By Joe Rini
For those in a hurry, the 2022 New York Mets are your team. They are the win-now Mets. Steve Cohen opened his checkbook and the hitherto frugal Mets became the newly spending Mets. New GM Billy Eppler signed multiple free agents shortly after reading the Mets’ new employee manual. Breaking trend, the Mets named veteran manager Buck Showalter as their skipper. Whereas managers Luis Rojas and Mickey Callaway won their first career major league games with the Mets, Showalter’s first win with the Mets will be win number 1,552.
The rebuild of the disappointing 2021 Mets traveled on the express track this winter. Their improvements should be sufficient to land a spot in baseball’s expanded postseason. However, potential pitfalls lurk in the bullpen and pitching staff.
On the positive side, Buck Showalter is a strong managerial hire. The Mets are a veteran-heavy team. For instance, Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer top the rotation with a combined five Cy Youngs and 70 years of life. Free-agent signees Starling Marte, Eduardo Escobar, and Mark Canha are all 33 years old. Such a team needs a manager whose authority walks in through the clubhouse door with him. Showalter has the gravitas to command the players’ respect and the experience not to be awed by New York.
The surprise addition of Scherzer looms even larger with deGrom starting the season on the IL. He’ll anchor the staff until deGrom returns. Speaking of deGrom this week, Showalter chose a positive spin on his absence. “I look at it, think about how strong he is going to be as the season progresses. That’s a pretty good addition instead of a trade, Jacob deGrom.” The addition of right-handed starter Chris Bassitt further fortifies the rotation.
The addition of Marte and Escobar upgrades the Opening Day lineup at the plate and in the field. Power-hitting Pete Alonso fills the cleanup spot in the lineup. The Mets count on Francisco Lindor, Jeff McNeil, and Dom Smith to bounce back at the plate from disappointing 2021 seasons. If they return to form, it will be a major plus for the Mets. Robinson Canó hit well in spring training following his year-long suspension. Showalter will find time for Cano at second base or DH if his bat justifies it.
On the cautionary side, the Mets bullpen is a question mark at the start of the season. Given the short spring training, the relief corps will be taxed in the early going to get 12-15 outs per game. Edwin Diaz begins his fourth season as the closer and has yet to duplicate his success with the Seattle Mariners. The Mets surprisingly allowed Aaron Loup and his 0.95 ERA to leave in free agency, creating a gap in relief. While they acquired Joely Rodriguez this week to fill Loup’s role, they traded reliable Miguel Castro to obtain him. Newly acquired Adam Ottavino is coming off two sub-par seasons while young Drew Smith seeks to expand on his success in 2021. The Mets will need Seth Lugo to return to form after an injury-plagued 2021.
Injuries and the lack of depth could hamper the starting rotation, too. Degrom will miss at least the first two months of the season while Scherzer’s debut is uncertain due to a tight hamstring. Taijuan Walker’s season debut may be delayed by a sore knee, while injuries limited Carlos Carrasco to 12 starts and one victory last season. Moreover, Tylor Megill is the surprise Opening Day starter due to injuries to deGrom and Scherzer. Megill was a surprisingly successful call-up last season in 18 starts until he wore down at season’s end. It will bear watching to see if the increase in workload in 2021 carries over into 2022. Should the rotation get hit with injuries, there isn’t much-starting pitching depth at the Triple-A level, a by-product of the Mets’ win-now mode in trading two pitching prospects for Bassitt.
The Mets should be in contention for a postseason spot in 2022. What happens between the white lines will determine the Mets’ fate, but perhaps the long overdue induction of Mets legend Gil Hodges into the Hall of Fame gives the win now Mets good karma for 2022.