Playing Pepper 2023: New York Mets

If there is one thing baseball is good at, it’s tradition.  (OK, so that point could be debated with the changes over the last few years.)  Tradition around here states that the beginning of the season means that it’s time for Playing Pepper!  This is the fifteenth season–a decade and a half!–of the series that helps you get ready for the season by going around the league and talking with people that live and die with their teams.  Bloggers, former bloggers, podcasters, we’ve got them all as we take a tour of MLB and play some pepper!  If you get inspired to make some predictions during this series, this contest is open to fans of all teams so enter today!

New York Mets
101-61, second in the NL East, lost in Wild Card round
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Last year’s Pepper
Top pitcher by fWAR: Max Scherzer (4.4)
Top hitter by fWAR: Francisco Lindor (6.8)

After the flurry of the offseason, the Mets emerged as one of the real favorites to win the World Series.  Now, well, they still may be but they’ve had some of that old Mets magic this spring.  Can they shake off their reputation and take the crown?  Let’s see what our folks in the Big Apple are saying!

Contributor Site Twitter
Greg Prince Faith and Fear in Flushing greg_prince
Niko Goutakolis Mets Plus NikoGoutakolis
Chris McShane Amazin' Avenue chrismcshane
Anthony Wayne publicrecord

C70: It seems there is never a dull moment with the current ownership. What are your thoughts about what the Mets did this winter and how they look as the season gets ready to start?

Greg: In a vacuum, the Mets made one right move after another, probably including backing off from a long-term commitment to Carlos Correa when they had doubts about his ankle. Baseball, unfortunately, abhors a vacuum, so we come out of Spring Training without the re-signed Edwin Diaz for a year; likely without the re-signed Brandon Nimmo in the best of shape; and one-fifth of the projected rotation, Jose Quintana, on the shelf for several months. And with neither Eduardo Escobar nor Bret Baty a completely satisfactory third baseman at this moment, it occurs to an emotionally invested observer that Correa might have been quite an upgrade in at least the short term. Perhaps Steve Cohen should have stocked a second full major league roster for when this sort of thing happens.

Niko: Well, I think there’s a lot of excitement, perhaps dampened a bit by the ending of the season last year, where the Mets had a super successful regular season, only to finish the season tied with the Atlanta Braves, but relegated to a Wild Card spot based on the head to head matchup, and then abruptly eliminated by the San Diego Padres.

The winter saw some big additions, and some big subtractions. Justin Verlander is great, but would I prefer to have Jacob deGrom? I’d say so. The homegrown element is an important one as a fan, and it’s seemingly lost in this veteran heavy team, especially with the pitching staff.

Chris: The Mets had a spectacular offseason, something that would have been unfathomable under previous ownership, especially after Jacob deGrom left in free agency. All teams should try to win, and if other teams want to stop the Mets from signing so many players to big contracts, they should simply sign those players themselves instead.

Anthony: It’s pretty obvious that Steve Cohen isn’t shy about spending money. He suggested the luxury tax be named the ‘Cohen’ tax. What’s there not to feel good about. They replaced Jacob deGrom with Justin Verlander, made Brandon Nimmo a very wealthy young man, and installed a video screen at Citi Field that would make the one Jerry Jones has in Dallas look like a iPad. I’m very excited for the season.

C70: Edwin Diaz trumpeted his way through a stellar season and got a great contract in reward. Can he turn in a comparable season this year? (Editor’s note: There’s always questions that don’t work out.)

Greg: Sadly, this topic goes in the same category as how important getting rolling in April of 2020 will be and Jacob deGrom sure looks good for Opening Day 2022. Shea la vie, say the Mets fans, an injury celebrating the WBC goes to show you never can tell. Then again, this is what bullpen depth is for.

Niko: Well all signs pointed towards a yes, until he quickly got put on the shelf for the entire year, following an injury at the end of a WBC game in Miami. The Mets bullpen is slated to be one of their weakest points, and the Mets will no longer be playing 8 inning games in 2023 (in 2022, it was basically assumed that if the Mets were leading after 8, and Diaz was in to pitch, you could count on getting the win.)

Chris: The Mets didn’t stop building their bullpen when they signed Edwin Díaz, which is something that should help them quite a bit now that he’s set to miss at least several months with his knee injury. David Robertson and Adam Ottavino aren’t going to come close to replicating what Díaz did last year, but they should be good enough to get the job done most of the time.

Anthony: The easy answer is they don’t really adapt to him being out. But as the old saying goes, ‘the show must go on.’ Luckily, David Robertson has plenty of closing experience. 

C70: A lot of big names in the starting rotation. Who do you think has the best season and who do you think might be underrated?

Greg: Full-ish seasons from Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, even at their advanced states, would be a delight. Kodai Senga tantalizes as bountiful upside given that he’s an unknown quantity with a track record (oxymoronic as that sounds). Four seasons into a career that’s been cameo-laden, I think this needs to be the year David Peterson proves himself a keeper.

Niko: Hard to say. I’m optimistic that Max Scherzer will be dominant for a good portion of the year, the real question is if he can be healthy. As for an underrated sleeper, keep an eye on Tylor Megill. Mets fans might remember him for being the starting pitcher in last year’s combined no-hitter, but I’m impressed by his mental fortitude and his overall build as a pitcher.

Chris: The Mets are understandably giving Max Scherzer the Opening Day start, but it would be hard to pick anyone other than Justin Verlander, who is coming off winning the American League Cy Young last season, as the team’s best pitcher. Carlos Carrasco is probably the most underrated pitcher of the group.

Anthony: Everyone knows what you’ll get out of Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander and to some extent Carlos Carrasco. My money’s on Kodai Senga. Underrated? Dylan Bundy, haha?

C70: There wouldn’t seem to be a lot of open spots, but is there a rookie or someone with minimal MLB experience that will make an impact for the Mets this year?

Greg: Baty’s defense is a project, but he’s the third baseman at some point — or a part-time left fielder eventually. Francisco Alvarez’s bat lurks as well; I imagine we’ll get a truer sense of his catching before long.

Niko: Keep an eye on Brett Baty. He had a little spurt last year, but never really had time to blossom. His defense is improved from last year, when I went down to Spring Training, and his bat looks more consistent. 

Chris: The Mets opted to send all of their prospects who are nearest to being major league ready to Triple-A Syracuse to start the year. Of that group, Brett Baty seems most likely to get a shot at regular playing time in the not-too-distant future, though Francisco Álvarez would very likely get a shot if either Omar Narváez or Tomás Nido suffers any kind of injury.

Anthony: As I respond to this question, all the would-be impact prospects have been summoned to Triple A. However, if Eduardo Escobar or Daniel Vogelbach struggles from the onset and Brett Baty maintains his current performance at the plate, it will be Baty as the first one called up to the bigs. I’m looking forward to seeing how this situation plays itself out. 

C70: What’s the best case, worst case, and most likely scenario on how 2023 plays out?

Greg: Best case: “No, Diaz wasn’t the closer when we won it all in 2023. You’re thinking of the three World Series after that. I know, it’s hard to keep them straight.”

Worst case: “Don’t EVER mention the WBC to me again!”

Optimistic me thinks they’ll find a way to go far. Fatalistic me expects another body part to drop at a most inopportune time and the certain something that defined their success last year to go missing. Either way, bring on baseball.

Niko: Best case, first place, but it will take some help from our division rivals to be good-to-above average. If anyone else in the NL East (Phillies or Braves) wins 95 games, then things are going to be problematic for the Mets.

Worst case, the Mets miss the playoffs, even if I envision them finishing above 500 even if all falls apart.

My expectation, however, is another Wild Card berth, perhaps with 85-90 wins.

Chris: The best case scenario would see the Mets winning 100-plus games in the regular season again, which would make for the first time the franchise has done so in back-to-back seasons, claiming the division title, and going on to win the World Series. The worst case scenario probably looks something like last year, with a very strong regular season and an early playoff exit. The most likely scenario is closer to the best case than the worst.

Anthony: Obvious answer for best case is that the Mets make the playoffs again and get past the Wild Card round. However, it’s gonna be a tough task as the NL East is pretty solid with the Braves and Phillies set up as bonafide contenders to win the division. Worst case, they don’t make the playoffs and the injuries to Edwin Diaz and Jose Quintana are just the tip of the iceberg.

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