On August 31, 2022, the Mets defeated the Dodgers in a tightly-contested game by a score of 2-1; it was a riveting affair in front of a raucous Citi Field crowd that featured both the catch of the year and a classic moment in which Timmy Trumpet played Edwin Diaz out to the mound. The victory improved the Mets record to division-leading 83-49 on the year, and Mets fans were riding about as high as they had in years. The next day, on September 1, I wrote an article titled “The Mets are finally doing it right,” about how the feeling, game experience, and the perception of the Mets was finally changing, and the team was, at last, playing excellent, crisp, and fun baseball.
Maybe those words placed some sort of curse on them, because that game turned out to arguably be the peak of the 2022 season, as it preceded an underwhelming September stretch that cost them the division by just a few days. And this year, well, the 2023 Mets are very much not doing it right. In fact, they’re doing almost everything completely wrong.
In that article, I wrote this about how the team was playing:
This team is fun. This team has a personality. They’ve made coming to the ballpark every night an experience. I don’t mean just on the field, either, where a bunch of entertaining and ebullient All-Stars perform a brand of baseball so competent and satisfying that you have to double take to make sure you are, indeed, watching New York Mets—but off the field as well.
The 2023 Mets are certainly still an experience, but more the kind of experience you tell your therapist about. The roster is still littered with All-Stars and future Hall-of-Famers, many of the same ones from last year, but now they play a brand of baseball so mistake-prone, unfocused, and unwatchable that you are absolutely sure you are still watching the New York Mets you have been your whole life.
This shockingly underperforming bunch is headed by a manager that seems aloof, testy, and completely disconnected with his team. As his squad of highly-paid All-Stars plays uncharacteristically sloppy and mindless baseball, Buck Showalter has done apparently little to curb it, though he has made sure pass the blame on to the players and resolve himself of responsibility for his poor in-game managing any chance he can get.
It would be bad enough if he was just a poor tactical manager, or just gave weirdly dismissive post-game quotes, but Showalter has also been very stubborn with the playing time of certain young players, to the point that, at times, he has appeared to be at odds with his own front office over it. You would think a manager in charge of a nosediving team would try to put his young players in the best positions to succeed and set them up for future success instead of continually trying to ostensibly prove opaque points to his bosses, but as we all know, “Successfully Shielded Brett Baty from Lefties” flags fly forever.
Of course, not everything can be pinned on the manager. It is not Showalter’s fault that his bullpen is short because the best closer in the sport was lost for the season on an incident so ridiculous that it will be on “Worst Freak Sports Injuries” listicles for decades to come. It is not Showalter’s fault that the team relied on two starting pitchers who are a combined 78-years-old to continue pitching like top 5 pitchers in the game. It is not Showalter’s fault that the Mets have developed two relievers in nearly a decade, one of whom is now a starter for the San Diego Padres. The issues go much deeper than the manager.
Whereas 2022 served as a brief look into what a new era of Mets baseball could look like, 2023 has been a cruel reminder that the organizational rot from the previous regimes has not been flushed out yet. On the plus side, Steve Cohen indicated yesterday in his press conference that he knows the Mets are still behind the times and is willing to do what it takes to catch up, but the road there is going to be a bumpy one.
Unfortunately, their actions this year indicate they’re still probably further away than we’d like. The team leaking all offseason that they wanted to focus on acquiring optionable relievers was indicative that they knew what good teams like the Dodgers and Rays do to be successful, but then they couldn’t actually find any good optionable relievers and got stuck with a bullpen full of bad pitchers who couldn’t be optioned like Stephen Nogosek and Tommy Hunter anyway.
They also still struggle at player development in the same ways they have for years. Brett Baty can’t stop hitting the ball really hard directly into the ground, and he hasn’t homered in over a month as a result. David Peterson took his elite chase pitch from last year and started throwing it primarily in the strike zone. Similarly, over half of Tylor Megill’s pitches have basically been 94 MPH fastballs right down the middle. Players like Mark Vientos have not been put in positions to succeed. Even established players like Jeff McNeil, Daniel Vogelbach, and Francisco Lindor have seen their left-handed swings fall completely out of whack for significant portions of the season, and their adjustments have been anywhere from slow to nonexistent. The team still isn’t making anybody better. And they still can’t develop a god damn reliever.
From top to bottom—from the front office, to the field staff, down to the players—the Mets are still the mess we were hoping they no longer were. Maybe in a few years they truly won’t be, but they still are now. The only words of that article from last September that still ring true are the ones about how the Mets have still greatly improved their in-game experience at Citi Field.
The new amenities in 2023—the laughably huge scoreboard in center field along with new standing room bars and a speakeasy in right field—make the ballpark unmistakably that of the richest team in baseball. The promotions, the in-between antics, the new pyrotechnics with the home run apple, the commercials (including the Super Bowl ad), and even the popular social media videos are all the result of Steve Cohen throwing his money around to hire the best marketing, social media, and in-game experience professionals available and make the New York Mets feel like a capital-B “Big Deal.”
But none of that matches up with the actual product on the field this time. The 36-44 New York Mets are very much not a big deal, not even a lowercase one. They’re a season-worst 9.0 games out of the charitable 6th seed. The players aren’t playing well, the manager can’t manage, and the organization still can’t function. This is truly New York Mets baseball as we know it.