers, the Baby Mets – built into the plan yet the overwhelming majority of those ended up as varying degrees of failures. The depth starters turned things around in the second half of the year but by then it was easily a case of too little, too late.

David Stearns as “The Gambler”
Which brings us to the 2024 season. Plan A is a hope for 85 or so wins, at least 10 fewer wins than 2023’s Plan A. But how does Plan B shape up? It’s the same depth starters as a year ago, albeit with David Peterson scheduled to miss the first two months of the season. We hope that David Stearns’ backup relievers are better than his predecessors were but that might be the lowest bar possible to clear.

Perhaps the biggest unknown is how the club will deploy its minor league assets. At the start of last year, it was expected that four prospects would contribute at some point during the year. And, indeed, two of them were promoted in April and the other two eventually joined them in the majors. However, only Francisco Alvarez was a significant contributor.

If Francisco Lindor suffers an injury, will they try to muddle thru with some combination of Zack Short and Joey Wendle? Or will they promote Luisangel Acuna? If two outfielders go down, will they be content to play DJ Stewart in the outfield or will they give Drew Gilbert a shot? We had a firmer grip on the situation last year, as three of the four Baby Mets had made it to Triple-A, while none of this year’s crop of position players has done the same.

Undoubtedly, that’s a situation that will be influenced by what happens with the prospects. If this year in Triple-A Acuna hits like he did with the Rangers, while Gilbert performs like he did once the Mets got him, then the club will likely be more open to giving them a shot. Still, we’re used to the slow-play of minor league prospects by the previous Mets regimes. It may be a different case entirely under Stearns.

Prospects with no Triple-A experience aside, how will this year’s Mets handle things when Plan A falls apart? With three reasonable depth starters, how long is the leash with starting pitchers besides Kodai Senga? How long do you give Luis Severino if he pitches like last season? If Jose Quintana mimics Carlos Carrasco’s 2023, how many starts does he get? If Sean Manaea serves up gopher balls like he did his first eight starts of last year, how many times does he get to right the ship? If Adrian Houser can’t even go two times thru a lineup, how willing are they to move him to the pen?

The answer to all of those questions is – depends. But Stearns and company should have some solid idea on what that might be, given the likelihood that at least one of those things happens.

It’s easy to make a move when a player gets injured, as you have no choice except to do it immediately. But how do you handle under-performance, whether that comes from a pitcher or hitter? There are no hard and fast rules in that case. But it’s my opinion that the Mets can’t give 300-plus PA to guys stinking up the joint, like Brett Baty and Starling Marte a year ago. And they can’t give 20 starts to someone pitching as poor as Carrasco did last season.

My hope is that Houser and Severino are on extremely short leashes, as well as Harrison Bader and Marte. It’s harder with Baty. If he starts the season in a slump, it will be a tough needle to thread. You need to give him enough time to recover from a 5-45 start. But it can’t be as much time as he was given in 2023.

Old baseball wisdom was that you spent two months figuring out what you had and what you lacked, two months getting what you needed and two months to make your final push. And that’s probably a decent place to start. However, it seems that certain players should have six weeks or fewer as their personal length of rope.

And to further complicate things, June – the third month of the year, when you should be ready to make moves – has traditionally been the club’s worse month. Last year the Mets got 577 PA in June from hitters with a .659 or worse OPS, including Pete Alonso, Baty, Marte and Jeff McNeil. But they continued to get playing time, as the Mets put up a 7-19 record, which essentially sank the season.

It’s a difficult decision, knowing when to stay the course and when to pull the plug with a player. Or, in an extreme case, with a team. The front office and manager pulled the plug on Eduardo Escobar and Mark Canha but stayed the course with the rest until the trade deadline, when Steve Choen pulled the plug on the season.

Cohen’s move to call it quits on 2023 might end up being the thing that makes it easier to pull the plug on certain players in 2024, as two prospects the Mets acquired in deals last year might be ready by June. Even if they’re not, one of the key storylines this year for me will be how the new front office and manager handle the inevitable adversity that comes their way, as they try to make good on their promise for meaningful games in September and a chase for a Wild Card berth.

4 comments on “Why ‘The Gambler’ will be the 2024 Mets’ theme song

  • Metsense

    Stearns felt that he could be a gambler in 2024 so that he could put the Mets below the luxury tax and reset it. Let’s looks at his bets and the recent success of the players and the odds of duplicate that success in 2024.
    2022 Severino had a 3.18 ERA but 102 IP – very bad bet
    2021 Manaea had a 3.91 ERA – bad bet
    2023 Hauser had a 4.12 ERA – even money
    2021 Bader had a 114 OPS+ – bad bet
    2022 Marte had a 132 OPS+ – bad bet
    2023 Baty had a 65 OPS+ – bet the house on it that he can do better than 65 OPS+2
    2024 Baty 100 OPS+ – even money.

    That is a lot of snake eyes and boxcars . Let’s just say that I wouldn’t bankroll Stearns in a casino.

    • Brian Joura

      Stearns had no choice with the inherited Marte and Baty.

      I’d take the Manaea wager and pass on the other three.

  • T.J.

    You can’t fool us. That picture isn’t David Stearns. It’s obviously Kenny Rogers. You know, the former Met that served up the playoff series ending walk off walk.

    I am slowly warming up to the 2024 Mets…not sure why besides the hope spring training brings. What may concern me most is if Plan A minus is the reality come the all star break…the Mets don’t stink but aren’t great…good enough to be hovering on the fringe of a wild card birth. Does 2024 Cohen act like 2021 Cohen, Does Stearns deal controllable assets for a rental? PCA for Javy Baez? JD Davis for Darrin Ruf?

  • NYM6986

    Stearns had little choice but to retool for 2024 the way he did given that spending hundreds of millions on the free agent crop would not put them in a position to win the division, just maybe squeak into the post season. Most teams, aside from the Braves or Dodgers and some years the Yankees, have studs around the playing field. If the Mets get to my prediction of 88 wins, and a berth in the playoffs, then potential free agents will want to play here, versus getting similar money elsewhere that comes with a good chance of a ring. It is definitely the year of Butto, Megill and Lucchesi who will cement the back end of the rotation and keep us in contention and we know some of the hitters who floundered have the proven potential to do substantially better in some areas of their game. Hoping for some big additions at the trade deadline for the year end push! ‍♂️

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