Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Mets are no longer a punchline and have last year’s 101-win season to prove it. Anyone who’s been paying attention knows that the boys from Flushing aren’t simply running it back this year. A repeat performance just won’t do.

That’s because the Mets’ annual late-season struggles came at the expense of the NL East crown. The white-hot Braves never slowed down and New York had to settle for a Wild Card. Cue the Padres shutting out the Mets in Game 3, and disappointed fans were seeing more red than Joe Musgrove’s ears earlier that evening.

There’s thankfully a new sheriff in town and his name is Steve Cohen. He’s overseen a quick turnaround in Queens and the Mets are arguably in a better position than they were last year. The annual Subway Series with the rival Yankees is almost an afterthought.

But as a potential World Series matchup? That’s a different story.

Greatest Addition: Justin Verlander. The Mets’ arms already ranked seventh in MLB with a 3.57 ERA, and they upgraded by plucking an arm from the second-ranked Astros. Verlander came back from Tommy John surgery and, essentially, two years off to have one of the best seasons in baseball history. His 18 wins led the American League and his 1.75 ERA led the majors en route to his third Cy Young Award.

This from a pitcher who just turned 40 years old last month and parlayed that season into a two-year, $75 million contract.

Is it an overpay? Yes, a colossal one. Will there be a regression? Without a doubt!

But it’s future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander.

Greatest Loss: Jacob deGrom, regardless of the risk or reward. Salty Mets fans will crow all season about how deGrom was injured too much, didn’t want to be here, yada yada yada, good riddance. These are fans who will probably never appreciate deGrom’s greatness at its best.

Forget that he hasn’t thrown over 100 innings since 2019 and still got five years and $185 million from the Rangers. Jacob deGrom posted a sub-3.00 ERA in six of his nine seasons. He posted a 1.08 ERA two years ago, made just 15 starts, and he still finished ninth in Cy Young voting. How about the two Cy Youngs he’s already won and his 2.52 career ERA?

It hasn’t happened yet, and it might not even happen this season. But at some point, Mets fans will wish deGrom never left New York.

Greatest Strength: Steve Cohen. Part George Steinbrenner, part superfan, his buying the Mets for $2.4 billion in 2020 has proven the team’s saving grace. The infamous hedge fund manager isn’t afraid to write big checks if it helps the team win, even aging starters like Verlander and Max Scherzer.

Will Cohen’s big spending pay off? We’ll see, but let’s see the forest through the trees. What matters more is Cohen is willing to invest so much in his team at all. We’ve taken a close look at every baseball team up to this point. There’s a big difference between bad owners and leaning entirely on player development.

Cohen’s ownership is still young, but early returns on his investment are looking great.

Greatest Weakness: The bullpen. Out with Timmy Trumpet, in with the quintessential sad trombone. Edwin Diaz tearing his patellar tendon in the World Baseball Classic means the Mets don’t have a firm closer in place. Adding insult to this literal injury is Diaz signed a five-year, $100 million deal in the offseason.

So who handles the ninth inning for the Mets now? Former Yankee David Robertson, who signed in the offseason, is probably first in line thanks to 157 career saves. However, he turns 38 in April. How much does he have left in the tank after posting a 6.00 ERA in three spring training games?

The Mets also have another former Yankee in Adam Ottavino, but he’s 37 and has never been a closer in his career. Few internal options exist unless Robertson still shines in the ninth inning. Don’t be surprised if bullpen help becomes the Mets’ top priority at the trade deadline.

Will the Mets build off of 2022’s success? The projections certainly think so. It’s easy to forget that the Mets’ streaky finish to the season happened while the Braves capped a red-hot run of their own. Atlanta was in fourth place in the NL East on May 18 and under .500, then won two thirds of their remaining games. It’s hard to do that once, let alone two years in a row.

On the Mets’ end, their lineup is very much unchanged. The pitching staff is old at the top with Verlander and Scherzer, but reliable. The bullpen could resolve itself if the lineup scores runs consistently.

Last year was proof that the Mets are no longer just baseball’s annoying little brother. This is a strong competitive team that’s ready to win. No better time than now to show that last year was just the beginning.

Follow ESNY on Twitter @elitesportsny

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.