When they paired Max Scherzer with Jacob deGrom, the New York Mets pretty much did their offseason.
Maybe they finally hold a winning hand.
Boasting a 1-2 punch that’s combined for five Cy Young Awards, the Mets have huge expectations (and skyrocketing payrolls) in 2022 after their latest winter review — on and off the field.
“It’s a complete crash course for me,” Scherzer said during spring training in Florida. “I can not wait.”
Buck Showalter takes over on the bench, back in the Big Apple to lead his fifth major league team.
All-Star starter Chris Bassitt joins deGrom and Scherzer in a resplendent rotation, and newcomer Starling Marte brings speed and power to the outfield.
Bassitt was acquired from Oakland via trade, but Scherzer, Marte, outfielder Mark Canha, third baseman Eduardo Escobar and reliever Adam Ottavino all arrived in an offseason spending spree orchestrated by new general manager Billy Eppler.
Extremely eager to win, second-year owner Steve Cohen dug into his deep pockets and committed nearly $260 million to those five free agents in a winter bargain that positioned the Mets to have the second most large baseball payroll (over $250 million) behind the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“Steve has a mission,” said shortstop Francisco Lindor, signed to a $341 million contract.
But this isn’t the first time New York has looked flush with the paper ahead of opening day, regardless of the price.
Regularly underperforming lately, the Mets are coming off their fourth losing season in five years and their 10th in the last 13. They’ve made the playoffs twice in the past 15 seasons and haven’t won the World Series since 1986.
The competition promises to be tough at the top of the NL East, where the second-placed Phillies have strengthened and the World Series champion Braves look loaded. New York spent 103 days in first place last season — the most on record for a team that finished with a losing record (77-85).
“They were a good club for quite a while last year,” Showalter said. “I kept talking to players about people who were here before but aren’t here – they’re good baseball players. That’s how fleeting all of this can be.
For a club constantly derailed by injuries, it will be essential to keep Scherzer, deGrom and Bassitt humming along.
Scherzer will be 38 in July and deGrom, 33, did not pitch after July 7 last season due to a sprained elbow who looks completely healthy this spring. Bassitt, 33, made a remarkable recovery last year from a scary line on his face.
HAPPY TO SEE YOU AGAIN
Robinson Canó returns at 39 after sitting out last season while serving his second PED suspension.
“He might be one of the happiest guys in camp,” Showalter said. “He will be the first to tell you that (his problems) were self-inflicted. But you can tell the fact that he’s nowhere near that has put him in a good position this spring.
Canó could adapt to DH, where the Mets have several options, including JD Davis, Dominic Smith and first baseman Pete Alonso.
“The way you look at your bench with the DH is totally different. In fact, if anyone has the potential to benefit from this rule change, we would be up there in the conversation,” Showalter said.
ON THE REBOUND
Lindor is looking to bounce back from a rather abysmal start for the Mets at the plate last season, when the four-time star player hit a career-best .230.
Second baseman Jeff McNeil and receiver James McCann are also hoping to regain their swings in a disappointing lineup that relied too heavily on Alonso (37 HRs, 94 RBIs, .863 OPS) last year.
While the Mets have certainly added a few high-profile newcomers, they’ve also lost a lot of firepower in free agency. Gone are outfielder Michael Conforto, infielder Javier Báez, accomplished starting pitchers Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard, and veteran relievers Aaron Loup and Jeurys Familia.
Pitching coach Jeremy Hefner was the only retained coach on the new staff under Showalter, 65, a proven winner who also coached the Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks, Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles . He replaces Luis Rojas, released after two lost seasons as Mets skipper.
BREATH FROM THE PAST
Cohen, a longtime Mets fan, shed light on the franchise’s history since buying the team in November 2020.
This season, the Mets plan to unveil a statue of Tom Seaver at Citi Field, celebrate the 10th anniversary of Johan Santana’s no-hitter, retire Keith Hernandez’s No. 17 jersey (July 9), and bring back the Day alumni (Aug. 27) for the first time since 1994.
AP freelance writer Bill Whitehead contributed to this report from Port St. Lucie, Florida.
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