2024 Season Preview: New York Mets

2024 Season Preview: New York Mets

Everything went wrong for the Mets in 2023. Really, it’s been a downward spiral since the club lost a 10.5 game divisional lead to the Braves in the summer months of 2022 and then quickly bowed out in the Wild Card round against the Padres.

A real shame.

Objectively speaking, there was no reason for the Mets to lose as many games as they did last year. After winning 101 in 2022, owner Steve Cohen continued to shovel money at his roster with the hopes of taking down the Braves and making a deep postseason run. A 75-87 campaign quickly fell apart and ultimately led to the Front Office selling veteran pieces like Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander at the Trade Deadline, waiving the white flag for all to see.

With new leadership in place — David Stearns did a bunch of winning with limited resources in Milwaukee — can the Mets finally figure things out moving forward?

Where were they in 2023?

Things never clicked for the Metropolitans despite carrying a $331 million payroll on Opening Day.

The lineup was mostly fine, ranking in the middle of the pack in most stats that count, including 15th in team fWAR and wRC+ (101). There is still plenty of talent here; Francisco Lindor turned in yet another a 6-fWAR season, pending free agent Pete Alonso carried a good-but-not-great 121 wRC+, outfielder Brandon Nimmo sprinted his way to another 4+ fWAR season, and emerging catcher Francisco Alvarez showed real potential for being just 21 years old.

Starling Marte’s surprisingly bad season didn’t do the team any favors, and mid-season trades of Tommy Pham and Mark Canha really took the wind out of team’s sails. There just wasn’t enough depth in the bottom half of the order to support the top half.

The real issue, however, was the pitching staff — namely the AARP rotation that consisted of 39-year-old Max Scherzer, 41-year-old Justin Verlander, 36-year-old Carlos Carrasco, and 34-year-old Jose Quintana — and an unfortunate World Baseball Classic injury to all-world closer Edwin Diaz.

Among all 30 pitching staffs, the Mets ranked: 25th in fWAR, 19th in ERA, 15th in strikeouts, 26th in walks and 22nd in FIP/xFIP. The rotation and bullpen were equally poor, and the cupboard was left bare following mid-season trades of Scherzer, Verlander and reliever David Robertson. At least Kodai Senga was quite good in his first MLB season?

Not helping matters was one of the worst defenses in the majors. New York ranked in the bottom-third of the league in everything from Defensive Runs Saved to Outs Above Average, which was a big step back from a strong 2022. That’s really tough when you play in a big park that gives fielders more room to work; when you finish in the bottom 10 in FIP- and xFIP- and you aren’t fielding, you’re not going to have a good time.

This was a roster that largely underperformed and failed to meet lofty preseason expectations, where many betting markets had them nearly even with the Braves to take the division crown. Even if you point out that the Mets were four or five wins off their run differential or BaseRuns record, well... they were still one of the biggest disasters, relative to expectations, in baseball.

What did they do in the offseason?

It was a fairly mundane first offseason for David Stearns, who inherits a team that has some glaring issues but could easily contend for a Wild Card spot if a few things break the right way.

The first big domino was moving on from manager Buck Showalter after just two seasons. I’ve always found Showalter to be wildly overrated by the national media, but he felt like a scapegoat for the wildly disappointing season (and 2022 mini-collapse). Showalter was replaced by Carlos Mendoza, who most recently served as the Yankees’ bench coach since 2019.

The club made a couple of uninspiring signings in an attempt to solidify the rotation with lefty Sean Manaea and the once-upon-a-time-really-good Luis Severino. Severino is coming off a terrible 2023, but the Mets are hoping a move across town will help resurrect his career. Stearns also reunited with starter Adrian Houser in a trade with Milwaukee for the back end of the rotation.

Harrison Bader signed a one-year deal to help with the outfield defense. The club also brought back Adam Ottavino in the bullpen (in a weird occurrence where Ottavino declined a $6.75 million player option that had a lot of cash deferred to sign a $4.5 million deal with the Mets instead) along with lefty Jake Diekman and old friend Michael Tonkin.

The real loss of the offseason for the Mets came in February, as top starter Senga fell victim to a right shoulder strain in the early days of spring camp. The Mets have said they expect Senga back by May, but shoulder issues this early in the season are concerning. A rotation without Senga looks like it features Jose Quintana, Sean Manaea, Luis Severino, Adrian Houser and presumably Tylor Megill — which simply won’t cut it. The Mets make a lot of sense for free agent starters Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery, but there does not seem to be interest at this point.

Where are they hoping to go?

To finish less than 29 games back of the Braves and more than four games ahead of the Nationals, to put it simply.

There is probably enough talent in the lineup to battle for relevance through the summer, especially if Marte bounces back and Alonso has a big year before free agency. They’ll need Senga to return to the rotation sooner than later and stay healthy, but if he is able to return then the rotation may not be terrible.

The Mets are projected for 80 wins and a fourth place finish by FanGraphs and have similar over/under win totals in Las Vegas, although it would require a minor miracle for New York to hang with the Braves and Phillies. Still, playoff odds over 1-in-4 aren’t terrible, even if the Mets are spending way too much to be this aggressively mediocre at this point.

The roster looks to be this weird mix of “really good” and “what is happening here?” Alvarez, Alonso, Lindor, Nimmo, and even Bader could make for a really strong position player group, but they’re weighed down by uncertainty at third base and DH, as well as the aforementioned ceiling-limited rotation. As a result, at least on paper, it looks like the Mets could very legitimately finish with a top-10 position player unit and a bottom-10 pitching staff, which explains their mediocre team forecast.

Braves 2023 head-to-head

The Braves went 10-3 against the Mets last season, including a 21-3 bopping that was perhaps the lowest point of the season for New York. There was also the epic series in Atlanta in early June, when the Braves notched three comeback wins to sweep the Mets away: they came back from a 4-1 deficit in the opener to win 6-4, did it again the next night to win 7-5, and finally overcame an even bigger deficit (10-6 at one point) to tie the game in the ninth with an Orlando Arcia homer, and then win 13-10 on Ozzie Albies’ walkoff three-run dinger in the tenth. Atlanta’s dominance over divisional foes has been a key part of six straight NL East crowns.

The two clubs will meet 13 more times in 2024, including New York making an early trip to Truist Park in mid-April as part of a four-game series. The Braves will visit New York in early May and late July, and the season series will wrap up with two games in Atlanta to start the final week of the regular season.