The New York Mets were an embarrassment last year.
Billionaire hedge fund manager Steven Cohen spent almost $200 million in payroll to finish 77-85, players fought with fans on social media -- and through the actual media -- and Cohen had his say publicly as well. GM Jared Porter was hired and then fired about a month later for inappropriate conduct toward women. He was replaced by Zack Scott, who was then placed on administrative leave for a drunk driving charge in September and fired in November. Manager Luis Rojas was let go and replaced by Buck Showalter, as the Mets needed to put an adult in the dugout. At least this offseason has been less tumultuous, you know, except for that whole lockout thing.
Winning cures a lot, but the Mets didn’t win enough, posting a 29-45 record in the second half of the season. They were 21-37 over the final 58 games and finished well below .500, going 30-51 on the road. Cohen’s response was to revamp the front office and dugout and to throw money at the problems on the field. Now we wait to see if it works out.
Everything about the Mets says they should be one of the majors’ best teams and that includes the offense. A lot of name recognition didn’t translate to good numbers last season, as the Mets finished 21st in wOBA at .307 with a 96 wRC + , hurt slightly by the fact that Citi Field is not a good hitter’s park. The Mets and injuries go together like cake and ice cream, which did impact last season a bit, but a lot of guys simply didn’t perform.
Of the top 15 in plate appearances, only seven posted a wRC + above league average, but only two of the top 10 in PA posted a wRC + more than 6% above league average. Peter Alonso and Brandon Nimmo were the two best regulars for the Mets, but Nimmo was limited to 92 games because of injury, which has been the story of his career. Alonso hit 37 homers and was far and away the best power producer for the team, but he was unable to replicate his monster 2019 season.
Alonso is the least of the Mets’ worries, though it will be interesting to see if the major decrease in his K% is able to hold. He struck out less than 20% of the time for the first time in his career after K% marks of 26.4% and 25.5% the previous two seasons. Nimmo will be productive if healthy. The other guys are the ones under the microscope.
Francisco Lindor was known as Mr. Smile in Cleveland, but he became rather surly and snarky with the Mets fan base last season in the midst of a down year. Lindor ran a .248 BABIP, which dragged his batting average down to .230. He hit 20 homers but came nowhere close to validating the first year of his 10-year, $341 million contract. It was Lindor’s worst offensive season with a wRC + of 103. He had hit 32 or more homers in each of the previous three full seasons. He walked more than ever and ran into some bad luck with a career-best 44.1% Hard Hit%, so a bounce-back season should be expected, though Lindor’s offensive profile has been inflated by the media. A wRC + of 120 would represent a big upgrade and is possible, but that seems like the ceiling.
There are some newcomers in the lineup such as Starling Marte, who just had his best offensive season. He posted a 134 wRC + , topping his previous high of 132 in 2014 with the Pirates. Marte ran a .372 BABIP, which was his highest since 2016, so I don’t think we’ll see a repeat performance. He’ll be an above-average hitter nonetheless. So, too, will Eduardo Escobar, with 30-homer potential and a lot of balls in play. Mark Canha will also be an above-average hitter with some pop.
One big question is what Robinson Cano will provide in his return from suspension. Cano was awesome during the short 2020 season with a .316/.352/.544 slash but struggled badly in 2019. He’s 39 years old now and will greatly benefit from the universal DH, as will the Mets, who can put a better defender out there. Jeff McNeil appears to be that guy and he, too, had a down offensive year in 2021. Health is a huge question as he had tons of injuries on his way up through the minors and more last season. He puts bat to ball, though, and can carry a high batting average and OBP as a result.
The Mets have good depth, as signings and platoons drive guys such as J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith to the bench or to part-time roles. This offense has a lot of promise on paper, but there are also a lot of guys on the wrong side of 30 in the everyday lineup. The Mets could have one of the best lineups in the NL if the guys with track records perform up to expectations, but they could also be an enormous disappointment again if injuries arise or certain hitters don’t bounce back.
If the Mets can get to the playoffs, they will be very hard to beat with the best 1-2 punch in baseball in Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer. People are also sleeping on Chris Bassitt, who was a really smart acquisition from the A’s fire sale. Health is the big question here as well, with deGrom limited to 15 starts last season and Scherzer approaching 40 years old with a ton of mileage on his arm.
deGrom was worth 4.9 fWAR over just 92 innings of work. The metric is a counting stat in that you need to play to be able to accumulate wins above replacement. deGrom was ninth in MLB among pitchers with at least 90 innings. Carlos Rodon was the only other pitcher with fewer than 165 innings in the top nine. deGrom’s absurd 1.08 ERA and 1.24 FIP with 146 strikeouts against 11 walks was the stuff of legend. He was on pace for his best season ever, and he’s already won two Cy Young Awards and a Rookie of the Year. If he’s healthy -- and he has an MRI scheduled for his shoulder already -- he’ll likely be the best pitcher in the NL and maybe even the best pitcher in baseball again. He can opt out of his five-year, $147.5 million contract after this season, so there are some financial incentives for him as well.
(author's note: After filing, it was announced that deGrom has a shoulder injury and is out indefinitely; the Mets win total has fallen to 88.5 most places and the NL Cy Young market has adjusted as well, with deGrom no longer the favorite and others' odds lowered. Clearly this is huge news that should alter your thinking about the Mets"
The Mets are paying more than $43 million per year for Scherzer for the next three years. The future Hall of Famer is not a No. 2 starter. He’s just a No. 1b behind deGrom and is coming off of another outstanding season with a 2.46 ERA and a 2.97 FIP in 179.1 innings. Scherzer struck out more than 34% of batters and walked only 5.2%. He’ll turn 38 in July but remains an elite starter and one that has been durable.
With deGrom and Scherzer, plus all of the name value in the lineup and a good bullpen on paper, the Mets are going to be in some exorbitantly high favorite roles this season and should win a lot of those games.
To replace Marcus Stroman, the Mets traded for Bassitt, who finds a soft landing in a good pitcher’s park after spending all of his MLB career in one. Bassitt has not posted an ERA higher than 3.81 in his last four seasons and his 4.40 FIP in 2019 was the byproduct of an uptick in homers allowed with the juiced baseball. Otherwise, he’s a reliable pitcher who set a career-best in K% and BB% last season. He projects as a really good starter with good contact quality metrics.
The Mets have some decent depth behind their big three. Carlos Carrasco is reportedly healthy after having a bone spur taken out of his elbow. Carrasco was said to have pitched with it for seven years and reports were that his stuff looked better in camp. He just turned 35, though, and was limited to 80 innings in 2019 while undergoing cancer treatment and 53.2 innings last season while injured.
I’m not big on Taijuan Walker, who also comes with injury red flags and shaky command, but he has shown flashes in the past. He’s fine as a No. 5 starter, though I’d rather see Tylor Megill and David Peterson. I’d almost rather see those two over Carrasco, too, though the surgery seems promising. Megill had a 4.52 ERA with a 4.69 FIP in 89.2 innings to kick off his MLB career, but he struck out more than a batter per inning and pounded the strike zone. Peterson is a slider expert who also had some command troubles.
The bullpen looks quite good. Last year’s bullpen was ninth in ERA and FIP and there’s room for improvement this season. Closer Edwin Diaz was excellent in a much-needed bounce-back season. The Mets have to replace Aaron Loup, who was the second-best reliever by fWAR, but Seth Lugo and Trevor May are two quality relief arms. Adam Ottavino is a really nice pickup from the Red Sox. Chasen Shreve is back with the Mets after 25 solid innings in 2020. He’s likely to get the first crack at Loup’s role and I think he’s undervalued.
Player to Watch
OF Brandon Nimmo: In my opinion, Nimmo is the most important piece of this offense. In three of the last four seasons, Nimmo has posted an OBP north of .400. He had a .375 OBP in 2019 when he had the worst BABIP luck of his career. Nimmo sets the table at the top of the order and gets on base at an extremely high rate. Even though the Mets bottomed out late in the year, Nimmo was definitely missed for two months over May and June. The 29-year-old has had more than 400 plate appearances only once and was worth 4.5 fWAR that year. He was worth 3.5 fWAR in just 92 games last season. The offensive projection for the Mets is so much higher when he’s out there, especially because he hits lefties better than the vast majority of left-handed batters. His health is critical.
Health is critical overall for the Mets. They will be one of the oldest teams in baseball this season and have plenty of guys that have spent ample time in the trainer’s room over the last few seasons. They are deep enough to overcome some adversity but collapsed like a house of cards last season. Their ceiling is very high, but I make it a point not to bet Over season win totals or futures with teams like this. Cohen will throw money at any problem, so he could be a buyer of a big contract at the trade deadline. With the Braves favored to win the NL East despite all of the Mets’ talent, it’s hard not to question this team. This could be the year for the Mets, but there are a lot of potential landmines along the way. I’m not even sure there will be a lot of game-by-game betting value, and certainly not in deGrom or Scherzer starts. We’ll see how it all plays out, but I’m being very cautious.
Win Total Lean: Under 90.5
(author's note: Posted before deGrom injury, still lean under the adjusted win total lines)