Mets have lots of work left to become 'serious playoff contender' they aim to be in 2024

Spring training starts next month, and the Mets aren't close to where they need to be in their aim to be legitimately competitive during the 2024 season.

Over the next six weeks or so, New York needs to add the following to its roster:

- A starting pitcher who will lock down one of five rotation spots
- An actual designated hitter
- An outfielder who can play every day
- Two relievers who can be relied on in the late innings

In a different offseason, that list would be daunting. But during this strange offseason, when around 200 free agents -- including a solid chunk of the best ones -- are still available this close to when pitchers and catchers are reporting, it can easily be pulled off.

Still, the feeling of a decent swath of Mets fans is that the team's relative inactivity this offseason is a sign that they're "punting" the 2024 season.

Some fans, with a vocal majority taking to Twitter daily, are directing their vitriol at new president of baseball operations David Stearns and owner Steve Cohen.

Let's be clear about something...

It is wild to even start to judge Stearns before his first offseason at the helm is complete, and it is even crazier to come after Cohen, who has shown during his brief time as the owner that he will do whatever it takes to build a winner.

However, frustration from the fan base that sat through a 2023 season that was the most disappointing one in team history is understandable, especially when looking at a team with this many holes this close to when the bell rings.

And until the Mets complete their 2024 roster, it is at least fair to ask what their goal is this season. If you're taking Stearns at face value, what he said during his introductory news conference is incredibly important to bring up.

David Stearns
David Stearns / SNY

After saying the Mets would put together a team for this season that is "competitive," Stearns expanded on that, noting that being competitive would mean being in the playoff race and being a "true playoff contender."

If the Mets weren't going to build a proper team this offseason, the savvy Stearns simply could've not said the "true playoff contender" line and stuck with something generic about being competitive. But he didn't.

Stearns also telegraphed that the Mets would be extremely careful this offseason when it came to anything that could imperil their ability to build a sustainable winner -- but that it wouldn't preclude them from creating a strong team.

"That's a needle to thread, but that's our goal," he said. "And that should be our goal. We're the biggest market in the country, we have plenty of resources, and so we're going to aim to put together a competitive club next year that our fans can be excited about and ensure that we're doing it in a way that doesn't detract from those future years."

Had the Mets landed 25-year-old ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who would've been the crown jewel of their offseason and a potential ace for the next 12 seasons, this offseason would have a whole different feel to it.

Of course, Yamamoto chose the Dodgers over the Mets (despite their massive offer and personal courting of him), Yankees, and a host of other teams.

In the wake of losing out on Yamamoto, the Mets have been largely silent move-wise and saw rotation target Lucas Giolito sign with the Red Sox. With the unofficial holiday transaction freeze over, now is the time for the Mets to start acting in a way that is aggressive but controlled.

In the coming weeks, Stearns must use the power of Cohen's wallet to fill this team out via free agency. 

That means not losing out on J.D. Martinez or Justin Turner at DH (neither player should command more than a year or two) unless the Mets sign Jorge Soler instead.

J.D. Martinez
J.D. Martinez / Gary A. Vasquez - USA TODAY Sports

It means adding a starting pitcher from a group that includes Sean Manaea, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and a host of others.

It means signing an outfielder who has the ability to play every day, which would allow Jeff McNeil to stay on the infield and serve as insurance if Starling Marte is hampered by his groin issues again.

It means adding two relievers (take your pick from Hector Neris, Phil Maton, Ryne Stanek, David Robertson, and many more) who can help bridge the gap to Edwin Diaz.

If the Mets are confident that Brandon Woodruff's shoulder injury won't prevent him from being an impact starter again in 2025, it means being the last team standing in the race to ink him to what is expected to be a two-year deal.

If it wasn't clear from the task list I just laid out for the Mets, they do not need to make splashes in order to be a competitive, fun team in 2024.

The Mets should not pivot to the very talented but deeply flawed Blake Snell, or give No. 1 starter money to No. 3 starter Jordan Montgomery. They don't need to go after Josh Hader and form a super bullpen.

The Mets simply need to navigate what is a pretty weak free agent class with precision, adeptly filling the many holes they still have with players who won't get in the way of their vision for 2025 and beyond.

Barring something unexpected happening, the Mets won't be leapfrogging the Braves this season. But they don't have to overtake the best team in the National League to reach the playoffs. And with the proper moves between now and spring training, the Mets can create a team with a legitimate chance to get there.

Being a team that fights for a playoff spot isn't what Cohen's Mets are striving for. But the combination of missing on Yamamoto, a less than stellar free agent class, and a next wave of prospects who are close but not quite ready has the Mets in a sort of limbo as they wait for lots of money to come off the books after 2024 and a star-studded free agent class next offseason.

Until then, the limbo season of 2024 can be fun -- as long as the Mets take the next several weeks to finish assembling the "true playoff contender" Stearns said they would build.