Joel Sherman

Joel Sherman

MLB

Mets find themselves in hard-to-predict National League jumble

JUPITER, Fla. — I am not much for predictions for many reasons. 

One is that, even if you are right, you are often not for the reasons you expected.

If, for example, at this time last year you picked the Rangers to win the World Series, were you factoring in Jordan Montgomery being obtained and pitching like an October ace or Evan Carter (major league debut Sept. 8) becoming a postseason No. 3 hitter or Jose Leclerc emerging as a stalwart playoff closer? 

The whole National League last year reasserts how difficult it is to forecast. The six NL playoff teams from 2022 were heavily favored to repeat.

Then the season happened and the Mets, Padres and Cardinals cratered. Imagine if I told you on this date in 2023 that the Marlins would have a better record than all three. 

Yet, every organization sets up models of how they think the season will go to try to steer decision making. One NL club last year at this time, for example, had the Mets well under the general expectation and roughly a .500 team because its model detracted points (lots of them) for age, especially in pitching. 

The term most often heard now is that teams are trying to improve their “championship odds.” The Dodgers’ $1 billion-plus splurge was about just that.

They weren’t spending that total no matter what — they were spending it specifically on Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto mainly because the Dodger models showed a significant movement toward a title with that duo. 

I mention all of this because it is a rather distinct time with quality free agents still left in the market and a lot of predictive clutter in the NL playoff chase that includes the Mets. The Mets themselves have a model that — not surprisingly — has the Dodgers and Braves distancing themselves from the field and then a jumble after that. 

Again, this is a predictive model. Part of the Braves’ 104-win NL-best jaunt last season was based on incredible durability by their best position players.

Defending NL MVP Ronald Acuna Jr. was diagnosed over the weekend with irritation around his meniscus. He is expected to be ready for Opening Day, but you do see how expectations can be impacted by an injury or three. 

Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna, Jr.
Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna, Jr. Mike Lang / USA TODAY NETWORK

Also as opposed to the Mets system, I do not view the Phillies as in the jumble. I think they are the third-best team in the NL and if they won the NL East I wouldn’t be surprised. I also think the Diamondbacks might not be as good as they were last October in soaring to the NL title.

But they are better than the 84 wins that got them into the tournament — I like what they did in the offseason, the likelihood of internal growth and the value of last year’s postseason experience. Again, I do not love predictions and mine may be way off.

But if that vision is correct, that would mean you can add a NL Central winner and then the jumble is fighting for one wild-card spot. 

Which brings us to those free agents. The modern executive does not see one addition as moving the bar much, beyond a handful of stars.

Third baseman Matt Chapman has agreed to a three-year, $54 million contract with the Giants.
Third baseman Matt Chapman has agreed to a three-year, $54 million contract with the Giants. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

But the Giants are clearly better after signing third baseman Matt Chapman, and what happens if the next move is to indeed also land Blake Snell? I assume Jordan Montgomery will be a baseball player and not an Uber driver this year and when he signs, what might that mean for a club, particularly an NL one? 

“I do see other teams getting better,” Francisco Lindor said. “And for me, that means it is going to be fun. When they expanded the playoffs (to six in each league), I thought it was going to be easier to get into the playoffs. But I think a lot of front offices think they have a chance.” 

Who doesn’t have a chance? The magic number for elimination already is hovering over the Nationals and Rockies.

The Pirates remain closer to Year 9 of a rebuild than the playoffs.

The Marlins, surprise playoff entrants last season, still have a strong rotation potential even after losing ace Sandy Alcantara (Tommy John) for the season, but their new GM, Peter Bendix, was brought in to fixate on the future, not 2024. 

Then there is the jumble. The Cardinals got older. The Brewers younger. The Cubs portended a big offseason after giving a record managerial contract to Craig Counsell and then basically exchanged Shota Imanaga for Marcus Stroman.

To their exciting young core, the Reds added at the edges while gambling there is a lot more in Frankie Montas. The Padres retain a lot of star power even after losing Snell, Josh Hader and Juan Soto, but not much depth. To a power-deficient lineup, the Giants brought in Chapman and Jorge Soler. 

The Mets are in this pile, their playoff odds diminished somewhat by sharing a division with the Braves and Phillies, though three teams have made it from the NL East each of the last two seasons. 

“My biggest thing is to make sure we are right and let the rest take care of itself,” Carlos Mendoza said. “But, yes, I saw the news [about Chapman]. It was a reminder there are a lot of good teams out there. The competition is real. So what I have learned is, control what you can control, and that is making us as good as possible.”

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