After a tumultuous 2021 season, where the Mets spent 103 days in first place before completely falling apart and finishing with 77 wins, 2022 presented a major step forward. The Steve Cohen regime had their feet firmly planted in Major League Baseball, and now-former general manager Billy Eppler used the money available to build an elite baseball team—and that they were.
They won 101 games, had the best regular season of my lifetime and of many other’s lifetimes, but it came with a caveat. They fumbled the divisional bag to the Atlanta Braves, ostensibly losing the NL East in a late-September series sweep loss in Atlanta, and went out incredibly sad against the San Diego Padres in the wild card round, putting a damper on what was a wonderful season.
They used that momentum, regardless of how the year ended, to build in the offseason. They lost Jacob deGrom to the eventual 2023 World Series Champion Texas Rangers, and replaced him with Justin Verlander. They re-signed Edwin Diaz and Brandon Nimmo, and brought in David Robertson and Kodai Senga. They made other additions as well — frankly too many to list in a 2024-and-beyond-Mets article — but the point remains: they were poised to repeat their 2022 performance, and perhaps even improve.
Instead, it was an abject disaster.
Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Basically every pitcher got hurt, from Edwin Diaz suffering a season ending injury in the World Baseball Classic, to Jose Quintana suffering a very scary real-life injury, when doctors found a (thankfully) benign lesion on his rib, to Justin Verlander starting his season late, to Max Scherzer struggling to get his season going. Plenty of hitters under preformed. The bullpen was mostly bad. It was just a disappointment in every facet.
They had one of the biggest trade deadlines in franchise history, trading a bunch of stars and eating a lot of money to overhaul a minor league system that was left by the wayside under previous (read: Wilponian) ownership. It hurt, but it was necessary—which is what I wrote at the time.
However, it also opened up a myriad of questions for the Mets and their fans, though a very important one was answered already with the hire of David Stearns.
David Stearns, the President of Baseball Operations That Was Promised, is a huge coup for the Mets. While nothing is guaranteed, he is the exact hire an organization such as the Mets should be making. Stearns, who had a ton of success in Milwaukee on a rather shoestring budget, can do for the Mets what Andrew Friedman did for the Dodgers when they hired him in 2014. He can modernize the organization in a way that no one who was here while the Wilpons owned the team, or while Billy Eppler was running the show, could do. The organization simply was not ready, internally, to put someone like that in the big chair. So they hired one who has proven time and time again that he is more than ready.
Regardless, there are still plenty of questions left unanswered. The front office is still in transition as a whole—a sentence you could say about the last few years—due to Stearns’ newness to the team, and Billy Eppler’s surprise resignation thinned out the front office even more. The team does not have a manager. With that eventual hire likely comes a overhaul of the coaching staff underneath whoever gets the job.
The questions also fall to the roster itself. The Mets need a lot of pitching help — as of now Kodai Senga is a staple at the top of the rotation after an excellent rookie year, and Jose Quintana is a very Solid Veteran™ type pitcher, but virtually everyone behind them is in various degrees of flux. Diaz, who missed the entire season due to injury, is due back but will have to shake off a year of rust, Adam Ottavino showed signs of his age catching up to him, and Drew Smith may or may not be a non-tender candidate. Brooks Raley was solid, for the most part, but the bullpen is in dire need of a few upgrades.
While catcher, first base, second base, and shortstop are set, third base is a bit in flux, especially because Brett Baty was, well, bad (68 wRC+ in 389 plate appearances), and Ronny Mauricio (80 wRC+ in 108 plate appearances), and Mark Vientos (69 wRC+ in 233 plate appearances) were not that much better. They also, currently, have no one to designated hit.
In the outfield, Brandon Nimmo continued his rise into an underrated maybe-star (he finished the year second in wRC+ (130) and fifth in fWAR (4.3), which puts him in elite company), but the rest of the outfield is a question mark. Starling Marte was hurt and never looked like himself from the get-go, ending the year with a 76 wRC+, and Mark Canha ended his season in Milwaukee. You can easily make the case they need at least four hitters. On top of all the pitching they need. That is a lot of needs.
So, the Mets are a team in transition. Which is not what anyone reading this wants to hear after years of futility under the Wilpons, and high highs paired with frustrating lows under Steve Cohen, but it is undeniably where they are. While that does not mean they cannot win in 2024 (you need to take one look at the 2022 seasons for the Texas Rangers and Arizona Diamondbacks to know that), it also means they can go in a bunch of different directions.
Will they tank in 2024? Probably not. Their good players are too old and frankly, there is too much money tied up in the on-field product to do so. Also, with the expanded playoffs there is little reason not to try. On top of that, tanking in baseball is just kind of silly, with how much post-draft player development is necessary. Save that for the sports where the draft has a more immediate impact, please and thank you.
Will they sign Shohei Ohtani? Uhhhhhhh maybe? They will offer him a lot of money and a lot of years and a chance to play in one of, if not the biggest, market in the world in New York City. Something deep in my gut tells me he will be a Los Angeles Dodger (or even a San Francisco Giant), but it will not be for lack of trying.
The exciting, and scary, thing is a team in transition with the financial backing Cohen can give someone with the track record of David Stearns is the world is their oyster, in a way. They can sign Yoshinobu Yamamoto (someone they’ve been considered favorites for), who is only 25 and fits a long-term timeline. The Padres, who took out a loan to cover their team’s payroll, could dangle Juan Soto, who is suddenly attainable for the Mets due to the influx of prospects they got at the deadline. They have the financial wherewithal to sign him, too. No one really knows what Ohtani is going to do, and the Mets will absolutely be offering him a laughably large amount of money — akin to a few sacks of money with dollar signs on them. They will be in these conversations for this caliber of player year in and year out, as they have been since Cohen purchased the team.
It is anyone’s guess how the 2024 Mets will look as I write this, mere hours after the Texas Rangers became the third team to lose 100 games and win the World Series the next season. They have so many holes to fill, and a rather middling free agent class after Ohtani awaits them. They need to sign half a rotation, half a bullpen, hire out a front office, hire a coaching staff. It sounds daunting, but it can also sound exciting — while the first three seasons of the post-Wilpon Mets had a lot of great moments and some devastating ones, it feels like the actual new beginning is, just that, beginning, in 2024 and beyond.