2022 Mets: close, but how close?

Francisco Lindor and the Mets could be poised for greatness.

by Paul West

By most accounts, the New York Mets won the post-2021 offseason. Despite losing a foundational player in Michael Conforto (who, mysteriously, remains unsigned as of Opening Day), they’ve added Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt to a rotation already led by Jacob deGrom; they’ve brought in Mark Canha, Starling Marte, and Eduardo Escobar to fill in a lineup that’s just a year removed from being one of the National League’s most dangerous; and they’ve still got Francisco Lindor, an elite two-way shortstop who’s due for a bounceback after joining most of the lineup in a baffling season-long slump. Just weeks ago, they were given good odds to win the NL East and contend for a World Series; but…

Uh-oh

We’ve just learned that deGrom is now slated to miss at least a month with a stress reaction in his shoulder, and Scherzer will miss Opening Day because of hamstring tightness. Middle-order starter Taijuan Walker, who had a stellar first half before hitting a wall after the All Star Break, is experiencing soreness in the knee on which he just had surgery in January. Meanwhile, the rest of the division also had a good offseason, and the Mets might be in the toughest division in baseball.

What now?

The Mets will open the season with Tylor Megill on the mound. An 8th-round pick and former Brooklyn Cyclone, Megill was a pleasant surprise last year when he picked up the slack for a depleted rotation and occasionally pitched like an ace. He came back to earth over the course of the season, and doesn’t appear to be an actual MLB ace; but he’s proven he can pitch well under pressure and isn’t afraid of the spotlight. Scherzer says he’ll be ready for the second game of the season, and is isn’t time to panic just yet.

With the DH in full effect, getting Dom Smith and Pete Alonso in the same lineup will be much simpler.

It seems unlikely that the offense will collectively underperform for another entire season, and their overall defense is decidedly better–especially since the newly instituted DH removes pressure to shoehorn JD Davis or Dom Smith into left field if and when their bats are hot. Smith is the best defensive first baseman on the team, but Pete Alonso is much better at the position than expected and advertised; and Escobar and Canha give them a much improved defense on the left side. Their bullpen won’t likely be as heavily taxed as they were during the first half of last season–when they were one of the team’s few legitimate strengths, before exhaustion and overuse made them a source of frazzled nerves. And even without deGrom, their rotation remains solid: Bassitt is a high-upside second starter who served as Oakland’s ace for much of last year, and Megill, Walker, and Carlos Carrasco are as good as you’ll find in a rotation’s third, fourth, and fifth.

What’s the Mets’ key to success?

The pieces are all in place; but if you’ve followed the Mets for a while, you know that management of player health has long been an organizational weakness. This makes the Mets’ key to success, as usual, the health of their roster. Of course, health is a huge factor for the success for any sports team; but given their struggles in that regard, it’s imperative that the Mets improve at navigating soft-tissue ailments as well as the trajectory of player wear and tear.

What’s the Mets’ X-factor?

The Mets’ biggest x-factor this season might be their top-heavy, but impressive, talent pipeline. Catcher Francisco Alvarez already looks like an MLB-ready hitter, and he’s the 10th-ranked prospect on MLB.com; if he continues to hit cartoonish home runs, he might hit his way to the Mets’ roster sometime this year. His double-A Binghamton teammates, third baseman Brett Baty and shortstop Ronny Mauricio, are 27th and 78th on the aforementioned prospect list; and Mark Vientos, an outfielder and corner infielder for triple-A Syracuse, is already being discussed as a 2022 call-up. This is the most exciting group of prospects the Mets have had this close to the majors in a while; and any one of them, if not more, could make an impact if called up to support a playoff run.

Conforto is entering his prime, has proven he can produce at Citi Field, and is worth bringing back to the Mets.

What about Conforto?

Opinions on his value might vary, but it’s not debatable that Michael Conforto could do some MLB team, somewhere, some good. The fact that he’s still a free agent as of midnight on Opening Day is nothing short of baffling…but there’s a strong case to be made for the Mets bringing him back. He’s proven he can play in New York, he’s proven he can hit at Citi Field and play a strong right field anywhere, and with the protection of a newly balanced and rejuvenated lineup, he could easily have a breakout year. He’s also a holdover from the team that won a pennant and followed it with a Wild Card berth, and that experience brings legitimate intangible value.

How will the 2022 Mets do?

This is definitely a team that’s well constructed to succeed in the playoffs, and if they make it, the sky’s the limit. They’re also already battling injuries to key players, and facing an uphill battle against a tough division that includes the defending champions. They might not win as many games as many expect, but they’ve got enough depth and experience and versatility to make the postseason. From that point, it’ll come down to staying healthy and pushing the right buttons.

Prediction: 92-70

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