The Mets entered 2023 planning to use the platoon/two-headed monster option at the designated hitter spot. It did not work.
Darin Ruf, who struggled badly after being acquired via trade in 2022, was given a chance in spring training to prove his performance down the stretch the year prior was an aberration.
Instead, Ruf showed nothing and was designated for assignment right before Opening Day.
That left the bulk of the DH at-bats to lefty-swinging Daniel Vogelbach, whose main value came from his on-base ability against righties but didn't get on base enough or hit for nearly enough power to justify being the regular DH.
Vogelbach's presence in the lineup but inability to hit left-handers necessitated pinch-hitting for him in any key spot with a left-handed pitcher in the game, and his lack of speed hurt the Mets in the instances where he did reach base.
To put it succinctly, Vogelbach was miscast as a regular DH option, and the Mets put themselves behind the eight ball by relying on him in that role -- then did nothing about it when it clearly wasn't working.
Keeping Ruf all offseason after he showed in 2022 that he was likely cooked as a masher of lefties was also a mistake.
Platoons can work if put together properly, but the Mets' strategy in 2023 had serious holes.
Heading into 2024, their plan should be to rely on one player as the regular DH. But will they?
The Internal Candidates
Vientos can man third base in a pinch, but it's felt for a while that his ultimate role would be as a power bat who can serve as a designated hitter or be part of the bench.
He showed in the minors that he could hold his own against right-handers, with a .964 OPS against them in 2023 after posting a .766 OPS against them in 2022.
Vientos' righty/lefty splits in the majors weren't stark, and he hit seven homers in 164 plate appearances against righties in 2023 while hitting only three in 110 plate appearances against lefties.
The problem is that the Mets still don't know what they have in Vientos. He started to settle in late during the 2023 season and often hit the ball incredibly hard when he made contact, but it's impossible to rely on him as the regular DH entering 2024.
Lefty-hitting DJ Stewart, who is arbitration-eligible, could also be an option to DH, but he has distinct lefty/righty splits, with a career .293 slugging percentage against lefties and .455 slugging percentage against righties.
With such a small sample size of success in the majors, Stewart should really be competing for a bench spot, anyway -- not a spot as the DH.
The Mets could also utilize the DH in a rotating way, perhaps using Francisco Alvarez there to keep his bat in the lineup during games when he's not behind the plate, and spreading DH at-bats around to others. But as is noted above, they should be looking to find one player to take the bulk of the DH at-bats.
The External Options
If the Mets sign Shohei Ohtani, the DH debate would be over for the better part of a decade, and New York would have the best player in the world.
The Mets will almost certainly be in on Ohtani, who will also be pursued by the Dodgers, Giants, and others -- with the Angels also attempting to re-sign the megastar who has had zero playoff appearances during his time in Anaheim.
Complicating the Ohtani situation in a major way is the UCL surgery he recently had that will almost certainly keep him off the mound for all of 2024. That surgery -- Ohtani's second Tommy John-like operation -- also makes his eventual return to elite form as a pitcher far from guaranteed.
And for a player who could possibly get $500 million, the above makes it an enormous risk.
If the Mets don't land Ohtani, there are a handful of other intriguing free agent options on the market.
The best one could be J.D. Martinez, who will be entering his age-36 season but who slashed .271/.321/.572 in 2023 for the Dodgers during what was his third consecutive All-Star season as he punished both righties and lefties.
Age is always a concern, but less so if the deal is incredibly short. And it's likely that Martinez's will be.
Another name to watch is 31-year-old Teoscar Hernandez, who is coming off a relatively down year but also offers versatility since he can play the outfield.
The most intriguing name aside from Ohtani is Rhys Hoskins.
Hoskins missed the entire 2023 season after tearing his ACL during spring training, and will be entering his age-31 season in 2024.
He was a terrific source of power for the Phillies from 2017 to 2022 and got on base at a strong clip, slashing .242/.353/.846 and mashing 27 or more homers in every full season he played. In the other seasons, Hoskins clubbed 18 homers in 50 games during his rookie campaign in 2017 and smacked 10 in 41 games during the shortened season in 2020.