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Here's what can't be denied about the 2021 Mets...
They have turned a year where they were coasting toward an NL East title into one where they are on the brink of playing meaningless games from now until the end of the regular season on Oct. 3.
Along the way, they have lost Jacob deGrom to an elbow injury he and the team say has resolved itself, but will cause lingering fear -- whether deGrom returns toward the end of this season or not -- until he takes the ball every fifth day next season.
The Mets have also dealt with off-field issues this year, including firing recently-hired GM Jared Porter for sending explicit unsolicited text messages while working for the Chicago Cubs, and placing acting GM Zack Scott on administrative leave following his arrest on DUI charges.
There was also the "Thumbs Down" fiasco, which already feels like an eternity ago and has receded into the night with both Javier Baez and Francisco Lindor playing extremely well and leaving their thumbs right side up.
Again, what the 2021 season has devolved into is incredibly disappointing for a team that expected to contend for a World Series title this season. And fans have a right to be disillusioned and upset.
But while a moderate shakeup should be in order this offseason when it comes to the roster, this is not a teardown situation for their (expected) new president of baseball operations (and perhaps a new GM, too). Rather, it's a situation where the Mets should be in position to seriously compete again in 2022.
And there are a number of reasons why, despite the maddening and underwhelming 2021 campaign, the Mets are in an advantageous spot for 2022 and beyond...
A strong core is in place
You can look at the Mets' roster a number of different ways, picking apart flaws or going the other way and talking about the upside.
But if you simply take a rational, level-headed look at it, you'll see that there's a lot to work with.
On offense, Pete Alonso is a cornerstone at first base, Brandon Nimmo is an elite hitter and table-setter, Jeff McNeil (who has had a rough 2021 but who excelled from 2018 to 2020) should not be written off, and Francisco Lindor -- despite his incredibly rough start that is still clouding people's view of how he has performed at the plate this season -- has been vintage Lindor since the end of May.
You can not erase Lindor's April and May at the dish, which was terrible. But you can look at what he's done since then and safely believe that it's more indicative of who the 27-year-old is and who he will be for the next several years.
From May 29 through September 15, Lindor has hit .261/.351/.500 with 14 homers and 10 doubles in 66 games. That's a larger sample than the 44-game sample of "bad" Lindor from earlier this season, and right on par with what his career triple slash was entering this season (.285/.346/.488).
As far as the pitching goes, the Mets should again have a strong bullpen in 2022 anchored by Edwin Diaz, Trevor May, Seth Lugo, Miguel Castro, and (hopefully) pending free agent Aaron Loup, who has made it clear he wants to return.
The starting rotation is more of a question mark, especially given the uncertainty surrounding deGrom and the free agency of Marcus Stroman (whom the Mets should try to re-sign), but should be in solid shape and have tons of upside potential with the presence of deGrom, Taijuan Walker (who won't be facing a massive workload increase like he did this season), Carlos Carrasco, and Tylor Megill.
It also seems likely that the Mets extend a Qualifying Offer to Noah Syndergaard and he accepts.
The Luxury Tax is not a roadblock
As the Mets look to build around their core, they'll enter the offseason with roughly $135 million committed to the payroll for 2022 -- and that doesn't include tens of millions that will go to paying players via arbitration.
That means that in order to add to what they have and still play at the top of the market when it comes to free agency and trades, the Mets will almost certainly have to vault well beyond the Luxury Tax threshold, which was $210 million this season.
A caveat here is that with the Collective Bargaining Agreement expiring on Dec. 1, the Luxury Tax situation is in flux for 2022 and beyond. But there very likely will be some kind of tax in place.
Mets owner Steve Cohen has made it clear that he is more than willing to exceed the Luxury Tax if it makes sense.
And for 2022 (and likely 2023 and 2024), the Mets being above (and perhaps well above) the tax will make sense.
It would allow them the flexibility to extend Qualifying Offers to both Syndergaard and Michael Conforto, go after top free agents (such as Baez and/or Kris Bryant), extend their own players, and be in play for any higher-priced difference-makers who become available via trade.
Within a few years, though, the Mets will have to get back below the tax. That should be aided by an eventual influx of top prospects, whose relatively low salaries will help to get the payroll lower. And fortunately for the Mets...
Their top prospects are getting close to the majors
Entering this season, most of the Mets' top prospects were still years away from contributing in the majors.
But big performances from a number of them have resulted in promotions to Double-A and Triple-A, setting up a situation where some big league debuts in 2022 are possible.
3B Mark Vientos has made it to Triple-A and will be just a phone call away starting next season.
RHP J.T. Ginn is still with Brooklyn, but will likely be in Double-A in 2022.
C Francisco Alvarez, the crown jewel of the system and a Top 10 prospect in all of baseball, will likely be with Double-A in 2022, paving the way for his potential Mets debut in 2023.
Additionally, the mess that was the Kumar Rocker situation will be partially made up for when the Mets pair the extra first-round pick they got in the 2022 MLB Draft after failing to sign Rocker with their original first-round pick.
Barring a miracle run to the playoffs, nothing will erase the disappointment of the Mets' 2021 season.
And the team still has a ton of things to get in order, including assembling a new front office and perhaps finding a new manager.
But the immediate future is still very bright for the Mets, despite a rocky start to the Steve Cohen Era.