Mets eliminated from playoffs after entering season with MLB-highest $331M payroll

Mets eliminated from playoffs after entering season with MLB-highest $331M payroll

Jack Baer

“Money can’t buy happiness” is officially the slogan of the 2023 New York Mets.

After entering the season with the highest 26-man Opening Day payroll in MLB, at $331 million, the Mets were eliminated from playoff contention Friday with a 10-inning, 5-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.

It was a miserable enough season that the Mets basically gave up in the middle and sold hard at the trade deadline, dealing away the likes of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Tommy Pham, Mark Canha and David Robertson. In the cases of Scherzer and Verlander, the Mets included a mountain of cash to cover their $43.3 million salaries in exchange for some significant prospects.

Friday’s elimination was a long time coming and hardly a surprise. Still, it’s astounding to see a team that came into 2023 with the resources and track record of the Mets go down this hard.

What on earth happened to the Mets?

We’re going to go ahead and list what the Mets had going for them when players started arriving for spring training:

  • The richest owner in MLB in hedge fund titan Steve Cohen

  • Reigning MLB Manager of the Year Buck Showalter

  • A roster that went 101-61 last season, whose main losses were Jacob deGrom (64 1/3 innings in 2022), Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker

  • The addition of Verlander, the reigning AL Cy Young winner, who signed a two-year, $86.7 million contract in free agency

  • The addition of Japanese right-hander Kodai Senga on a five-year, $75.5 million deal

  • The additions of Pham, Robertson, José Quintana, Omar Narváez and Adam Ottavino on contracts totaling $71.5 million

  • The No. 11 farm system in baseball, per MLB Pipeline, headlined by No. 3 overall prospect Francisco Alvarez, who happened to play a position of need at catcher

The Mets were supposed to be good. They lost the division last season to the Braves on a tiebreaker at 101 wins, then responded by signing more than $200 million in free agents to round out their depth with MLB veterans. They lost three-fifths of their rotation, yes, but they arguably upgraded from the collective 3.39 ERA and 403 1/3 innings the departed trio represented.

Then the hits came, and they came early. Our first indication that the Mets hadn’t quite escaped from their hard-luck struggles came before the season, when All-Star closer Edwin Díaz tore a patellar tendon while celebrating in the World Baseball Classic. Quintana was also shut down due to a stress fracture in his rib.

ATLANTA, GA  AUGUST 22:  New York manager Buck Showalter (11) looks on from the dugout during the MLB game between the New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves on August 22nd, 2023 at Truist Park in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Buck Showalter didn’t have many answers for the Mets this season. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Mets started solidly enough, with a 15-12 record at the end of April putting them three games back from the Braves, but they were no better in May.

The bottom dropped out in June. The team went 7-19 while the Braves went 21-4, which is how a four-game gap for the division lead turned into an 18.5-game gap. Even with a third wild-card spot to push for, the Mets opted to wipe the slate clean. Robertson was traded first, which led to Scherzer reevaluating his future with the team and opening the dam.

It might take a while to truly understand what went wrong this year in Queens, but Pham seemed to believe that the issue came down to work ethic, reportedly saying, “this is the least-hardest working group of position players I’ve ever played with.”

Can the Mets bounce back next year?

The Mets had a Murphy’s Law sort of season in 2023. The question now becomes how can they turn things around in 2024?

Scherzer claimed the Mets brass wasn’t optimistic on his way out, telling reporters that they told him they were thinking of 2025 or 2026 as their target year for returning to contention. Of course, the Mets now have a new person in charge, with president of baseball operations David Stearns, so maybe plans have changed.

Still, a new executive doesn’t change the fact that the Mets have one of the older rosters in MLB or that they already have $244 million in payroll on the books for next year, per Cot’s Contracts. The good news is the farm system has been refilled via the trade deadline, but if the team wants to be meaningfully better in 2024, it’s going to require some big trades or Cohen continuing to open his wallet to a historic degree.

Unfortunately, even a massive jump might not be enough, considering that the Braves are on a 104-win pace and famously have every good young player under contract for the next several years. The Mets have a lot of work to do, but what else is new?

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