Mets must be prepared to make aggressive roster decisions that match all-in nature of their 2023 season
In about three weeks, the Mets will open the regular season against the Marlins in Miami as they begin a 2023 campaign that will follow one of the biggest offseasons any team has ever had.
Among New York's many moves, Justin Verlander was signed to replace Jacob deGrom next to Max Scherzer atop the rotation, Japanese ace Kodai Senga was inked, Edwin Diaz received the biggest closer contract in history, Brandon Nimmo re-upped on an eight-year pact, the bullpen was bolstered with David Robertson, Brooks Raley, and Adam Ottavino (who re-signed), and Jose Quintana was added to round out the starting five.
The Carlos Correa deal falling apart due to concerns over the infielder's ankle was the only thing that prevented Steve Cohen from putting a final exclamation point on the offseason, but the result in terms of money laid out for 2023 was still staggering.
The Mets' 40-man payroll is sitting just shy of $370 million, an MLB record and close to $80 million clear of the top luxury tax threshold.
While New York is set up to be competitive for years to come -- their payroll obligations drop significantly in 2024 and 2025 and their farm system is on the upswing -- they are entering a unique, all-in season in 2023.
The main reason why?
They are guaranteed just one season with Verlander and Scherzer atop the rotation. A similar situation played out in 2022, during what was their only season with deGrom and Scherzer leading the staff.
Could Scherzer opt in after 2023? Sure. The Mets can also extend him if he opts out. But 2023 really could be a one-time thing with Verlander and Scherzer, which is why the Mets need to take a more aggressive stance with their in-season roster decisions than they did last year.
The 2022 campaign ended in bitter disappointment in the Wild Card round of the playoffs after a 101-win regular season, shortly before deGrom bolted for the Texas Rangers -- and a few months after the Mets operated conservatively at the trade deadline.
And as was the case in 2022, it feels like the Mets might be lacking a bit right now when it comes to offensive punch.
Another similarity is the tact being taken by Billy Eppler, with the GM -- at least in on-the-record settings -- suggesting that he's reluctant to deal any of the Mets' highly-thought-of prospects, not just their blue chip ones.
But the Mets need to be aggressive from the outset in 2023, and must do what it takes during the season to shore up the team if a need exists.
That doesn't mean doing something foolish like trading Francisco Alvarez or Brett Baty. It does mean being willing to let go of some other prospects if the Mets find themselves in a situation where they're in need of a big piece or two at the trade deadline.
What about now? Is the Opening Day 26-man roster going to be an adequate reflection of a team that is all-in and uber-aggressive?
If you polled Mets fans (like I did here), most would want the team to leave spring training with Alvarez, Baty, and Mark Vientos on the team. Some might even want New York to throw caution to the wind and carry Ronny Mauricio, too.
Here's the reality...
Mauricio, who still needs to refine his approach at the plate and who must change positions to either third base or left field, will not make the roster -- nor should he.
Alvarez, whose power is tantalizing, will only make the squad if Omar Narvaez or Tomas Nido suffers an injury. But the 21-year-old will likely be up before too long, probably serving in a hybrid role as a catcher/designated hitter once his defense behind the plate is deemed ready.
What about Vientos and Baty?
Vientos probably has the best case and easiest path toward a roster spot, where he could be the right-handed side of a DH platoon to go along with Daniel Vogelbach's left-handed bat.
Standing in Vientos' way could be Darin Ruf, who did close to nothing last season after being acquired at the deadline. While most fans don't want to hear this, Ruf -- who has yet to play this spring due to a wrist injury -- has typically mashed lefties during his career. Perhaps he will again in 2023.
However, the Mets are in a situation where they shouldn't be giving anyone on the bubble too much rope. And if Vientos -- who hit about 900 combined feet of home runs on Saturday while flashing eye-popping exit velocities -- is deemed a better option than Ruf, he should be on the team.
Yes, it's difficult to glean much (if anything) from results in spring training games, but the power is clearly there for Vientos, who tore up Triple-A Syracuse to the tune of a .280/.358/.519 triple slash while cracking 24 homers in 101 games last season.
The situation with Baty is much more layered, even though his bat seems to be basically ready. Unlike Vientos, whose future might be as a DH, Baty has to be ready to play the field. For now at least, that's at third base. And SNY's Andy Martino recently noted that Baty still has work to do on his agility.
Although Baty is still a work in progress at the hot corner, Eduardo Escobar -- the incumbent at third base -- was among the worst defenders there last season, in the eighth percentile in Outs Above Average and worth -11 Defensive Runs Saved. Escobar also slogged through most of the season offensively until erupting in September, and was much better against lefties than righties.
If the Mets deem Baty's third base defense ready, there is an easy argument to be made for him not only making the Opening Day roster, but getting the bulk of the starts at third base from the jump.
In the coming weeks, with many of the Mets' regulars gone for the World Baseball Classic, Baty, Vientos, Alvarez, and Mauricio should get plenty of burn.
Whether the Mets carry Vientos and/or Baty on their initial 26-man roster remains to be seen, but if/when they become the best options at their respective positions, those spots should be theirs.