The most expensive roster in Major League Baseball history won 101 games in 2022, and also blew the third largest division lead in baseball history and was a quick out in the postseason. Steve Cohen’s $298.8 million New York Mets were sent home by the San Diego Padres in Game 3 of the Wild Card Series on Sunday night.
“It’s raw,” Mets manager Buck Showalter told MLB.com following the Game 3 loss. “It’s sports. It’s so gratifying, and so many great things happen. It’s just cruel too at times like this.”
On June 1 the Mets held a comfortable but not entirely commanding 10 1/2-game lead in the NL East. The defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves gradually whittled that lead down, then took control of the division with an authoritative three-game sweep at Truist Park last weekend. That sent the Mets to the Wild Card Series, then the Padres sent him home for the winter. Only the 1951 Dodgers (13 games) and 1995 Angels (11 games) have blown larger division leads.
Objectively, winning 101 games is a great season. For this Mets team though, it qualifies as a disappointment. This team was — or at least we thought it was — capable of so much more. Now the Mets head into the offseason with several pressing questions, some of which will have more than one answer. Let’s dig into them.
1. How will Cohen react?
Cohen is the wild card. He could pump even more money into the roster this offseason and try to get the Mets over the hump next year, or he could cut payroll because this year’s team provided a poor ROI. I think the former is more likely than the latter, but neither would surprise me. Cohen didn’t get rich by making bad investments, after all. Before the Mets can proceed with anything this winter, the owner has to give his baseball leadership group a direction, and that direction is still unclear so soon after the Game 3 loss.
Also, who will be part of that leadership group? Team president Sandy Alderson is stepping down and will be replaced. Will the Mets finally lure an established president of baseball operations type, someone above GM Billy Eppler, to run the show the way Cohen envisioned when he bought the team? The Mets have had trouble even securing interviews with top baseball operations executive candidates, partly for contractual reasons, and partly because there are concerns Cohen would be too demanding. A hasty, George Steinbrenner-esque start to the offseason would only validate those concerns.
2. Will they keep deGrom?
I have a really hard time seeing Jacob deGrom in another uniform. I think he should be a career Met — who doesn’t love seeing a great player spend his entire career with one team? — and Cohen certainly has the money to keep him. DeGrom is expected to opt out of his contract this offseason (he has one year and $32.5 million remaining) and he admitted the thought crossed his mind Game 2 could be his final start with the team.
“I’m not going to discuss any of that,” deGrom told Newsday when asked about free agency after Game 3. “I have no clue.”
DeGrom turned 34 in June and injuries limited him to 15 starts last season and 11 starts this season, plus he wavered some down the stretch in September. There are age and injury reasons to be wary about a big new contract, and deGrom will surely look to match or exceed the $43.33 million annual salary the Mets are paying Max Scherzer. After a division collapse and a quick postseason exit, what more straightforward way to send the message no one’s spot is safe by letting deGrom leave?
That said, deGrom is excellent, and 15 starts of him is better than 30 starts of most pitchers. Play your cards right and you can nurse deGrom through the regular season so you can turn him loose in October. That was the plan this year, really. The Mets were cautious with Scherzer and his oblique, and deGrom and his shoulder. Are the Mets better with deGrom? Undoubtedly. As for the money, who cares? It’s a drop in the bucket for Cohen.
Also, it’s not just deGrom who is set to hit free agency. Center fielder and leadoff man Brandon Nimmo and shutdown closer Edwin Díaz are free agents-to-be as well. So are Game 3 starter Chris Bassitt; setup men Seth Lugo, Trevor May, and Adam Ottavino; and likely starters Carlos Carrasco ($14 million club option) and Taijuan Walker ($6 million player option) as well. Eight of the 12 pitchers on New York’s Wild Card Series roster can become free agents. That’s a lot of talent potentially walking out the door.
“It hurts. It’s not just the losing, it’s the disbanding,” Pete Alonso told Fox Sports after the Game 3 loss.
3. How can they get better?
Usually it’s very difficult to improve a 101-win roster, but the Mets are in a unique position because they have so many important players becoming free agents. The core of this roster — Alonso, Scherzer, Francisco Lindor, etc. — is intact. They have an ace, they have a star shortstop, they have a 40-homer first baseman. The hard part is out of the way. It’s improving the roster around them that could be challenge, or will at least require a lot of work.
All season long, and especially during important games late in the season, it was obvious the Mets were woefully short on power. They went to Atlanta last weekend and had to scratch for every run while the Braves consistently put points on the board with one swing. The Mets finished 15th among the 30 teams in home runs this year and this is a scary leaderboard right here. This is combined home runs by the right field, left field, and DH positions during the regular season:
1. Yankees: 104
2. Astros: 93
3. Phillies: 92
4. Dodgers: 80
20. Mets: 55
21. Rangers: 54
22. Athletics: 53
23: Pirates: 53
Four postseason teams, including three of the four teams to earn a Wild Card Series bye, sit in the top four spots while the Mets are rolling around in the mud with two teams (A’s and Pirates) that aren’t even pretending to be competitive. DH and the two corner outfield spots carry lofty offensive bars, they are power positions, and they didn’t provide enough power. That leaderboard is a symptom of the larger problem. Once they fell behind 4-0 in Game 3, it was going to take a big swing to get the Mets back in the game, and Alonso and Lindor were really the only Mets capable of providing it.
The goals this offseason are to add power — catcher is another position that is clearly deficient even by the position’s relatively low offensive bar — and rebuild the majority of a pitching staff, and likely find a center fielder as well. Cohen has the money to re-sign deGrom, Díaz, Nimmo, Walker, and others. It’s doable. But how much do the Mets want to run it back with the same roster? After a late season fade and a swift postseason exit, change is in order. The only question is how drastic will the change be this winter?
“Nobody cares that we won 101 games,” Nimmo told Sports Illustrated after Game 3. “Just that we lost these two.”