Sunday, April 14 2024

The Mets are entering the 2024 season with internal expectations that they can compete for a playoff spot — a belief that is supported by some external projections.

This year’s team comes with a lot less fanfare than the 2023 squad that featured the now-traded Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer at the top of the rotation.

Of course, the 2023 team was historically disappointing, which led to a trade deadline sell-off that replenished the farm system and paved the way for a measured offseason.

Here’s the thing with the 2024 Mets, though…

A big chunk of the core that won 101 games in 2022 is still there, the overall roster is solid and has plenty of upside, and the team should get a jolt with the arrival of a handful of potentially high-impact prospects during the summer.

As the Mets prepare for the season at spring training in Port St. Lucie, Fla., here are five intriguing storylines to watch…

How will the DH situation shake out?

The Mets had four glaring needs after last season: fill out the starting rotation, add a starting-caliber outfielder, add at least two solid relievers, and find a legitimate designated hitter.

They signed Luis Severino and Sean Manaea, and traded for Adrian Houser to fill the rotation, they re-signed Adam Ottavino and inked Jake Diekman and Shintaro Fujinami to bolster the bullpen, and they added Harrison Bader — one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball — to the starting outfield mix.

They have not addressed DH.

And if the Mets don’t sign J.D. Martinez, Jorge Soler, or Brandon Belt (who are all still free agents), it feels likely that Mark Vientos will get the bulk of the DH at-bats.

New York Mets designated hitter Mark Vientos (27) celebrates a solo home run in the second inning against the Miami Marlins.New York Mets designated hitter Mark Vientos (27) celebrates a solo home run in the second inning against the Miami Marlins.

Vientos is unproven, but he has serious power. And he started to find more consistency when he was given regular playing time toward the end of last season. So perhaps the Mets think Vientos can produce enough to make passing on all of the proven designated hitters the right move.

If the Mets do turn to Vientos, they should simply let him sink or swim. Since he can hit both righties and lefties, there’s no reason to shield him against right-handers. In other words, if they want to see what he can do, they have to give him a proper chance.

Who’s on third?

This might have been Ronny Mauricio‘s job to lose, but he will miss most — if not all — of the season after having surgery for a torn ACL he suffered playing winter ball.

With Mauricio out of the mix and Vientos a bat-first player who doesn’t profile as a regular at third, Brett Baty is about to get an enormous opportunity.

Yes, the Mets also have Joey Wendle, but he has struggled badly offensively over the last two seasons — posting an OPS+ of 85 in 2022 and 50 in 2023. That means Wendle, who can play five positions, is much better suited for a bench role.

So this is Baty’s time.

Still just 24 years old, Baty — albeit in a very small sample size — looked the part of a confident hitter during his big league debut in 2022. That changed last season when he struggled on both sides of the ball and was demoted to Triple-A Syracuse during the season so he could get things right.

Baty raked after being sent down, but his struggles continued after he was brought back up, with him looking lost at the plate at times, striking out too much, and not hitting for nearly enough power.

With a fresh slate and a clear lane to the starting job, this could be Baty’s best chance to reestablish himself as a key part of the Mets’ future.

There were a lot of reasons why the 2023 Mets stumbled, but it can be argued that the two things that hurt the most were Edwin Diaz‘s season-ending injury and the health/performance of Marte.

Marte had double groin surgery during the 2022-23 offseason and was simply a shell of himself at the plate and in the field during the season. He was unable to generate much offensively, and was slow in the outfield — often failing to make catches that should’ve been routine.

While Marte valiantly tried to contribute while not at full strength, he was limited to just 86 games. And even during those 86 games, he wasn’t close to the player who was one of the keys to the Mets’ huge 2022.

Starling MarteStarling Marte

Starling Marte / Eric Hartline – USA TODAY Sports

. He looked good while playing winter ball, and will enter spring training with an eye on again being a lineup catalyst.

If Marte can simply come close to resembling the player who hit .292/.347/.468 in 2022, the Mets’ lineup — and overall ceiling — can rise to another level.

The bullpen pecking order

The Mets spent the first few months of the offseason adding lots of low-risk relievers on split contracts and/or minor league deals that contained spring training invites — moves that dramatically improved their depth.

In the last few weeks, though, New York inked three relievers who could figure prominently in the late innings — Ottavino (who re-signed after he opted out), Diekman, and Fujinami.

Heading into spring training, the following relievers could be locked into Opening Day spots:

Edwin Diaz
Brooks Raley
Adam Ottavino
Jake Diekman
Jorge Lopez
Shintaro Fujinami
Drew Smith
Phil Bickford

It should be noted that Fujinami has minor league options, so he could possibly open the season in the minors if he doesn’t impress during spring training.

That would create competition for the last spot in the ‘pen, with the Mets choosing from a group that includes Michael Tonkin, Grant Hartwig, Sean Reid-Foley, Max Kranick, and Yohan Ramirez.

The kids

It will be a shock if any of the Mets’ top prospects break camp with the team, but some of them are tantalizingly close. And the ones who are close will all be at big league spring training.

That includes OF Drew Gilbert, INF Luisangel Acuña, INF/OF Jett Williams, RHP Christian Scott, and RHP Mike Vasil.

Among that group, Gilbert (who raked at Triple-A Syracuse after coming over last year in the Verlander trade) and Scott (who had a 2.57 ERA last season and finished the year with Double-A Binghamton) could possibly get the call to Queens before the summer.

Other prospects who will be at spring training include RHP Dominic Hamel, C Kevin Parada, and LHP Nate Lavender, the latter of whom could find himself in a bullpen role with the Mets at some point this season.

Source: Yahoo Sports

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