The Mets are content in knowing they will field a competitive team in 2021. With holes to fill, the looming question is how far they can go.
No question, the Mets will field an improved team in 2021.
While the much-anticipated spending spree brought on by the exploding pockets of Steve Cohen fizzled, the Mets left it to the Dodgers to blow past the $210 million payroll threshold – leaving them subject to an $18 million tax bill before the season even begins.
Much more than the American League, several National League teams elected to roll the dice on the unrelenting pandemic’s financial constraints.
In addition to the Dodgers, the Braves, Padres, and Cardinals each made significant improvements to their respective teams, promising that Division races will be especially competitive, with many projecting as many as five teams in the NL East bunched together by five or fewer games by season’s end.
Brushing aside the embarrassment of not one but two high-level executives being fired due to sexual harassment charges, Sandy Alderson, together with Assistant General Manager Zack Scott, engaged themselves with a boatload of moves designed to improve the Mets team.
Mets: Filling In The Pieces
The big splash occurred first when Francisco Lindor (right) and Carlos Carrasco were “lifted” from the roster of the Cleveland Indians. That one trade comprised most of the heavy lifting the Mets needed, adding an All-Star shortstop to replace Amed Rosario and a bonafide Class B+ starting pitcher to the rotation.
From there, Alderson designed a strategy to add smaller pieces that, when totaled up, would comprise the whole of a team, leaving manager Luis Rojas with a wide range of possibilities when constructing a lineup.
More recently, the Mets added veteran outfielder Kevin Pillar, who signed a one-year $5 million deal that further strengthens the team’s bench.
While none of these players are bound to light up the hearts of Mets fans, each can be counted on as insurance in the event of injury or poor performance by anyone on the A-Team.
Mets: Not Quite Ready For Prime Time
Free-agent George Springer ended up in Toronto, extinguishing the Mets’ interest to cover centerfield. Jackie Bradley Jr. appears to have voluntarily priced himself out of the market, leaving Nimmo, who is defensively challenged as the heir to the position by default.
Rumors of the Mets’ interest in Oakland’s All-Star third baseman Matt Chapman are likely true, but given the A’s recent addition of closer Trevor Rosenthal, together with a relatively weak AL West Division, the A’s are not likely to trade Chapman before the trade deadline.
The good news is that despite Steve Cohen’s willingness to exceed the luxury tax threshold (if needed), Alderson has the Mets currently ensconced in a good position for late-season moves with almost $16 million to spare.
Additionally and to their credit, the Alderson/Scott team has assembled an array of bullpen artists, featuring Trevor May and Stephen Tarpley, in addition to lefties Thomas Szapucki and Daniel Zamora.
Depth in the bullpen is especially essential this year, given the limited number of innings starting pitchers were able to throw during last year’s abbreviated season. On the surface, you might say that’s good. But not so when it comes to the regimen starters demand and are used to.
Questions Yet To Be Firmly Answered
Other questions loom on the horizon for the Mets as they prepare for the upcoming season.
As of today, the National League will proceed without a Designated Hitter (DH). This presents a problem, particularly for the Mets, who counted on the split time between Pete Alonso, Dominic Smith, and Davis as the DH.
In particular, Smith is affected, assuming Alonso can bounce back from a so-so 2020 season to be closer to the numbers he put up in 2019. A work in progress in the outfield while Alonso can only play first base, the Mets need Smith’s bat in the lineup no matter what.
Ergo, another test for Luis Rojas to keep everyone happy with at-bats while still adhering to filling out a lineup card that gives the Mets their best chance to win on any given day.
Mets Pitching: Whoever Has Enough Of That?
Moreover, there are questions within the starting rotation. Is David Peterson for real, or will the league catch up to him after such a promising season – and if the league does so – does Peterson have the wherewithal to counter that with an adjustment of his own?
Second, Marcus Stroman unabashedly chose the Mets and Steve Cohen as the team he wanted to play for in 2021. But slotted in as the number three behind Jacob deGrom and Carrasco, can Stroman deliver anything more than what we saw in 2019 after he arrived from Cleveland (4-2, 3.77 in 11 starts).
And finally, what will Noah Syndergaard’s impact be this year as he returns from arm surgery?
Chomping at the bit already amid bullpen sessions that continue to impress, together with his impending free-agent status next year, will the Mets or Syndergaard be the boss in determining when he is “ready” to face major league hitters throwing full throttle?
Mets: Filling Out The Ifs, And, And Buts
In sum, the Mets are a team with nearly but not all of the pieces. Clearly, the Dodgers rule at least on paper, and the San Diego Padres come in a close second.
Adding to the Mets season’s stress is the reduced number of qualifying playoff teams from last year’s eight to five from each league.
If we jump on the Padres bandwagon as the first Wild Card qualifier, that leaves the Mets competing for the final spot – unless, of course, they can win the NL East.
With the Braves largely being given the NL East by most pundits and assuming the St. Louis Cardinals by adding Nolan Arenado are a lock for the NL Central, this leaves the Mets scrambling to better an improved Washington Nationals team, as well as the Phillies, who promise to be particularly annoying as the season moves on.
No one wins anything without a stroke of luck, good health, and a few breaks in MLB today.
Assuming (big assumptions) the Braves are worthy of their installation as the favorite in the NL East and the season extends to 162 games as planned, the Mets can win the division in one of two ways.
Either the Mets can beat the Braves 12-7 or better, a separation of five games in the standings, or demolish the Marlins and Phillies by an even greater margin, splitting with the Nationals, and playing the Braves to a 10-9 split either way.
Another opportunity exists for the Mets as well when they draw the AL East as their interleague opponents. Here, they will find the Orioles, Red Sox, a diluted Rays team, and the Blue Jays as teams they put a hurt on while padding their W-L mark.
We end, though, pretty much where we began. The Mets will be heard from in 2021, and the team we see in October is not likely to be the team we see now.
They’re good – the question that will be answered, though – is how good?