Mets executives won’t say they had a clubhouse character problem in 2021. But they do admit they want to improve in that area next season.
Players’ makeup — baseball slang for things such as personality, maturity, intelligence, work ethic — was a "significant" consideration, team president Sandy Alderson said after the Mets signed Max Scherzer, Starling Marte, Eduardo Escobar and Mark Canha, who are reputed to be strong in that regard.
"It’s definitely an element and a criteria that we look for," general manager Billy Eppler said Wednesday. "They’re with each other from roughly Valentine’s Day to Halloween. We want them to be together till Halloween. That’s a long time to be with each other. How that group integrates, supports each other — that’s very, very important to me."
While introducing the position players, Alderson said, "They’re going to add immeasurably. We talked about Max’s contribution earlier today. I think these three guys are going to have just as big an impact."
The emphasis on makeup during the mid-offseason celebration of the still-forming 2022 Mets was noteworthy after what players and club decision-makers often said about the 2021 Mets, who allegedly got along great. So much so that Alderson and then-acting GM Zack Scott cited clubhouse chemistry as a reason they didn’t make more major moves at the trade deadline. They didn’t want to interfere with what they saw as a good thing, they said, echoing a sentiment expressed by the previous regime about many of the same players.
Still, though, multiple high-profile incidents became dark marks.
In May, marquee offseason addition Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil got into a physical confrontation — during a game — in the tunnel next to the dugout, then fabricated a story about a rat or a raccoon that higher-ups frowned upon.
In August, signature trade acquisition Javier Baez said that he, Lindor and others were booing Mets fans when they made thumbs-down gestures during games. Baez and Lindor later apologized.
What did Alderson think of the clubhouse dynamic last season?
"That’s a good question," he said. "The dynamic changed during the course of the season. That’s not unusual when a team is generally winning versus a period when they’re not as successful.
"Look, we had a lot of new players last year, we’re going to have a lot of new players this year. What I’m hoping is that those who were new last year have become more comfortable and accommodating of the demands that are placed on them in a place like New York."
The Mets’ hope is that the newest players can supplement — or spur — whatever natural growth stems from having spent a season with the Mets. The presence of "high achievers" can "create standards," Eppler said.
"That’s not to say that I gleaned or felt any kind of deficiency. I look at it as a value add, kind of doubling down with that specific mindset toward building a culture," said Eppler, who has been with the team for two weeks. "Bringing in Max and some others, there’s a collective theme there for how these guys go about their business, what kind of teammate they are, and I think that’s going to support our club over the 183 days that we play 162 games. That stuff matters to me. Words matter, actions matter."
Scherzer was mum about what kind of leader he immediately can be as the new guy, but he did note: "Clubhouses can change."
"It only takes a few guys to change it," he said. "I’ve seen it happen many times, different guys I’ve played with over the years. When they come in, they bring a certain energy and the whole vibe can change within the clubhouse.
"I feel like the guys that we’re bringing in can do that, can change that. It’s not just myself and other guys, but guys who have been brought in the previous year, that the culture can change. That’s a challenge, but a challenge you’re willing to meet."