5 Mets storylines to watch as 2023 MLB season begins
The Mets enter the 2023 MLB season with lofty expectations and a roster to match them, but there are still lots of big storylines to watch as things unfold.
Here are the top five...
How much rope will Eduardo Escobar get with Brett Baty waiting?
After a fantastic spring, Baty arguably earned a spot on the roster. The Mets didn't see it that way, optioning him to Syracuse.
Baty made huge defensive strides in camp, with bench coach Eric Chavez recently saying the 23-year-old was ready to handle the position in the bigs.
Not giving Baty a chance from the jump is curious, and pretty hard to justify. And it'll be very difficult to keep him down for long if Escobar isn't performing extremely well.
Escobar caught fire last September and won the National League Player of the Month award in the process. Before that, though, he struggled mightily for the first five months of the season.
Escobar has also been much better against left-handers than right-handers. So if he's crushing lefties but struggling against righties, it should open the door for a call-up of Baty -- and plenty of at-bats for the youngster.
How long will Francisco Alvarez have to wait?
Shortly after spring training began, it was clear that the writing was on the wall as it pertained to Alvarez's chances to make the roster. Basically, barring an injury to Omar Narvaez or Tomas Nido (or Alvarez absolutely tearing the cover off the ball), he didn't have a chance.
Still, it felt like Alvarez would go get some reps in with Triple-A Syracuse before forcing his way on the big league roster by May or June. But last week, Buck Showalter suggested Alvarez could spend the entire season in the minors.
"I hope so, in some ways. That means that we're doing real well and our catchers are healthy and doing well," Showalter said about Alvarez possibly remaining in the minors all year. "I hope that's the case. He's got a chance to be called up in September.
"Anything else I said would be promoting the failure or the health of one of the guys that we have. And we like our two guys. They're in the top seven or eight of catching in baseball. We're lucky to have both of them. I hope at some point Francisco is as good as they are."
Regardless of Showalter's comments -- which can be construed as a vote of confidence for Narvaez and Nido, a pumping of the brakes on Alvarez, or both -- you have to think that if Alvarez hits in Triple-A this season like he did in the minors last year that he'll be up as soon as his bat dictates it. His power potential is too great to be wasted in the minors once his defense is deemed ready. And at the end of the day, Billy Eppler and the front office have the final call -- not Showalter.
Kodai Senga's adjustment and the overall rotation plan
While getting used to a new league and bigger baseball, Senga will also be adjusting to pitching more regularly than he did in Japan -- when starting pitchers ordinarily get the ball once a week.
Senga's stuff looked legit during spring training, including his "ghost" forkball and a fastball that regularly reached the high-90s. It will be intriguing to see how that stuff translates in games that have meaning.
Before Jose Quintana got hurt, the Mets reportedly planned to use a six-man rotation at times. That would've given Senga more time between starts and also served to help keep Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander fresher for the stretch run and (hopefully) the playoffs.
The Mets can still use a six-man rotation sometimes if they really want to, but the absence of Quintana makes doing so trickier.
How will the DH situation shake out?
With Darin Ruf not on the roster, the Mets have a number of ways they can go when it comes to their right-handed DH.
Tommy Pham would make sense in that role, and Escobar -- who has typically crushed lefties -- could also fit.
Then there's Mark Vientos, who had a very impressive spring and has huge power potential, but is in Triple-A Syracuse. If the Mets don't get much production from their current in-house options, they should be prepared to give Vientos a shot sooner rather than later.
As far as the left-handed DH, that will usually be Daniel Vogelbach, who was solid for the Mets after being acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates at last year's trade deadline.
Vogelbach performed very well against righties last season, hitting .261/.382/.497 with 18 of his 19 home runs.
What is the plan at closer?
The loss of Edwin Diaz cannot be minimized. Maybe he is one of the outliers and makes it back before the end of the season, but the Mets have to proceed as if he won't. That means having a plan in place now and likely also means adding bullpen help around the trade deadline.
It is likely that David Robertson gets the bulk of the closing chances from the jump. Robertson doesn't have lockdown stuff, and he can be wild (he walked 4.9 per 9 last season), but he is coming off a 2022 where he had a 2.40 ERA and 1.16 WHIP with 81 strikeouts in 63.2 innings (11.5 strikeouts per nine). So he should do just fine.
In addition to Robertson, Brooks Raley and Adam Ottavino could also make sense as options to close at times, though Ottavino's struggles against left-handers (they slashed .301/.358/.480 against him last season), means the Mets should stay away from him in those spots if there is a big lefty or two due up.
Down the line, the Mets should look to bolster the bullpen no matter what. One reliever it could make a ton of sense to pursue is Kenley Jansen, who is in the first season of a two-year, $32 million deal with the Boston Red Sox. If Boston is out of it at the deadline, he could become available. Other relievers who could make sense as trade targets include David Bednar of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Daniel Bard of the Colorado Rockies.