WASHINGTON — So much has been different about the Mets since 2016, the last time they made the playoffs. The rosters inevitably change, but the Mets’ overhaul goes much deeper. They have, to name a few important figures, a new manager, a new general manager and a new team owner – the last of this group making the biggest difference in the direction of any franchise.
The past decade for the Mets has been defined more by losses and drama than by consistent wins and successes. The Mets, whose last World Series title was in 1986, have only made the playoffs twice since 2007. But after an additional winter of overhaul, one of the most anticipated seasons in recent history the team has arrived, scheduled to start against the Nationals on Thursday night in Washington, DC There are many reasons to be more optimistic about the Mets than in the past.
For so long under former owners, the Wilpons, the Mets languished in the National League rankings and Major League Baseball payroll rankings despite their presence in the largest media market in the United States.
But under second-year owner Steven A. Cohen, the hedge fund manager with a reported net worth of more than $15 billion, the team now enjoys the wealthiest majority owner in MLB and behaves accordingly. Only the still-maintained Los Angeles Dodgers ($293 million, for luxury tax purposes) have a higher MLB payroll than the Mets’ franchise record of $286 million.
When healthy — a challenge right now — the Mets have two of baseball’s best pitchers in right-handers Jacob deGrom, 33, and Max Scherzer, 37, who have each won multiple Cy Young awards. While deGrom could be out for months with a shoulder injury clouding the team’s outlook, the Mets received encouraging news about Scherzer’s tight hamstring on Thursday and planned to debut him with the Mets on Friday. And luckily for the Mets, they traded to the Oakland Athletics in March for right-handed starting pitcher Chris Bassitt, a 2021 All-Star.
To further overhaul the team heading into this season, the Mets spent $254.5 million on outfielder Starling Marte, outfielder and first baseman Mark Canha, outfielder Eduardo Escobar and Scherzer. They round out a roster that includes key players who performed well or underperformed last year: first baseman Pete Alonso, second baseman and outfielder Jeff McNeil, shortstop Francisco Lindor and pitcher starting Taijuan Walker.
The 2022 MLB season begins
Baseball is back after a labor dispute delayed the start of the season.
“We just want to play good baseball,” Scherzer, who won the 2019 World Series with the Nationals, said before Thursday’s game. “There is a lot of talent here. A lot of moves were made in the offseason to bolster the talent here. It’s up to us to come together as a team and as a clubhouse and play well as a team and do our best. We need a good start from the beginning.
Mets general manager Billy Eppler never built a playoff team in five seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, but he proved capable of attracting some of baseball’s best players. (He lured two-way star Shohei Ohtani, the 2021 American League Most Valuable Player, to Anaheim, Calif., from Japan.) Mets manager Buck Showalter, who has a .506 career winning percentage over 20 seasons with four different teams, is the most experienced skipper they have employed in some time.
“He’s really, really organized,” said Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo, who sat out Thursday’s season opener with a stiff neck. “He is precise. He will be prepared. I don’t think we’re going to lose a game because Buck wasn’t prepared.”
Nimmo is cheerful by nature, but heading into this season he noted that the team put together by Cohen and Eppler was extremely talented, which made him “really optimistic”. Referring to the new players, Nimmo said, “These guys have a long track record of big league success and good results in the big leagues.”
The playoff field has been expanded to 12 out of 10 teams in the sport’s new collective bargaining agreement, but the Mets’ NL East division will be strong. The Nationals are rebuilding, but the Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies have committed significant sums to upgrades this winter. The Phillies didn’t spend much on defense, but they did add the mighty bats of outfielders Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber for a total of $179 million.
The team to beat will be defending World Series champions Atlanta. Despite letting longtime star first baseman Freddie Freeman go via free agency, Atlanta has a record $206 million payroll after a flurry of moves, trade with the Athletics for the player from star first baseman Matt Olson (and signing him to an eight-year, $168 million contract extension), re-sign outfielder Eddie Rosario and add former Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen.
“It will be a tough division and there are a lot of good teams and talent,” Scherzer said. “Everyone has to look their best.”
That will include 26-year-old Tylor Megill on Thursday. Because deGrom was injured shortly before Opening Day, Scherzer was dealing with a minor hamstring injury, and Showalter didn’t want to disrupt the schedules of other starting pitchers, the Mets turned to Megill, with 18 career starts, for the opening day assignment.
But after two pandemic-altered seasons, a labor dispute between MLB owners and players that nearly jeopardized a full 162-game regular season, rushed spring training and a flurry of activity to overhaul the franchise , the Mets were just thrilled to start a hopeful new season.
“Everyone is going to be looking forward to having a game or two under their belt and getting into the routine,” Showalter said while speaking to reporters in the touring director’s office at Nationals Park ahead of Thursday’s game. . “Everyone here is too. It’s been so…” his voice trails off before continuing, “And I’m trying to keep in mind how different what we’re doing right now is. It’s been a long time.”