Sunday, October 3, 2021

Big Changes Ahead After Another Disappointing Season

As I write this post, the New York Mets are in the process of dropping the final game of the season. It's a fitting end for the disappointing club to go out on a losing streak with their offense once again shut down. In fairness, the Mets have found their way to some victories this week — long, long past the time when those wins would have been of any real consequence, of course. I always miss baseball when the season comes to an end. It's the only sport that I still follow with more than passing interest. The close of the regular season also marks the end of whatever tattered shreds of summer remain. Even as the earth continues to get hotter, I still miss the long days and bright sunshine of summer throughout the New England winter.

Don't get me wrong. October is actually a pretty fine month in these parts. The weather is still decent enough, with the lower humidity and the peak of fall foliage compensating for the noticeably earlier sunsets. Fall is my second favorite season; I just strongly dislike what's coming next. Also, my birthday is in October — although the thrill of that event wore off many, many years ago.

Maybe I would like October more if the Mets didn't usually head to their respective homes right at the beginning of the month. Sure enough, the Mets players will again be dispersing to various points of the compass after Sunday's game. Lingering behind will be big questions about who's coming back and who will manage the 2022 Mets. We don't even know who will be heading the baseball operations, even if we're pretty darned sure that it won't be Sandy Alderson and Zack Scott.

If that isn't enough uncertainty for you, add in the question of when baseball will be back, thanks to the expiring CBA between MLB and the players. It expires on December 1. Given what transpired between the two parties last season, only the most stubbornly optimistic observers believe a new agreement will be in place by that time. Most of us worry that contract negotiations will drag into next spring and beyond. Opening Day is set for Thursday, March 31, 2022, but the danger of that day being delayed — perhaps significantly — is quite real. I sincerely hope that MLB and the union don't take us down that road.

Whenever the New York Mets retake the field for a regular-season game, I probably won't be quite as optimistic as I was back in March. Back then, I thought the Mets had an excellent shot at being a playoff team. At the very least, I expected them to contend until the end of the season and be the bridge from the previous Mets era to a brighter future ahead. They obviously fell far short of achieving that. Instead, they wound up with a losing record for the 10th time in their last 13 seasons.

I honestly believed that the Mets had a solid core of offensive players when this season began. Now, even looking past whether the club will choose to retain Michael Conforto, there are legitimate questions about the core of players beyond their underperformance this season. On MLB.com, Anthony DiComo offered a quote from Sandy Alderson that the team's core was "eroding."

While Pete Alonso and Brandon Nimmo still look like valuable contributors to a future contender, I can't say the same about Jeff McNeil and Dominic SmithJ.D. Davis was better than those two but missed a lot of time with injuries and didn't provide the level of power he would need to offset his defensive liabilities. Of course, lingering hand problems could explain the reduced power, but this was Davis' chance to prove himself capable of being a regular, and it didn't happen. It's conceivable that any of the three could be gone by next year. Even if they're not, they'll have to re-earn playing time.

Oddly, I'm less worried about new Mets Francisco Lindor and James McCann. Both play solid defense at positions where you don't have to mash to be valuable. Lindor seems to be settling in over the last couple of months. McCann is more of a concern but seems like a solid guy determined to work hard over the winter to be more productive next season.

More worrisome for me is the return of Robinson Cano. Cano will return from his 1-year PED suspension under contract for two more years, his age 38 and 39 seasons. The Mets will still be responsible for $20 million per year for his salary, with Seattle picking up the other $4 million per. It's possible that the Mets and Cano negotiate a deferred deal for the remaining money, and he just retires, but that doesn't seem very likely.

Cano was awful in his first season with the Mets. He was very productive in the short season last year but tested positive for steroids afterward. This is obviously speculation on my part, but I think Cano stayed away from steroids in 2019 when he struggled. There have to be meaningful questions about whether Robinson Cano is still a productive Major League hitter without taking PEDs. Facing a lifetime ban if he gets caught a third time, it seems doubtful that Cano will juice again. Then again, I was surprised that he elected to cheat again last year.

Maybe Cano plays the final 2 years clean and has something left in the tank and can contribute in some role for the club. Perhaps he and his doctors find a masking agent that allows him to juice without getting caught and still provide elite production. Or possibly he just looks old with a slow bat as A-Rod did on his return from a 1-year suspension. However it goes, I'd be surprised if the club didn't give Cano a shot with all of that money still owed. Even a rich guy like Steve Cohen doesn't throw away $40 million on a whim. Cano will likely be around in 2022, at least for a while, complicating things for the team. 

As I mentioned in my last post, whoever is hired to run baseball operations for the Mets will have to decide whether there are enough good players here to build a legitimate contender. It will certainly require creativity, but I believe that a path forward without tearing down still exists. However, it's hard to argue that negotiating that path won't be more difficult given the struggle of so many of the key lineup pieces this season.

As things currently stand, the Mets are far away from building a farm system that will help them reach their goal of sustained winning. Even given the strong seasons of top prospects Francisco Alvarez, Brett Baty, Mark VientosRonny MauricioJ.T. Ginn, and Khalil Lee, the Mets system lacks the depth needed to stock the major league club and make deals. Giving up yet another first-round pick (Pete Crow-Armstrong) only to finish far from a playoff slot was truly unfortunate. Under whoever takes over the baseball operations, the Mets will absolutely have to walk a tightrope balancing contending now and getting to that ideal farm system that will make things easier. Squandering prospects for minimal results can't continue to happen.

I've got quite a few topics lined up to write about in the coming weeks and months, including a few that I touched on in this post. For now, I need to spend a little time grieving the truly disappointing season that has concluded.


 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos. 

6 comments:

  1. You can add Carlos Rincon ...the Offense was offensive with men on base...overall the pitching staff could of sued for non support...sign Marte and Semien...pray for a healthy starting staff...do not offer Conforto a QA...

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  2. I'm a little leery of Marte. He's probably the best OF available but he turns 33 this month. Depends on how many years it takes to sign him

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  3. I should probably write up a full article on this topic, but I think 2023 is the year to shoot for and let 2022 develop to see if some of the guys with disappointing years come back (Smith, McNeil, McCann). As you point out, the CBA is too murky to trade for one year players (I have proposed a couple of trades for last year arb guys, but they would have to be really good deals to not get burned by them with a long lock-out). Also, with 4 of the 40 top draft picks, it seems like a time to not sign a guy with a Q.O. attached and lose one of them (or more?) They can restock the farm pretty well with 4 high picks. Let's do it.

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  4. Gotta agree with you - Fall is a great time of year - my favorite. October is my birth month as well (yesterday - what day is yours?) And other than all the facebook messages that people seem to think are necessary and the obligatory cards from the family, I don't tend to notice it too much, alhough my wife and I fixed a nice dinner with my annual German Chocolate Cake for dessert :-)

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  5. My birthday is the 20th, although back then we used to write it as XX

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  6. yea .and it was hard to chisel very neatly.

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