So here we are, back again. The 2023 season is ready to begin in mere hours, and it’s been a wild and weird off season. Between the departure of Jacob deGrom, the arrival of Justin Verlander, and the explosion of Edwin Diaz’s patella tendon, the off season had it all.
This is something I like to do every year, and it’s called “Five Mets Who Will Tell The Story Of The Season”. Fot those looking for the big names like Verlander, Scherzer, Alonso and Lindor, you won’t find them here. Because those are the obvious ones. Instead, I like to look up and down the roster at players whose expectations for the season go from savior to slap nuts. If these five (or maybe six) players can perform to their capability, it’ll take the Mets from a B+ to an A+, and set them up well for 2023. Here we go:
Yeah, file this one under “duh”. With Diaz’s injury, someone has to step up and be the closer, and I’m sure nobody on Twitter will expect Ottavino to strike out the side every night like Diaz used to. I’m sure Mets fans will be nuanced and calm about this.
But seriously, when it’s all said and done, I expect Ottavino will get the bulk of the closing opportunities, along with David Robertson. The one good thing about the way the bullpen is set up now is that Buck won’t think twice about going from closer to closer if the Mets are involved in a stretch of 4-5 close games in a row. With Diaz, there was always a question of “can he pitch three, four straight days?” Now at least there will be no question about one closer being in there too many days in a row. (Small consolation, I know.)
What the performance of Ottavino and Robertson will decide is how desperate the Mets will be to add a back end closer at the deadline. I think the Mets will ultimately get somebody in July. But if Ottavino/Robertson can get the job done, the Billy Eppler can deal from strength and not get robbed in his pursuit of, say, David Bednar of Pittsburgh. If Ottavino and Robertson are disasters, and a guy like Tylor Megill can’t provide lightning in a bottle in the 9th inning (and that’s assuming they would even view Megill as a reliever rather than a starter), then the asking price goes way up.
With Brett Baty starting the season in the minors, third base belongs to Eduardo Escobar for now. When Baty is ready to come up and play every day, Escobar will probably still find time as the DH. Escobar had a sub-par 2022 season which included a supreme September, putting up an OPS of .982 and collecting some huge hits along the way. (He even had a home run in the playoffs, not that anyone remembers as it came with the Mets down 7-0, but still.) If Escobar can find a little more consistency this season, which isn’t hard to imagine being a season removed from changing teams, he can lengthen the lineup and reduce the need for the Mets to go out and find a bat at the deadline.
To be honest, I think Baty will come up when he’s ready, regardless of how Escobar is performing. If anything, he’ll take at bats from a guy like Tommy Pham before he takes them away from Escobar, unless Escobar is so deep in the tank that he can’t find his way out. If that’s the case, then the Mets gave bigger problems.
The performance of a catcher is always extremely important, because the catcher is responsible for his own offense, defense behind the plate on almost every pitch of the game, and handling a pitching staff. For Nido, along with every catcher in the league this season, his performance will be extra important considering the new rules regarding pitcher disengagements. With pitchers only having two opportunities to pick off a runner at first base, the catcher will be tasked with more throws to first to attempt to pick off runners, and will at the very least need to keep his head in the game regarding knowing how many pick offs a pitcher has thrown so he knows not to call another one, or knows which runners are worth risking that third pick off throw for, knowing that it’ll be a balk if he doesn’t get him.
I’m convinced that’s one reason why Francisco Alvarez isn’t starting with the big club to start the season. They want him to hone his defense, sure. But with this extra layer of responsibility for the catcher, I’m sure the Mets want that aspect of the game to slow down for Alvarez before they bring him up and give him the responsibility to catch in the big leagues.
The opportunity to grab Kodai Senga from Japan afforded the Mets to go after another starter in Jose Quintana, rather than put all their eggs in the basket of, say, Carlos Rodon. Two arms are better than one, right?
Well in this case, with Quintana and Rodon both on the shelf, one arm is better than none. If Senga is what’s advertised, and what’s advertised is pretty special, then it takes a lot of the pressure off of Scherzer and Verlander to be Scherzer and Verlander every single night. I look at his stuff and say “whoa, the league isn’t ready for this.” If that’s the case, then the Mets will go full steam into October with three dangerous arms for the playoffs, and Senga having a match up advantage against other third starters would bode extremely well for the playoffs, provided the Mets get there.*
Editor’s note: (It’s just a disclaimer that I have to throw in for legal purposes. I think the Mets will be in the playoffs.)
He’ll help tell the story of 2023 because he told the bulk of the story in 2022. He had an excellent season for the Mets until he got hurt (thanks, Mitch Keller), and it was the difference between the Mets winning the division and finishing in second place. Marte’s speed will be enhanced by the extra inch and a quarter less that he’ll have to go to steal second base, so he’ll be able to provide more in that department this season. (Marte had 18 stolen bases in ’22.)
Staying healthy is a big part of the story for every ballplayer on every team. Staying healthy on an older team like this is crucial. It’s crucial for the obvious players, it’s extra crucial for the five players on this list, and it’s extremely crucial for Marte. But again, that falls under the heading of “duh”.