Sports

New Season, New Mets: ‘We Just Want to Play Great Baseball.’

WASHINGTON — So much is different about the Mets since 2016, the last time they made the playoffs. Rosters inevitably change, but the Mets’ overhaul runs much deeper. They have, to name a few important figures, a new manager, a new general manager and a new team owner — the last of that bunch making the biggest difference in the direction of any franchise.

The past decade for the Mets has been defined more by losses and drama than winning and consistent success. The Mets, whose last World Series title came in 1986, have made the playoffs just twice since 2007. But after a winter of further revamping, one of the most highly anticipated seasons in recent team history is here, scheduled to begin against the Nationals on Thursday night in Washington, D.C. The reasons to be more bullish on the Mets than in the past are plenty.

For so long under the previous owners, the Wilpons, the Mets languished in the National League standings and in Major League Baseball’s payroll rankings despite playing in the United States’ largest media market.

But under the second-year owner Steven A. Cohen, the hedge fund manager with a reported net worth over $15 billion, the team now enjoys the richest majority owner in M.L.B. and it is behaving accordingly. Only the perennially contending Los Angeles Dodgers ($293 million, for luxury tax purposes) have a higher payroll in M.L.B. than the Mets’ franchise record mark of $286 million.

When healthy — a challenge right now — the Mets have two of the best pitchers in baseball in the right-handers Jacob deGrom, 33, and Max Scherzer, 37, each of whom have won multiple Cy Young Awards. While deGrom might be out for months with a shoulder injury that dampens the team’s outlook, the Mets received encouraging news regarding Scherzer’s tight hamstring on Thursday and planned to have him make his Mets debut Friday. And thankfully for the Mets, they swung a trade with the Oakland Athletics in March for the right-handed starting pitcher Chris Bassitt, a 2021 All-Star.

To further overhaul the team heading into this season, the Mets spent a combined $254.5 million on outfielder Starling Marte, the outfielder and first baseman Mark Canha, infielder Eduardo Escobar and Scherzer. They supplement a roster that includes key players who either performed solidly or underperformed last year: first baseman Pete Alonso, the second baseman and outfielder Jeff McNeil, shortstop Francisco Lindor and starting pitcher Taijuan Walker.

The 2022 M.L.B. Season Begins

Baseball is back after a labor dispute delayed the start of the season.

  • Money Dominates: Amid a contentious lockout and record spending, the gaps between the richest and poorest clubs have only grown wider.
  • American League: Despite a shuffling of stars, the power still resides in the A.L. East, which has four teams capable of winning 100 games.
  • National League: A new challenger has emerged as the once-thrifty Mets went on a spending spree — and they are willing to spend even more.

“We just want to play great baseball,” Scherzer, who won the 2019 World Series with the Nationals, said before Thursday’s game. “There’s a lot of talent in here. A lot of moves were made in the off-season to bolster the talent in here. It’s up to us to come together as a team and as a clubhouse and play well as a team and do the best we can. We need a good start right out of the beginning.”

The Mets’ general manager, Billy Eppler, never built a playoff team in five seasons with the Los Angeles Angels but he has proved capable of attracting some of the best players in baseball. (He lured the two-way star Shohei Ohtani, the 2021 American League Most Valuable Player, to Anaheim, Calif., from Japan.) The Mets’ manager, Buck Showalter, who has a .506 career winning percentage across 20 seasons with four different teams, is the most experienced skipper they have employed in some time.

“He’s really, really organized,” said Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo, who was not starting Thursday’s season opener because of a stiff neck. “He’s precise. He’s going to be prepared. I don’t think we’re going to lose a game because Buck wasn’t prepared”

Nimmo is cheerful by nature, but heading into this season, he noted that the squad assembled by Cohen and Eppler was extremely talented, which had him “really optimistic.” Referring to the new players, Nimmo said, “these guys have a long track record of succeeding in the big leagues and doing well in the big leagues.”

The playoff field was expanded to 12 teams from 10 in the sport’s new labor agreement, but the Mets’ division, the N.L. East, will be stout. The Nationals are rebuilding, but the Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies committed sizable chunks of money on upgrades this winter. The Phillies didn’t spend much on defense, but they added the powerful bats of outfielders Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber for a combined $179 million.

The team to beat will be Atlanta, the reigning World Series champion. Despite letting the longtime star first baseman Freddie Freeman depart via free agency, Atlanta has a franchise record $206 million payroll after a flurry of moves, from trading with the Athletics for the star first baseman Matt Olson (and signing him to an eight-year $168 million extension), re-signing outfielder Eddie Rosario and adding the former Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen.

“It’s going to be a tough division and there’s a lot of good teams and talent,” Scherzer said. “Everybody has got to be at their best.”

That will include Tylor Megill, 26, on Thursday. Because deGrom got injured soon before opening day, Scherzer was dealing with a minor hamstring injury and Showalter didn’t want to mess with the other starting pitchers’ schedules, the Mets turned to Megill, with 18 career starts, for the opening day assignment.

But after two pandemic-altered seasons, a labor dispute between M.L.B. owners and players that nearly jeopardized a full 162-game regular season, a rushed spring training and a flurry of activity to overhaul the franchise, the Mets were simply excited to start a new hopeful season.

“Everybody is going to look forward to getting a game or two under their belt and getting into the routine,” Showalter said when speaking to reporters in the visiting manager’s office at Nationals Park before Thursday’s game. “Everybody here is, too. It’s been such a …,” his voiced trailing off before continuing, “And I try to keep in mind how different what we’re doing right now is. It’s been a while.”

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