Mets scouting report to start the 2023 MLB season
In shortstop Francisco Lindor and second baseman Jeff McNeil, the Mets have as strong a double-play combination as any team — and now they’re both under contract for perhaps the next half-decade.
Lindor’s increased productivity last year correlated with his increased comfort in New York and on the Mets. That should continue. Through two seasons here, he hasn’t won any individual awards — no Silver Sluggers or Gold Gloves or even All-Star nods — but don’t be surprised if that changes in 2023.
McNeil hit .326 in 2022 to win the major-league batting title, fulfilling his top personal goal. The Mets rewarded him with a four-year, $50 million contract (which includes a fifth-year team option).
One dynamic worth keeping in mind with the defensive shift limits implemented this year: This pair should be fun. Lindor has been a vocal critic of the shift; now he’ll get to play freely and athletically the way he wants. McNeil is a throw-his-body-around, do-whatever-is-needed-to-make-the-play defender, which also might lend itself to this tweaked environment.
At first base, the Mets have a face of the franchise, an organizational cornerstone, as sure of a thing as they have in the lineup: Pete Alonso. He hit 40 homers and shared the major-league lead in RBIs (131) with the Yankees’ Aaron Judge. At third base, they have Eduardo Escobar . . . for now. They consider Brett Baty the future of the position. It will be up to Escobar and Baty to tell the Mets — via the quality of their play — when it is time for the future.
The Mets are bringing back the starting group, a strength last season: leftfielder Mark Canha, centerfielder Brandon Nimmo and rightfielder Starling Marte. And in Tommy Pham, they think they’ve upgraded the backup option, too.
Nimmo is coming off the best year of his career and signed an eight-year, $162 million contract to stay. He designed his offseason and spring training regimen around trying to repeat that on-field performance, most critically staying healthy and on the field.
Marte took well to rightfield last year and has said he thinks the double groin surgery he had in November won’t impact the kind of player he is. At 34, he might slow down eventually, but his strong arm should make him a force in the field (and his quick bat a force at the plate).
Canha may well be the most underrated Met, offering solidly above-average offense while serving as a backup in centerfield, rightfield and first base.
The Mets signed the defensively savvy Omar Narvaez to pair with the defensively savvy Tomas Nido. Both are highly regarded behind the plate but don’t bring much at it. That said, if the Mets indeed play them in a straight platoon — Narvaez against righthanded pitchers and Nido against lefthanders — it should mean an improvement over their minuscule production from the position last year.
The wild card: When will the Mets work in top prospect Francisco Alvarez? He had a major-league cameo late last season, but the Mets have emphasized his need to improve defensively before they trust him with the major-league staff.
The Mets again don’t have a definitive answer at DH. Daniel Vogelbach will get the majority of that playing time. Pham also is an option after the Mets cut Darin Ruf. The rest of the Mets’ bench is solid. They love the surehanded Luis Guillorme and his ability to move around the infield — so much so Buck Showalter has talked about getting him experience at first base, just in case — and Nido is a prototypical backup/co-catcher.
The entire dynamic with this group changed when the Mets lost all-world closer Edwin Diaz, likely for the season, to a torn patellar tendon in his right knee. He went from celebrating a Puerto Rico win in the WBC to surgery in less than 24 hours. Now the Mets will lean on the rest of their high-leverage group. That includes Adam Ottavino (who was excellent last season and has minimal closing experience) and offseason addition David Robertson (who has extensive closing experience and also was very good in 2022).
Lefthander Brooks Raley, a trade acquisition, will pitch important innings. The Mets hope righthander Drew Smith emerges as a consistent late-and-close option. The last several bullpen spots are more uncertain. Tommy Hunter, John Curtiss and Stephen Nogosek won jobs in camp. Stephen Ridings, Sam Coonrod and Bryce Montes de Oca should be options when healthy.