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2023 New York Mets: A Learning Lesson

Kodai Senga pitches on the road for the New York Mets against the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 5, 2023.

The Mets had a disastrous season, finishing with a losing record despite running the highest payroll in league history.

New York Mets Owner Steve Cohen should learn not to put all his eggs in one basket. After signing SPs Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer last offseason, the Mets were clear World Series contenders. Despite having two Hall-of-Famers in the rotation, Cohen failed to understand that even the best pitchers struggle at times. After winning 101 games last year, Vegas placed their over/under at a surprisingly low 91.5 wins. That proved to be a pipe dream, as the Mets won only 75 games, finishing fourth in the NL East.

Teams and players don’t get rings for winning the offseason. The Mets bet that their offense would cover for any pitching flaws while assuming the pitching would not go awry. Yet when Verlander and Scherzer couldn’t match their Cy Young peaks, the offense could not deliver in tough situations. Due to weak hitting and faulty relief pitching, too many games resulted in blowing leads or letting close games become blowouts. As the bullpen continued to give wins away, the Mets realized their dreams were well and truly shattered.

It has been 37 years since the Mets last hoisted the Commissioner’s Trophy, yet the contrasts between the 1986 squad and this one could not be more apparent. With a rotation featuring SPs Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, and Bob Ojeda, the ’86 Mets dominated opponents and got timely hits. Ojeda was the elder statesman at 28 years old, while the ’23 Mets relied on two stars near retirement each making $43 million per year. But it is unfair to blame Justin and Max for the downfall of this team.

Who Should Get the Blame?

It is easy to simply blame Manager Buck Showalter for failing to rally his team and restart their mentality when things got worse. Showalter has been managing for three decades and won Manager of the Year in 2022. He knows what it takes to win and what happens when you make mistakes. His biggest mistake this season was unsuccessfully utilizing the bullpen to help out Scherzer and Verlander. If the Mets had more depth in the rotation and the bullpen, their season might have turned out differently. Instead, both aces moved to the state of Texas at the trade deadline.

Showalter only has so much control over who can play, so the focus should be on the front office. Now-former GM Billy Eppler misfired by allocating $86 million to just two players. The Mets could only afford for one of their aces to decline, but both did somewhat, so once the season was lost, Eppler traded both to clear some of the massive payroll and build the farm system. This offseason, expect a more conservative approach, as they will need to readjust their focus to find a winning formula again. The Mets felt none of their division rivals could challenge them, and that turned out to be patently false.

On-Field Issues, and Some Bright Spots

Even in today’s world where batting average does not mean much, hitting .300 is still a magical accomplishment. But only three regulars on the Mets hit over .250, and none were close to .300. Worse, only three everyday players had an OPS over .800, a simple cutoff for above-average hitters. OF Brandon Nimmo was the only player with an on-base percentage over .350, and SS Francisco Lindor was the only one to score 1oo runs. the two of them, at least, are living up to their pricy contracts signed in recent years. Veterans OF Starling Marte and DH Daniel Vogelbach were great disappointments. The offense simply lacked an ability to get baserunners and score runs, as evidenced by their Pythagorean record being five wins better than their actual record.

Things were not much better on the mound. RP David Robertson led the team with 14 saves before getting dealt at the deadline. RP Adam Ottavino was second with 12, but his ERA was over a run higher while taking seven losses in 61.2 innings. SP Joey Lucchesi went 4-0 down the stretch and will likely be in the rotation in the spring. SP Kodai Senga became the team ace as the season went on, as he led the team with 202 strikeouts and also posted a 2.98 ERA and 142 ERA+. He won 12 games in 29 starts. Only Verlander and Scherzer had a better WHIP than him among starters, and Senga proved that rookies can be valuable.

Looking at the Positives

Everyone should pay attention to Kodai Senga for years to come. Coming over from pitcher-haven Japan, Senga did a remarkable job given the circumstances. No 30-year-old rookie expects to outperform two Hall-of-Famers and still have potential left. His five-year contract actually looks good. Making Senga more comfortable as the team ace will prove to be much wiser than relying on older stars.

Of all the Mets players, C Francisco Alvarez has by far the most potential. At just 21 years old, Alvarez had a solid year as a rookie. He still has a lot to prove as a starting catcher, with youth as his greatest asset. Alvarez made great strides this year, but if he can continue to improve at the plate and behind it, he can because one of the most reliable players for the long term. No one should take the tools of ignorance lightly, and Alvarez has become adept at framing and keeping pitchers focused on the zone. the Mets will certainly need to track his progression to potentially lock him up to an extension.

1B Pete Alonso is certainly the biggest star on this disappointing squad, cranking out 46 home runs and 118 RBIs. He was the only Met with a slugging percentage over .500, and only three others played at 150 games. The Polar Bear did not cool off this year, but many of his teammates were stuck in the tundra. Alonso led the team in total bases and was third in walks, but he also struck out the most, as power hitters are apt to do. Improving his plate discipline will help in the future, as Alonso has shown over his five seasons, he can do serious damage at his best.

Where Do They Go from Here?

With the Mets’ offseason already in full swing, the team is taking a long look at how to improve and change their approach for 2024. They already have a new PBO in David Stearns, while Eppler and Showalter are no longer part of the organization. Fans must hope that Cohen does not try anything else that backfires in spectacular fashion, from both a financial and performance standpoint.

It truly is painful to think of the 2023 Mets as a shattered team, one with World Series aspirations. Yet nothing of this year seemed to be in their hands once the cleats hit the grass. No NL pennant, division title, or even a postseason berth. This was supposed to be the year for New York’s second team to shine and show why they were the talk of the town. Instead, the Mets were left in the dust, and in disarray, shocked and confused at their sudden reversal of fortune. This is the nature of baseball sometimes and can serve as a warning: you can always lose big.

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