Put it in the Books: An Autopsy of the 2021 Mets
A Just Mets roundtable does an autopsy on the club now that the season has ended
The New York Mets lost 5-0 to the Atlanta Braves on Sunday, officially putting their 2021 season in the books. The team finished in third place in the NL East with a record of 77-85, despite being in first place for more days than any other team in the division throughout the year. This is the 4th time in the last five seasons that the Mets finished with a sub-500 record.
After a disappointing season with several questions entering the offseason, each member of our writing staff decided to try and break down what went wrong, what the team needs to do this offseason and our overall feelings about it all.
This is our Just Mets 2021 autopsy…
I can’t get over the Mets winning 21 games and relinquishing 16.5 games in the standings since August 1. Its hard to believe a team which built so much good will over the first 100 games with quality pitching, defense and inspired play through adversity both with injury, scheduling obstacles and a general struggle to hit could completely spoil that and do so dramatically. I could cherry pick individual positives and encouraging signs from struggling players, but I could do that with the Orioles too, a team that lost 110 games.
In the end, there are more questions than answers, and certainly more questions and more difficult questions to answer than that from six months ago. They have an imbalanced and quickly escalating payroll, they need a completely new executive wing of the front office, they likely will replace most if not the entire dugout staff, and there are so many needs on the roster. And none of this solves the injury concerns around Jacob deGrom and how to move forward with his inning management in 2021 (he has made 25 starts since 2019 and was diagnosed with a resolved UCL sprain in between), and what to do with Robinson Canó (he gets paid in some way whether he plays for the Mets or not in 2022 and 2023). Plus, how will all of these problems resolve under the framework of (hopefully) a new collective bargaining agreement?
From a payroll perspective alone, the luxury tax payroll sits at around $135 million before signing any new players, retaining their pending free agents, and resolving their arbitration-eligible player cases and pre-arbitration contracts.
For instance, lets say they retain Noah Syndergaard and Michael Conforto on $20 million (approx.) qualifying offers, and retain both Javier Báez and Marcus Stroman at $25 million per year. That puts the luxury tax payroll at $225 million without retaining Aaron Loup, adding any new talent, or getting their arbitration cases settled.
This isn’t an easy puzzle for the Mets to solve no matter who is making the baseball decisions in the front office, and most of these problems won’t be solved until Alderson finds a President of Baseball Operations at the earliest. Unpopular decisions are unquestionably ahead, both from a personnel perspective and perhaps with the club’s direction over the immediate term.
It isn’t often that I come into a season genuinely thinking to myself, “The Mets could actually win the World Series this year.” Despite what many on Twitter would believe now, I was once that optimistic about this team entering 2021. Something tells me that the team thought so, as well.
We all know the story of this season: An offense that never got going, a surprising lack of power, an abundance of injuries throughout the roster, the loss of their ace, questionable managing and an overconfidence that became evident in the second half.
When this Mets offensive core of Pete Alonso, Michael Conforto, Jeff McNeil, Dominic Smith and JD Davis came together in 2019, optimism was abound. Despite coming up short in their late-season charge for the playoffs that year, there was a confidence that this was a “special” group that was going to lead the team to prosperity. And perhaps it was that same strong finish to the 2019 season that ultimately led to a misplaced confidence which has left the Mets where they are now.
Even after a disappointing 2020 (albeit a strange, fanless, COVID-shortened one), the Mets and their new financially equipped ownership came into this season with mostly the same pieces in place on offense outside of Francisco Lindor and James McCann, the latter of which was not exactly the upgrade at catcher most fans were hoping for. Despite a handful of rumors, the team never seriously looked to upgrade at third base or left field, leaving JD Davis and Dom Smith (both of whom lost their jobs later in the season) as the everyday starters.
And now, after three years together with a 189-195 record (.492) and zero playoff appearances to show for it, time has run out for this Mets “core.”
Quite frankly, New York’s front office is going to have to make quite a few unpopular decisions this offseason. Like it or not, wholesale changes are on the horizon. While Alonso and Lindor aren’t going anywhere, Michael Conforto is a pending free agent and the trio of McNeil, Davis and Smith may all find themselves on the trading block. And while I wouldn’t expect all four of those players to be relocated this winter, it is more than likely than not that more than one of them will.
I think it’s safe to say that the ownership, front office, coaching staff and players themselves came into this year thinking that this group was too good to fail — it showed both in their actions and their words. But this franchise, already one year deep into Steven Cohen’s proclaimed three-to-five year championship window, cannot go into 2022 with an ounce of that same complacency.
For the Mets to get to where they want to go, they’ll have to be smart, aggressive and unafraid of change. Using their newly bolstered analytics department and their owner’s deep pockets, it is on every decision-maker in this organization to leave emotions at the door, go out, and assemble a better ball club.
And yeah, that’s probably going to lead to some decisions deemed to be undesirable. Fans who fell in love with these players are going to have a hard time seeing some of them move on. But I can promise you that they’ll fall far more in love with a Mets team that actually wins baseball games and, dare I say, makes it back to the postseason. And that’s the ultimate goal, isn’t it?
The 2021 New York Mets are a study in expectation vs. reality. With a new owner coming in it seemed like they were poised to make a big push and be competitive for years to come, and for the most part the offseason seemed to back it up. They added superstar Francisco Lindor while also getting Carlos Carrasco in the process, they picked up some quality arms for the bullpen, and they focused on depth which had long been lacking in this organization. The additions of Taijuan Walker, Joey Lucchesi, Jordan Yamamoto, Jonathan Villar, and Kevin Pillar all seemed like smart moves that would give the team major league quality depth without the team having to scramble like in years past when injuries set in. While on the surface it seemed like a solid offseason — especially after extending Lindor — then the scandals began…
General manager Jared Porter was fired for sexually harassing a reporter while with the Cubs, and The Athletic released a report about the toxic workplace culture the Mets have harbored for years, and yet despite that the Mets still went hard after Trevor Bauer and marked him as their guy. Not George Springer or JT Realmuto, it was Bauer they were willing to break the bank for and offer $40m a year to despite all the warning flags both on and off the field attached to him.
Ultimately, Bauer saved them from themselves but still, the Cohen era got off to a rocky start.
The season was delayed due to a COVID-19 outbreak with the Nationals, and then the dealt them additional bad hands shortly thereafter. So the lack of hitting in April could at least be explained away by the tumultuous beginning.
But then they still didn’t hit. Then the injuries set in. And while the, “Bench Mob” carried them for awhile, they were a paper tiger with the final blow coming when Jacob deGrom, who was in the midst of a historic season, went down with an injury. The pitching carried them in the first half, but without their ace they were missing that stopper and the house of cards came crashing down around them. First place disappeared rapidly and then the playoffs altogether as the team continued to struggle to hit with many players not coming anywhere close to their career norms.
So where do they go from here? How do they judge a season where injuries were expected after the shortened 2020 season but also where so many players struggled?
Sandy Alderson hinted at the fact that the core of this team’s time is up so that could mean the 2022 Mets could look quite different from the one that took the field in 2021, but ultimately it won’t be his decision to make with a new president of baseball operations coming in and yet another new GM since the one that replaced the sex pest got arrested for drunk driving (a fourth since the conclusion of the 2020 season).
This team ultimately needs to get its house in order before making any decisions on the field. Yes, the futures of Marcus Stroman, Noah Syndergaard, Michael Conforto, Aaron Loup and Javier Báez all need to reconciled before the start of next year, but this team’s culture needs a complete overhaul so they can become a desirable franchise both on and off the field.
For the majority of the 2021 campaign, the Mets were an inspiring success story.
A comical amount of injuries threatened to throw their season completely off the rails in May and June. Lack of hitting with runners in scoring position was a daily talking point. Dramatic offensive underachievement for the entirety of the first half was a latent problem, as the pitching staff was more often than not able to mask the offense’s ineptitude.
But while it wasn’t perfect, there was a general sense of optimism guys like Jeff McNeil, Michael Conforto, Dominic Smith, Francisco Lindor and others would eventually hit the way the back of their baseball cards indicated they should. Noah Syndergaard and Carlos Carrasco were also working their way back from injuries and New York was anxious to add the duo to a rotation that had all of Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, and Taijuan Walker throwing terrifically.
Things are never easy in Metsland, but from Opening Day all the way to All-Star break the Mets were emphatically trending towards their first NL East title since 2015.
Until they weren’t.
July 7th was not supposed to be such an important date on the calendar for the 2021 Mets. Unfortunately it has become a seismic line in the sand marking when things began to come unglued. When deGrom threw seven dominant innings in a game the Mets would eventually win against the Brewers on that afternoon, no one would have believed you if you told them it would be the last time the ace took the hill in 2021. A myriad of arm problems the team continually tried to down play put deGrom on the shelf for the entire second half.
From a psychological standpoint alone, it’s fair to wonder what kind of affect his absence had on the team as a whole.
New York won enough games during the final two weeks of July to maintain their NL East lead, but despite a deadline deal for Javier Báez, optimism was slipping. Both Philadelphia and Atlanta did more at the deadline and the Mets offensive struggles were not going away.
As the dog days of August wore on, it became clear this might not end the way we’d hoped. After throwing only 67.1 innings TOTAL between ’18-’20, and as his inning total continued to build down the stretch, Walker’s effectiveness steadily regressed. The same could be said in large part for rookie Tylor Megill, who for a long time had been a godsend in the rotation after Joey Lucchesi got hurt and the return of Syndergaard and Carrasco was continually delayed.
While for the most part Lindor rebounded and performed at his career average levels in the second half, and Conforto experienced a handful of short lived hot streaks, as a whole the Mets offense continued to grossly underperform. Eventually guys like Smith and Davis were relegated to the bench. A season-defining two week gauntlet stretch against the Dodgers and Giants proved to be the breaking point, as a plethora of frustrating one-run losses essentially sunk the Mets season.
The Mets have an inordinate amount of questions heading into the offseason, and an unusual amount of them have to do with things off-the-field. The organization simply has to put a front office structure in place that can help them win consistently both in 2022 and beyond.
However it shakes out, once the disappointment of how 2021 ended dissipates a little, we’ll all get into hot stove season and let ourselves feel optimistic about the future again before the holidays even get here. As always, LFGM.