There is no longer this aura of feigning legitimate contention from the New York Mets. There’s no more hoping for certain dominoes to fall just right to get them in the playoff hunt or seeing managers with the desire to try and talk up their team in a ploy to drum up last-minute hope before Opening Day.
Mets manager Buck Showalter simply sat at his podium on the last day of spring training, relieved that the exhibition slate was over, and muttered this:
“It’s time. We’re ready.”
Year No. 3 of the Steve Cohen era kicks off with the Mets trying to replicate the regular-season success of the franchise’s most successful 162 games ever, winning 101 of them. Yet, there was nothing to show for it. The Braves caught New York to win the NL East crown before the San Diego Padres went into Citi Field and upset the Mets in three games to win the Wild Card Series.
Cohen responded by putting on one of the most spectacular spending sprees ever seen in baseball, spending nearly $500 million in free agency to keep some key names in Queens and bring some fresh faces on.
But will it be enough to win their first division crown since 2015? Or even more, win their first World Series title since 1986?
It’s time to meet the 2023 Mets.
For all of that money spent, the Mets are returning a nearly-identical lineup — which certainly carries its pros and cons.
Brandon Nimmo is back on an eight-year, $162 million deal to man center field for the long haul while Jeff McNeil signed a four-year, $50 million extension of his own after winning the National League batting title.
Cohen and Billy Eppler couldn’t find similar success in cementing slugger Pete Alonso in Queens, quite yet. With two years left of team control, he’s the next big contract that needs to be secured. Especially because he’s still their main power option.
Alonso became the first Met in franchise history last season with multiple 40-home-run campaigns, but the power behind him in the lineup let much to be desired — most notably at the designated hitter spot. Daniel Vogelbach remains the main man at DH now that the team cut ties with Darin Ruf after a nightmare three months last season and a difficult spring. However, he hit just six home runs in 55 games in a position that called for more power as the Mets struggled to consistently score runs down the stretch in 2022.
They nearly got the big bat they craved in December when Carlos Correa agreed to a 12-year deal to play third base next to Francisco Lindor, but things fell through when concerns about his surgically repaired leg prompted the star infielder to re-sign with the Minnesota Twins.
Instead, Eduardo Escobar will have an opportunity to show he can put together a full season rather than a strong September after posting a 1.042 OPS and eight home runs. He can’t get too comfortable, though. The likes of Brett Baty, who put together a strong showing in spring, is looming in Triple-A and could be called up should the veteran stumble at the hot corner.
Now, this is where the Mets’ funds were allocated this winter.
Jacob deGrom, one of the greatest hurlers in franchise history, fled to Texas to join the Rangers in free agency and just a few days later, reigning AL Cy Young Award winner and future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander was brought in.
The 40-year-old still appears to have plenty left in the tank to pair with another ageless wonder in Max Scherzer, who is also headed to Cooperstown whenever he decides to hang them up. The two veteran righties undoubtedly create the most fearsome 1-2 punch in the NL East.
But more was needed after Chris Bassitt (Toronto) and Taijuan Walker (Philadelphia) also departed the club in free agency.
Enter Kodai Senga, the Japanese star right-hander who made the jump from Nippon Professional Baseball to join the Mets as their No. 3 man. It’s been a spring of severe adjustments for the 30-year-old. Not only does he have to get used to life in New York, but he’ll be throwing a larger baseball on a steeper mound while the newly-instituted pitch clock keeps an ever-tight watch.
Whether or not his mythical ghost forkball proves as dastardly here as it did in the far east remains to be seen.
Carlos Carrasco is healthy and coming off a 15-win season to provide some stability at the bottom of the rotation, which is sorely needed after Jose Quintana was sidelined until at least July due to a benign lesion on his rib that required surgery.
With the open spot, southpaw David Peterson will get another chance to prove that he can stick around in the big leagues after admirably filling in last season when injuries ran rampant.
New York’s relief corps certainly has its work cut out after superstar closer Edwin Diaz suffered a freak torn patellar tendon in his right knee while celebrating Puerto Rico’s win during the World Baseball Classic.
The Mets are now down the best reliever in baseball, and the responsibilities to close games could very well be done by committee. However, expect one of their new acquisitions in veteran David Robertson to get the first crack at closing given his experience in doing just that across town with the Yankees.
Adam Ottavino’s re-emergence last season will also provide a sturdy late-inning option when needed, but the slight tweak in roles will mean the Mets will have to lean on younger, or newer options. Drew Smith has plenty to prove after a chaotic 2022 while John Curtiss, who missed his first season with the team entirely because of injuries, should get a chance.
Lefty Brooks Raley will factor in to be an important piece as well considering he’s the only southpaw reliever on the roster.
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