Winter is still in full force, but baseball season is right around the corner. We’re just under one month away from Mets pitchers and catchers reporting for Spring Training in Port St. Lucie. It’s safe to say New York has some unfinished business to take care of.
The Amazins are fresh off a 101-win campaign and a premature exit in their first postseason appearance since 2016. There are a few players with a little extra something to prove in 2023. Here are five who land in that category and why.
There’s no way around it — Max Scherzer’s influence on the Mets was incredibly positive throughout 2022. And I’m talking about both on the field and in the clubhouse. That’s what happens when a future first-ballot Hall of Famer and notorious grinder joins your club.
Overall, Scherzer’s numbers were predictably dominant. Despite two Injured List trips, the right-hander posted an 11-5 record with a 2.29 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 30.6% strikeout rate, and 4.2% walk rate in 145.1 innings pitched. With Jacob deGrom limited to just 11 starts last year, Scherzer’s mostly consistent presence (23 starts) was huge for New York’s rotation.
But as good as those numbers were, there was a sour taste left in his mouth (and fans’ mouths) thanks to his last two starts. First, it was his start against the Atlanta Braves in the second-to-last regular-season series. He allowed four runs on nine hits in 5.2 innings. This included two homers, which was the first time he allowed more than one homer in a start since May 1st. Then, of course, came his disastrous Game 1 start against the San Diego Padres in the Wild Card Series. Scherzer allowed seven runs in 4.2 innings while surrendering four homers.
He can have another great regular season, but fans will want to see Scherzer finish the job and be just as dominant in September and October. Especially since he’s earning more than $40 million per year.
For about three weeks, many Mets fans thought Carlos Correa would be playing third base in Flushing this spring. If that deal actually got finalized, Eduardo Escobar would’ve been on the trade block (which I didn’t think was a good idea anyway). Now that Correa has officially re-signed with the Minnesota Twins, the Mets’ third-base situation looks just about identical to what it did at the end of 2022.
Escobar appears to be entrenched as the starter for now. However, Brett Baty will probably be taking his place sometime in the near future. If Baty doesn’t force the issue immediately, it’ll be up to Escobar to provide the offense he did in September, not what he did from April through August last season.
Through August 28th (413 plate appearances), Escobar hit .214/.266/.380 with 12 home runs, 44 RBI, and 41 runs scored, which sussed out to an 83 wRC+. His final 129 trips to the plate yielded a .328/.388/.595 line with eight home runs, 25 RBI, and 17 runs scored. Those numbers produced a 176 wRC+.
Escobar doesn’t need to replicate his late-season performance throughout 2023 (although that’d be nice). But, he could produce a 3.0-fWAR campaign if his offense is a little more consistent. His personality has endeared him to the fan base, and he’d be even more beloved if he can come close to repeating his finish in 2022.
When the offseason began, the only pitcher in the bullpen with significant big-league experience was Drew Smith. Thankfully, other impact arms joined him in short order. This includes Edwin Diaz, Adam Ottavino, Brooks Raley, and David Robertson.
Smith took some steps forward in 46 innings pitched last season. He posted a 28.3% strikeout rate with an 8.0% walk rate, making his 20.3% strikeout-to-walk ratio a single-season career-high mark. His 3.33 ERA and 1.15 WHIP were solid for his role out of the ‘pen, but the right-hander also finished with -0.1 fWAR. Part of that was due to allowing 1.76 home runs per nine innings of work.
The 29-year-old has two years left before hitting free agency. He enjoyed some solid stretches throughout 2022, and Smith could get a greater role within middle relief as a bridge between the rotation to the back of the bullpen. The righty now gets a chance to show he’s capable of putting it all together from start to finish.
It’s hard for Mets fans to not fall in love with Francisco Alvarez. His top-prospect pedigree helps, but I’m talking more about his confidence. He’s just 21 years old and shows his personality has the sizzle necessary to play (and succeed) in New York.
Despite not playing above High-A entering 2022, Alvarez’s goal was to make it to the big leagues. He accomplished that goal. What about 2023? Alvarez expects to be on the Opening Day roster. After whiffing on a major upgrade for the offense this winter, the young catcher could be an X-factor for New York.
He may not be donning the tools of ignorance most days of the week, but he could make an impact as a designated hitter. At the moment, those duties are to be shared by Darin Ruf and Daniel Vogelbach, which has the potential to be a problem (again) for New York.
It’s been said the Mets need more thump in their lineup. Alvarez has shown promise in that department while tearing apart minor-league pitching. Is he ready for the bright lights of New York despite just 45 games in Triple-A and a cup of coffee in the big leagues?
Alvarez will report to Port St. Lucie with all the top-prospect hype. He also must prove now is his time to be a crucial piece for the Mets.
Outside of Aaron Judge, Brandon Nimmo was the best outfielder available on the free-agent market. So, it was great news that the Mets re-signed him, even if some think his $162 million price tag was too high. Talent isn’t a question for Nimmo. He’s dramatically improved his center-field defense while being an above-average leadoff hitter.
Projections expect Nimmo to produce another year of 4.0 fWAR. The only question here is whether he can stay on the field for the majority of the year again. Since debuting in 2016, he’s appeared in more than 92 games just twice. One happened in 2018 and the other was in 2022, conveniently right before he hit free agency.
He’s produced at least 4.8 fWAR in each of those campaigns. So the results speak for themselves — when Nimmo plays regularly, he’s going to put up numbers. He just needs to stay on the field. Putting together another healthy season will help him shed any “injury-prone” labels associated with the outfielder.