Mets have plenty of reasons to believe transition year could go better than expected

JUPITER, Fla. — Sure, this isn’t the seemingly stacked, star-studded Mets team that entered the 2023 season (before inexplicably bombing). But take solace, Mets fans, that may be a good thing.

Even in this alleged transition year, there’s plenty to like here. The Mets have given themselves half a chance to play into October.

Here are 22 reasons the Mets may be better than you think.

1. They’re still spending an MLB high $340 million (via Cot’s Baseball Contracts) after an off winter for spending. So, even if a bit or more of that was misspent, you know there is talent here.

2. They’re only two years removed from 101 wins, and nine players, including many key ones, remain from that squad. The 2023 season just may be a fluke.

3. New manager Carlos Mendoza seems ready. I was originally skeptical since he was the bench coach for an underachieving Yankees team last year (after several better seasons). But it’s becoming clear he has the personality and smarts. And you know, as a longtime employee of the analytically driven Yankees and recent hire of noted numbers cruncher David Stearns, you have to know he’s prepared for the modern game.

Carlos Mendoza looks ready to manage the Mets after his tenure as the Yankees’ bench coach. Corey Sipkin for the NY Post

4. The defense is much improved. Harrison Bader in center is one of the best, and Brandon Nimmo should be among the best in left.

5. Francisco Alvarez should take the next step in Year 2. He surprised us by how ready he was last year, but he should be even better this time around. The arm is one of the best, and with Mets pitchers working hard now on giving him a chance, there’s no reason he shouldn’t move from below average throwing runners out (only 12 percent caught stealing in 2023) to one of the best.

6. While the rotation is missing a No. 1 or even No. 2 starter until ace Kodai Senga returns from his shoulder issue, all five guys should give them a chance.

7. No. 5 guy Tylor Megill has a splitter he’s learned from Senga, and while it isn’t a ghost fork (it can be seen clearly) it’s given him an extra pitch.

8. Senga is saying he’s ready to throw, so it’s possible he could be back sometime in May. Since folks will bet on anything these days, it’s a wonder there isn’t anyone yet taking action yet on who returns first between Senga and Yankees ace Gerrit Cole.

10. Their rotation-depth situation isn’t terrible. In fact, it’s better than some teams (look away, Yankees fans). Jose Butto looked great in spring, Joey Lucchesi was terrific in a cameo role last year and David Peterson should be available sooner rather than later.

11. Christian Scott heads a decent crop of starting prospects. “He’s legit,” says one scout.

12. The rotation isn’t as important as it used to be since nobody — well, nobody but Logan Webb, Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Cole and one or two others — consistently goes more than six innings anymore.

13. Edwin Diaz is back, and so are the trumpets. His injury in last year’s WBC killed the Mets. He looks good, too. Which is music to everyone’s ears.

The Mets will have Edwin Díaz as their closer again in 2024 after he missed all of last season. USA TODAY Sports

14. The rest of the bullpen looks pretty solid, which is key because the Mets don’t have any of those rare seven-inning starters. They’ve performed very well down here, for what it’s worth.

15. Jorge Lopez and Michael Tonkin (assuming he makes it) look like nice pen additions. Lopez has great stuff, and Tonkin threw 80 innings to the tune of a 1.08 WHIP for the Braves last year. (We assume anyone who plays any role with the Braves has to be pretty good.)

16. The top of the lineup may not match the Dodgers, or even the Braves or Phillies, but it’s pretty darned good. The first four are set, with Brandon Nimmo, Francisco Lindor, Pete Alonso and new signed J.D. Martinez already penciled in.

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17. Alonso finally has proven lineup protection behind him. He’s had some decent hitters — he himself mentioned Robbie Cano, Michael Conforto and Jeff McNeil — but nobody with a career 133 OPS-plus like Martinez. That happens to be the same career mark as Hall of Famers Jackie Robinson, Billy Williams and Todd Helton (and also Mets great David Wright.)

18. Alonso looks primed for a monster year. No one is predicting he’ll repeat the performance in Aaron Judge’s platform year. But let’s face it, he averages 44 home runs, and that’s even before Martinez got here.

19. The rest of the lineup isn’t too bad, either.

20. Starling Marte hasn’t hit much this spring, but he looks healthy.

Pete Alonso will have protection behind him in the Mets’ lineup this season. Corey Sipkin for the NY Post

21. Brett Baty looks better. According to a Mets person, he seems more confident, and that may be the key. He appeared a bit overwhelmed as a rookie by New York last year, which is quite common and no crime.

22. Steve Cohen owns the team. If they are close, assume they can add, even though it means paying the fourth-tier so-called “Steve Cohen tax” of 110 percent. He’s the only owner who can afford annual $200M deficits. Conservatively, that was the estimated loss last year, which is a blessing unless you’re his accountant.

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