Thursday, April 18, 2024

Signs of Life

After a really rough start, the New York Mets are looking like the competitive team we hoped to see.

Coming into the season, I thought the 2024 Mets bore similarities to the 2005 club. When I resurrected my long-dormant blog in 2020, I wrote a series of posts about those 2005 Mets. They were the first Mets team I wrote about when I started the original version of Mike's Mets in August of that season. I live in a place with few Mets fans. All of my friends were Yankees and Red Sox fans. To this day, I have no close friends or family who root for the Mets. Taking the unusual step of becoming a blogger when I was already in my mid-40s was me looking for a place to talk about that Mets club.

It turns out this year's Mets team had a little too much in common with the 2005 crew. Those Mets lost their first five games of the season before righting the ship and winning six in a row. This year's club also lost their first five. While they didn't emulate 2005's immediate winning streak to get back over .500, the 2024 Mets have gone 10-3 since, boosting their record to 10-8 and achieving a tick above blessed mediocrity. More importantly, they have taken four consecutive series against decent or better teams that had been playing well: Cincinnati, Atlanta, Kansas City, and Pittsburgh. The first three of those series wins were achieved by taking the rubber game, something the Mets were terrible at last season. Then they took it up another notch in sweeping the Pirates. The Reds, Royals, and Pirates were hot coming into their respective series, and winning 2 of 3 in Atlanta was an impressive achievement.

This isn't to say we're watching the gelling of a powerhouse team here in Queens. But we see a club that can hang around in the Wild Card race all year and possibly grab a playoff spot. While certainly not perfect, the bullpen looks like a huge upgrade over last year's. This is crucial for a squad that doesn't feature starting pitchers who go deep into games — not even the 6 or 7-inning outings that pass for exemplary starts in today's game.

José Buttó is one pitcher who has delivered a couple of 6-inning starts after repeating his excellence against the Royals this week. More importantly, he is providing the Mets crucial starting pitching depth. The Mets are finding it impossible to keep sending Buttó back to Syracuse. José has grabbed that fifth starter slot, at least until Tylor Megill returns. Even if Megill does come back fairly quickly, I could see Buttó locking down the spot starter/long relief role that Trevor Williams excelled at in 2022.

Many people, including some who get paid for their opinions on baseball, wrote the Mets off after they went 1-5 on their opening homestand. That was, of course, silly. It would be equally foolish to foresee the Mets going neck-and-neck with the Braves this season based on the past 13 games. This is not a great team playing in Queens this season. There will be more periods of disappointing play like that first homestand this summer, mixed with more hopeful stretches like the current one. Again, this is reminiscent of the 2005 crew.

But I believe the 2024 Mets have more potential than their counterparts from 19 years ago. While no Pedro Martínez is leading the current rotation, there is more quality top-to-bottom. Kaz Ishii was the fifth starter for half the season for those old Mets and was awful. There were no prospects on the farm ready to debut for that club. Omar Minaya had to scramble to piece together a rotation back in 2005. In contrast, the current farm system has several interesting arms with a real chance to be Major League contributors.

The 2005 farm system was also devoid of position player prospects. David Wright and José Reyes were already in the big leagues, and no other really good kids were coming. However, exciting young position prospects will make their Mets debut in the next couple of years. That, to me, is the most significant difference between this club and the Mets from 19 years ago.

Back then, Minaya was able to augment what he inherited with Wright and Reyes by signing Pedro Martínez and Carlos Beltrán and then performing a constant juggling act with everything he didn't have, especially young pitching. But, without the foundation of a productive farm system, Minaya's club was destined to fall apart spectacularly with the collapses of 2007 and 2008. Omar's 2005 club was the beginning of something but was also destined to end quickly with no foundation to sustain success. It was over so quickly, and that was really painful.

The work that has been ongoing under Steve Cohen makes this year's club feel more like the beginning of something special. The upgrades to scouting and player development, along with the addition of the pitching lab in Port St. Lucie, didn't exist 19 years ago. Minaya was a good baseball man, but I believe David Stearns is better suited to building some here with the Mets that will last longer than a couple of seasons. Steve Cohen is a far better owner than Fred Wilpon. While I sincerely hope that the Mets can make the playoffs this year, I am more confident than at any other time in my Mets fandom that success can be something to be counted on.

All of which gave me a chuckle when I read something by ESPN's Buster Olney the other day. As with his colleague Ken Rosenthal, Buster usually finds some negative take whenever he deems it necessary to opine on the Mets. There has been much to criticize over the years, of course, but these guys are slow to accept things are changing. And, while it's one thing to make a valid criticism, it's quite another to make something up out of whole cloth.

That's precisely what Rosenthal did in a piece about the A's last year:
...the A's are not the first team to create competitive disparities by fielding an awful product. Just last season, under the more unbalanced schedule, the Phillies and Mets secured two of the three NL wild-card spots by going 16-3 and 14-5 against the 107-loss Nationals. The introduction of a third wild-card team, at least, left an opening for the Padres.

I dismissed the "logic" that the 101-win Mets owed their Wild Card slot to the Nats with a rebuttal that was easy to write. Ken's point was nonsense. The same can be said about the dubious logic from Buster Olney's argument in an piece entitled "2024 MLB predictions: Our hottest hot takes two weeks in." 

Buster Olney: The Mets won't contend again this year -- or any time soon.

What we're seeing early this year are red flags that, despite carrying the highest payroll in baseball, the Mets may not be competitive this year -- but more importantly, also not for years to come. Their rotation is currently built on older veterans signed to short-term deals, and their farm system is largely void of high-end pitching prospects. By the time the Mets can rebuild their organizational pitching, their core position-player group could be on its collective downslope. They are off to a slow start, and what we see on the horizon looks bleak, too.
Buster is paid to be an expert on MLB, but he's not showing expertise here. I'll concede that Olney might well be right about this season. The Mets have shown some real positive signs with their pitching — particularly the bullpen depth. It seems they are finally figuring out how to put together a deep, effective bullpen. Still, even if the reliever's early-season success continues, they need to coax a bit more out of the starting pitchers to avoid wearing out their relief corps.

It's also hopeful that youngsters Francisco Alvarez and Bret Baty are playing well so far. But Alvarez needs to display more patience at the plate to access his power, while Baty only has 2 extra-base hits on the season and is still hitting too many balls on the ground.

Jeff McNeil has looked better than his awful 2023 start but has gone hitless in his last three games. Seeing the fans cheer for Francisco Lindor this homestand was great, but his offense is still quite offensive. Brandon Nimmo was awful early on and still isn't peak Nimmo yet. My biggest hope is that when J.D. Martinez finally joins the team, he can deepen the lineup and make everyone a bit better. Still, I acknowledge that this isn't a given for a 36-year-old with back problems.

So yeah, the Mets might ultimately not contend this season, especially if they run into some tough luck over the summer. The jury is still out, which is the hallmark of a decidedly mediocre team. They'll need some folks to step up and a bit of luck. I'm more sanguine about 2024 being a success than Olney is, but you can make a fair argument both ways. But the rest of Olney's hot take is ludicrous. Seriously, Buster thinks the Mets will not be competitive for years to come? And lack of "high-end pitching prospects" will be the cause?

Since Cohen bought the Mets, the team has made significant strides in its pitching development, and it's already starting to pay off. Baseball America just added Christian Scott to their Top-100 list. He was a college reliever whom the Mets drafted in the fifth round of the 2021 draft and converted to a starter. Scott is doing well in Triple-A, one step down from the majors. We may well see him this year.

Scott is the best of several kids the Mets like in their pitching pipeline. As already mentioned, there are several well-regarded position prospects, too. The horizon looks anything but "bleak," despite Olney's assertion.

There are promising developments with the major league club this season and more down on the farm. I'm hopeful for a fun 2024 season with the Mets and even more optimistic about the near-term future. Sorry, Buster, but I remember what bleak looks like. It wasn't that long ago that the Wilpons served us Mets fans heaping helpings of bleak. Your hot take was really, really lame.


I want to briefly apologize to the regular readers for being MIA for a month. I was going through some personal stuff that I'm just about through. I won't bore you with the details. It just sapped my desire to write about the Mets and baseball for a while. But my writing here is still something that I find fulfilling, and I will be posting again regularly, starting with this one. As always, thanks for reading my stuff.

Be well and take care.

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  1. Mike,
    Welcome back. I always find your insight regarding the Mets, not only informative, but very accurate. I see a bright future for the Mets and their young prospects. We must however be patient for that development.


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