It turned out that the Mets didn’t sign everybody once Steve Cohen completed his purchase of the team last fall, which now feels like a whole baseball season ago. They didn’t sign George Springer, who ended up with the Blue Jays, and were the first runner-up with Trevor Bauer, who landed with the Dodgers even though the Mets went after him.
And they brought back Marcus Stroman, who is still just 29 and who, not so terribly long ago, had been a big get for them at the Trade Deadline of 2019.
The Dodgers got better with Bauer, of course, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner even though he only started 11 games and won five in the short season of 2020. The Padres got better with Blake Snell and Yu Darvish and Ha-Seong Kim out of Korea. The Cardinals got better, and established themselves as the favorite in the NL Central, by trading for Nolan Arenado, the best third baseman of his time, and he doesn’t even turn 30 until April.
You can still make the case that the Mets improved themselves, in as many different areas, as much as any team over the past couple of months.
Does that make them the hands-down favorite in the NL East, the deepest division in baseball? (The NL West is just wonderfully top heavy. It doesn’t. The three-time defending NL East champion Braves haven’t gone anywhere, and the Nationals have improved in a lot of areas themselves, starting with adding Josh Bell, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Lester and Brad Hand. The young Marlins made the expanded postseason in 2020. And maybe this is the season when the Phillies make a move up the standings, especially with Dave Dombrowski running the baseball operation.
But can the Mets soar to first place? Absolutely, especially knowing they expect to get Noah Syndergaard back from Tommy John surgery by early summer. There are even Yankee fans I know who, because of the uncertainty about so many of their starting pitchers who didn’t pitch last season, prefer the Mets’ roster to theirs, as the two teams get ready to fight for the mythical city championship in New York.
By the way? In as entertaining an offseason in baseball as this one has been (still not quite over), no one would ever suggest that Sandy Alderson, back to running baseball ops for the Mets, doesn’t have another deal or two in him.
Right before that trade, I asked Alderson if he would be comfortable playing the season with the team he has now.
The answer was direct. He’s an ex-Marine. He doesn’t waste words, or time.
Alderson has been every bit as busy across this baseball winter as his counterpart with the Yankees, Brian Cashman. And probably busier. He even traded away a local kid, Steven Matz, who never fully showed the promise the Mets expected. But the Mets essentially replaced him with Carrasco. They got a lot better at catcher. And all of that was backdrop to Alderson pulling off the blockbuster for Lindor, who becomes the best and most exciting player in New York as soon as he runs out to shortstop in a Mets uniform.
The Mets now put Lindor in their batting order with Michael Conforto and Pete Alonso, whom they fully expect to bounce back after a disappointing 2020. They still have Jeff McNeil, who has now been in the big leagues for three years, has a career batting average of .319 and has generally been a grinder of a base-hit machine. Dom Smith, still just 25, launched 10 home runs in 50 games last season and hit .316.
And, oh by the way, every fifth day they start Jacob deGrom, who has been as brilliant a starting pitcher, with or without run support for three years running. He won consecutive Cy Young Awards in 2018 and ‘19. All he did last season was produce a 2.38 ERA and strike out 104 batters in 68 innings. There is no more valuable ace right now, not Gerrit Cole across town, nor the guys on the Dodgers’ staff on the other side of the country.
The Mets are a team to watch again. Might end up being the best team in town. You play the season to find out. But if you are a Mets fan, you probably stand with Sandy Alderson as we move up on Spring Training.
Would you go play the season with what you’ve got?