The Mets are going to win 100 or more games in 2023 unless age suddenly catches up with Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, but that was always the risk with or without a new $300 million third baseman.
In that sense Carlos Correa’s decision to pass on a reduced contract and sign with the Minnesota Twins is far from devastating news in Queens.
However, winning 100 games isn’t the goal for these Mets. They’ve reached a level now where their season will be judged by what they do in October, somewhat like the Yankees.
And that, in my view, was the significance of adding Correa. He is a proven clutch hitter in the postseason, with 18 home runs in 79 games, and that loomed large considering the Mets failed to hit when it counted most last October.
That doesn’t mean Buck Showalter’s team can’t win a championship next season. After all, the Philadelphia Phillies’ run to the World Series was a reminder that the MLB postseason is all about getting hot at the right time, especially with the bats.
They have plenty of candidates, but without Correa it does feel as if the Mets are a bat short compared to the Phillies and the Atlanta Braves, certainly in the power department anyway.
Maybe Francisco Alvarez changes that equation if his home-run hitting prowess translates to the big leagues as a rookie. Certainly Brett Baty has the chance to be an impact bat with significant pop as well.
For the moment I think that’s where the hope lies, big picture-wise for 2023. Give the kids a chance to prove what they can do but be ready, unlike last year, to go all-in at the trade deadline, even if it means giving up top prospects, for a difference-making hitter.
Who knows, maybe that guy is Shohei Ohtani. He’s almost certainly going to be on the market if the Los Angeles Angels again prove to be a non-contender, and if so the farm system should be in better shape for the Mets to put together a package of prospects than it was last summer.
Even if Ohtani isn’t available for trade he’s almost certainly headed for free agency next fall, and though owner Steve Cohen has made it clear he’s willing to spend whatever it takes, the money saved on Correa likely makes the Mets even more of a threat for the Angels’ two-way superstar.
Indeed, the Ohtani free agency is already making for fascinating speculation among baseball executives who see it as a two-team race between the Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"A lot of people already thought it was a given he signs with one of those two teams," an NL executive told me on Tuesday. "But maybe subtracting the Correa money gives Steve Cohen a little more incentive to go all out for the guy.
"The Dodgers seem to be saving some money (this offseason) for him but I’m not sure they can outbid Cohen. It could come down to whether Ohtani wants to stay on the West Coast."
Considering that the West Coast seemed to be his priority when he signed with the Angels, that’s another reason the Mets should be prepared to go all-out for Ohtani at the trade deadline, with the hope that two or three months in New York might convince him to stay.
In the meantime, there is surely an immediate move to be made as well now that Correa has moved on. There is no difference-maker left on the free agent market, but signing someone like Trey Mancini or Adam Duvall for would give the Mets a little more thump.
Duvall is intriguing in that he hit 38 home runs in 2021 and can play all three outfield positions, but he also needed wrist surgery last summer that ended his season and could make him something of a question mark going into 2023.
Otherwise, I’m not sure it makes sense for the Mets to jump into the bidding for Bryan Reynolds, especially if the Pittsburgh Pirates are demanding a haul of top prospects. He’s a good player but not necessarily the type to put the Mets over the top.
The bottom line is that I think it’s actually a good sign for the future of the Mets that Cohen was willing to rethink his position on Correa based on the injury risk from his physical, which we now know revealed that he has a plate in his ankle from a previous injury.
You can argue that Cohen should have been willing to guarantee more than six years and $157 million in the reduced bid for Correa, but the larger point is he apparently made a rational decision only a few weeks after being hailed a hero by Mets fans for swooping in to get the star infielder.
It would have been easy for him, considering his wealth, to prioritize his popularity over making a judgment he had to know could cost him the player.
How it plays out remains to be seen. But Cohen’s Mets should be a lock for October baseball even without Correa.
Whether they have the right players to win in October is a different question, but they have time to figure that out. If Alvarez and/or Baty aren’t good answers in 2023, there are sure to be some at the trade deadline.
In that case I’m betting the Mets won’t be holding onto their prospects as tightly as last year.