After deGrom, Scherzer News Mets Must Be Aggressive to Avoid All too Familiar FailureApril 4, 2022
The New York Mets might have been one of the National League favorites last year, but this year, it's supposed to be different.
They have a rotation that contains two potential Hall of Famers in Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer and depth at nearly every position.
They overhauled their analytics department and front office in recent seasons and hired a respected, veteran manager in Buck Showalter.
The Mets also have an owner in Steve Cohen who is so unafraid of spending money to turn his childhood team into a juggernaut that there was an entirely separate luxury tax tier created to try and restrain his spending.
These are no longer the hapless Mets known more for Wilponian dysfunction than anything else. DraftKings Sportsbook has the Mets with the second-highest odds to win the NL East, only behind the defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves.
However, this is the Mets we're talking about, so a lot can go wrong. And a lot already has gone wrong just a few days away from Opening Day.
DeGrom will be sidelined for at least a month with a stress reaction in the scapula of his right arm. Scherzer—the same pitcher who had a dead arm at the end of the playoffs last fall—has cast doubt on his Opening Day availability with a hamstring injury.
Just like the Mets of old, the new regime is already hyping up organizational depth, with general manager Billy Eppler saying he doesn't need to look for help outside of the 18th-ranked farm system.
But while deGrom is a key piece of the 2022 Mets, the season doesn't hinge on him alone. We've all seen the Mets lose despite deGrom spinning absolute masterpieces on the mound. He won a Cy Young Award in 2018 with only 10 wins to his credit, the fewest amount by a starting pitcher in a full season in the history of the award.
The Mets' success this season depends on the club's ability to overcome obstacles like the ones they are already facing. Eppler, team president Sandy Alderson and the rest of the front office will have to be able to maintain that roster depth and make the savvy moves necessary to stay competitive when injuries and ineffectiveness inevitably add to their issues.
The injuries to deGrom and Scherzer are the first big challenges posed to the club. A big-time team would work the trade market to find another starting pitcher.
The Mets reportedly considered a trade with the San Diego Padres for starter Chris Paddack but smartly backed off. Despite salary retention, Eric Hosmer would have pushed the Mets into that Cohen level of the luxury tax tier, and spending just to spend is what Alderson would call "bad optics." Furthermore, Paddack has not been the same pitcher since his breakout rookie campaign.
Reliever Emilio Pagan would have been a nice piece, but Eppler completed a trade with his old boss in the Bronx, Brian Cashman, to get Joely Rodriguez in exchange for reliever Miguel Castro. Rodriguez is still under team control through 2025, and it gives the bullpen some much-needed left-handed depth.
Still, the Mets should continue to seek starting pitching depth.
Acquiring Chris Bassitt from the Oakland A's was a fantastic move, and Taijuan Walker was solid for the Mets last season. However, Tylor Megill and David Peterson are decent but are likely depth pieces at best.
Meanwhile, no one knows what kind of pitcher Carlos Carrasco will be after posting a 6.04 ERA in 12 starts last year coming off of a torn hamstring. He pitched through bone fragments in his elbow and had surgery to remove them over the winter. So far, his spring results have been underwhelming, but he's encouraged by how his elbow feels.
Carrasco is 35, so a decline can be expected, but the drop-off has been steep.
On the other side of the ball, the Mets have a dangerous lineup, but they could further deepen it with a reunion with Michael Conforto.
The 39-year-old Robinson Cano will return this year after sitting out last season for his second performance-enhancing drug suspension, though Jeff McNeil is expected to be the primary second baseman.
Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith could split time at first base and DH. Smith is already pushing Cano for time at DH with a 1.292 Grapefruit League OPS. The addition of Eduardo Escobar solves the third base problem. Francisco Lindor should have a bounce-back campaign, and Starling Marte and Mark Canha bring some positional flexibility and some pop. Center field appears to be Brandon Nimmo's job to lose.
Of course, Conforto is still available on the free-agent market, and he would help the defensive outfield depth while potentially getting at-bats as a designated hitter. Marte has already dealt with an oblique injury this spring and the shift to right field is sort of an experiment the Mets are hoping works out. Conforto would provide some insurance, while also bringing a respected clubhouse presence.
This Mets lineup could wreak havoc on the NL East. This could be the year the Mets finally give deGrom and the rest of the starting pitchers some run support and remain competitive throughout the summer and fall.
Or, it could once again all go wrong: deGrom could remain out for a longer period of time, Scherzer could struggle with injuries, the back-end starters get shelled, the lineup underproduces and things spiral out of control once again. It's not completely out of the realm of possibility, since it's exactly what happened last season, the one before that and several before that as well.
Every year, the team begins the season with sky-high expectations only to find themselves struggling to stay afloat by mid-May. It's a longstanding pattern with this team.
On paper, this is a better team than the one that finished 11.5 games behind the Braves last season, but they have to stop this cycle. The rat-or-raccoon fiasco, the thumbs-down and the general Metsiness that has hindered the team in the past probably won't fly with manager Buck Showalter.
He's a respected figure in the game in part because he knows how to hold a clubhouse accountable while also deftly managing demanding front office executives.
Showalter, the former manager of the Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks, Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles, is the best person for the job right now. The culture around the team didn't change overnight, as is evidenced by the disastrous first year of the Cohen era, but Showalter is someone who can start to bring positive change.
Cohen and the Mets have long talked about emulating the Los Angeles Dodgers. If they want to have that kind of success, they need to act the part on the field, in the clubhouse and in the front office.
The Dodgers traded for Craig Kimbrel last week, even though they didn't really need a pitcher of his caliber. This is the same team that acquired Scherzer last year and used him to get to the NLCS, and if L.A. were down two pitchers, they would likely get one from outside the organization.
It's time for the Mets to prove that positive change has finally been made to an organization that has only cleared the 90-win mark three times since 2000. They can do that by remaining aggressive in upgrading their roster and getting out of their own way.
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