New Mets president of baseball operations David Stearns has a challenging offseason ahead of him, as he and the rest of the front office will attempt to reshape a roster that woefully underachieved in 2023.
GM Billy Eppler said before the season ended that while the Mets might not enter Opening Day of 2024 with the same World Series expectations they had when 2023 began, the plan was to be competitive.
And Stearns said that being competitive would mean being a serious playoff contender.
That means the job for the front office is to at the very least assemble a team that can compete for that aforementioned playoff appearance.
Here are the Mets’ other top on-field offseason priorities, ranked…
5. Determine if now is the time for a big trade
After not only selling at the trade deadline, but doing so in a way that allowed them to import multiple high-impact prospects — including some who are very close to the majors — the Mets’ farm system is now in the upper echelon.
They’re still lacking a bit in some areas, including high-ceiling starting pitching, but New York’s crop of position player prospects is tremendous.
That means that, if they so choose, they should be able to deal from that relative surplus while obtaining an ace-level starting pitcher or difference-making hitter.
But is now the time to do that?
As far as big-ticket position players, Angels superstar Mike Trout (with that entire organization in flux) and Padres outfielder Juan Soto (a year from free agency with San Diego looking to trim payroll) could also be available.
If the Mets landed any of the above players, they would be dealing from their farm system while likely moving their serious World Series contention window up from 2025 to 2024.
But an easy case can be made for keeping all their assets and improving the team mainly via free agency.
4. Decide what the plan for the Baby Mets is
The easiest decision here is on Alvarez, who — although he slowed down in the dog days of the season — showed that he can be a difference-making power-hitting catcher who can handle the defensive aspect and the responsibilities of managing a pitching staff.
Things are trickier with the other three.
Mauricio is perhaps the most intriguing of the bunch — a switch-hitter who hits the ball incredibly hard and makes things happen with his legs. But unless the Mets are content to have him move around the diamond this early in his career, they should be picking what his main position will be — whether it’s second base, left field, or third base. And Mauricio being the third baseman would complicate things for Baty.
Long viewed as the Mets’ third baseman of the future, Baty struggled badly at the plate for most of 2023. And his defense wasn’t up to snuff. If he isn’t the third baseman going forward, a move to the outfield could make sense.
Like Baty, Vientos scuffled for most of 2023. But he caught fire late, more routinely flashing the home run power that got him to the bigs. Vientos can play third base or first base sparingly, but his future is likely as a bench bat or designated hitter.
3. Add a legitimate designated hitter
This is something the Mets failed to do last offseason, and it came back to bite them — especially during the first half of the season, when Daniel Vogelbach hit .226/.329/.369 in 74 games (55 starts) as the Mets fell out of the playoff race and decided to sell.
It was obviously much more than poor production from the DH spot that did the Mets in, but it was one of the main culprits.
And unless the Mets think Vientos has shown enough down the stretch to enter 2024 as their regular DH — which would be a leap — they’re going to have to fill this spot externally.
If the Mets land Shohei Ohtani, the DH spot will obviously be set — probably for the next decade. If not? J.D. Martinez and Teoscar Hernandez (if he’s not attached to a qualifying offer) are among the free agents who might make the most sense. Martinez, who could get a one-year deal, might be the best fit.
2. Seriously bolster the bullpen
Edwin Diaz‘s fluke, season-ending injury crushed the Mets, leaving a gaping hole at closer and causing a domino effect for the rest of the bullpen.
But the Mets were also done in by Eppler’s focus on having “optionable” relievers instead of adding more higher-end arms.
This meant trotting out relievers such as Sean Reid-Foley, Jimmy Yacabonis, T.J. McFarland, Jeff Brigham, Zack Muckenhirn, Dennis Santana, Tommy Hunter, Edwin Uceta, Vinny Nittoli, and Denyi Reyes.
Having one of the above pitchers as the last man in the bullpen would’ve been fine, but the Mets had those kind of relievers making up roughly half of their bullpen for a majority of the season. That’s an enormous problem.
Diaz will be back in 2024, and Adam Ottavino (if he exercises his option), Brooks Raley, and perhaps Drew Smith will also be in the ‘pen. Beyond that, the bullpen needs a complete overhaul. That has to include adding multiple legitimate late-inning arms — not of the optionable variety.
1. Rebuild the starting rotation
More than anything, it was the rotation that doomed the Mets during the first half of the year, with ineffectiveness, underperformance, and a failure to pitch deep into games (which meant taxing a woefully undermanned bullpen) combining to sink the season.
Carlos Carrasco was one of the worst pitchers in the majors, David Peterson and Tylor Megill both pitched so badly that they were demoted to the minors (before eventually returning and performing relatively well), and Verlander and Scherzer were traded as the Mets waved the white flag.
The huge silver lining was Kodai Senga, who pitched so well during his rookie season that he was in the Cy Young conversation. The performance of Quintana after he returned was also big.
And as the Mets enter the offseason, Senga and Quintana are the only returning members of a rotation that needs at least two, and perhaps three new pitchers.
Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto makes sense as the Mets’ top target, and other intriguing free agent options include Jordan Montgomery and Shoto Imanaga.
The Mets could also go the trade route when it comes to addressing one of their open rotation spots.