The state of the Mets starting lineup

Brandon Nimmo, Pete Alonso
Brandon Nimmo, Pete Alonso / Adam Hagy/GettyImages
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Pete Alonso / Jim McIsaac/GettyImages

Heart of the Order: Francisco Lindor, Pete Alonso, Robinson Cano

For the most part, the heart of the Mets lineup seems straightforward on the surface, but the one position of uncertainty carries a lot of weight in how successful this lineup may be.

Despite an underwhelming and tumultuous first season in Queens, Francisco Lindor should continue as the Mets’ third hitter in 2022. Much has been said about his struggles at the plate last year (.230/.322/.412 with a league average OPS+), but Lindor’s strong final month (.895 OPS in his last 30 games) coupled with a deeper lineup make him a prime bounce-back candidate.

Speaking of bounce-back seasons, Pete Alonso’s strong 2021 solidified his spot as the team’s cleanup hitter. After struggling to find consistency in 2020, the “Polar Bear” rebounded with 37 home runs (third in the National League), 94 runs batted in, and a 134 OPS+ last year, not to mention a successful defense of his Home Run Derby crown. What was most impressive, however, was Alonso’s ability to make more contact at the plate, highlighted by cutdowns in whiff rate (18% improvement in 2021, per Baseball Prospectus) and strikeouts (19.9% strikeout rate after sitting above 25% in his first two seasons).

For the fifth spot, Buck Showalter could go a few different routes. There is a case to be made for Jeff McNeil who, despite an alarming drop-off in production last season (.251 batting average after hitting .319 across his first three seasons), could lengthen the middle of the lineup if he plays closer to his career norms.

Mark Canha could also be an option here. The outfielder served primarily as Oakland’s leadoff hitter last season but was more often a five-hole hitter in the two seasons prior, during which he posted the best on-base percentages of his career (.396 and .387 in 2019 and 2020, respectively).

Then there is Robinson Cano, who is an enigma after missing all of 2021 due to a PED-related suspension. The eight-time All-Star hit .316 with 19 extra-base hits in 171 at-bats in 2020, but at age 39 after a year away from major league action, it’s obvious to wonder just how much the Mets can still expect from Cano. Unless they can somehow negotiate a buyout of the final two years of his contract (he is owed $24 million annually, with $3.75 million per year paid by the Seattle Mariners), the Mets will almost certainly play Cano somewhat regularly, at least at the start of the season.

While there is bound to be some experimenting, the guess here is that Cano will get a shot at batting behind Lindor and Alonso as the designated hitter. If Cano’s track record means anything at this point, he at least offers the potential for a high average hitter with power from the left side, which could balance the rest of the lineup nicely.