The New York Mets are in deep trouble.
I mean, would it actually be the start of baseball if there wasn't already panic and existential dread from the Mets fanbase? Of course not! And while "panic" may not be the right adjective, "mild concern" definitely applies.
The Mets, up until this point, have had a very good offseason. A 99-day, MLB enforced lockout quenched the league-wide buzz that had come from the club going on a major shopping spree. A spree which included the signings of Eduardo Escobar, Starling Marte and Mark Canha.
This was obviously a stark contrast from the previous Wilpon-led ownership group and signaled to the fanbase that new owner Steve Cohen was determined to win now. That competitiveness was punctuated by signing Max Scherzer to the highest annual contract in MLB history. Again, this was all before the December 2nd lockout. New York (NL) had won the offseason before Christmas. Once the lockout lifted, the Mets traded for all-star pitcher Chris Bassitt, giving the Mets arguably the best top three pitchers in the league.
Considering the offseason, how could anyone think there’s a reason for concern, right?
The Mets have no doubt improved as a team, whether that be by addition or addition by subtraction. However, the Mets came into this offseason trying to play catch-up to the heavyweight Dodgers, reigning World Series champion Braves and other NL teams vying for a trip to the October classic.
Add to the mix rumors of the Phillies signing outfielder Nick Castellanos after already having signed Met-killer Kyle Schwarber, and you’re looking at a division that all of the sudden is a bit more competitive than people realize.
I’m a generally realistic Mets fan who leans on the side of optimism. I think this team is much better than it was last year. But there's a nagging feeling that in some sort of Mets-ian way, this could all come crashing down rather quickly. Here's why:
The injury bug
Marte, who is 33 and coming off a 5.5 fWAR season, is already dealing with an oblique issue that has kept him out of either lineup during the intra-squad games today. Marte is set to roam the outfield with Brandon Nimmo, who has only played more than 100 games once in his career, but played 55 out of the 60 games in the truncated 2020 season.
Let's also not forget that Jacob deGrom only started 15 games last year. Yes, those 15 games were historic, but a lot of stock is being put into a completely healthy season from a pitcher who dealt with a forearm issue and is throwing 101 MPH constantly. Scherzer, who is supposed to be paired with deGrom to make the best 1-2 punch in baseball, also experience arm fatigue down the stretch of last season and is 37 years old.
They'll bounce back, right?
Ah the good ole' "bounce back season". It's what fantasy baseball managers bank on and what the Mets have grown accustomed to trusting in, but for a lot of the lineup spots, a bounce-back season is exactly what the team is moving forward with. Dom Smith, Jeff McNeil, J.D. Davis and former (or not?) Met Michael Conforto all had uncharacteristically bad seasons in 2021. New reports indicated that Smith was dealing with a torn labrum, while Davis was battling a wrist injury. A lot of the conversation around that group seems to be centered on "if they play like they did in _____". Championship caliber teams like the Dodgers and emerging favorites like the Jays aren't playing the "what if" game.
Realistically, the Mets will be fine and most likely will make the playoffs, especially given its expanded format. It's hard to imagine a world in which Steve Cohen's money and the teams misplaced assets don't yield midseason improvements if needed. And even if the Mets didn't make another move, they're still vastly, vastly improved. But it's important to note that while the World Series is the goal, the path there is far from a foregone conclusion. If the Mets are truly in win-now mode, there's more to be done in the next 20 days once the regular season starts.