Hall-of-Famer Rogers Hornsby once said, "People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” That wait will soon be over, as pitchers and catchers report to spring training in the next 10 days.
Hope springs eternal for baseball fans. Who could have predicted that the Texas Rangers and Arizona Diamondbacks would face off in last year's World Series? Not many people, except maybe for fans of those two teams who signed up for an epic journey around this time last year. So while most experts will be penciling the Dodgers and Orioles into the World Series, things rarely go according to plan.
For New York Mets fans, spring is an especially poignant time. No fanbase is more schizophrenic, vacillating between irrational belief in the impossible and wallowing in self-fulfilling misery. While there will be 162 games for Mets fans to run the gamut of emotions, now is the time when we can at least try to be objective about what those fans can expect when they turn out to Citi Field this year.
It would seem that there's nowhere to go for the Mets but up this year, because let's be honest: last season was a major disappointment. Numerous big names and the highest payroll in MLB history yielded nothing more than a trade deadline sell-off and a fourth-place N.L. East finish, and manager Buck Showalter was shown the door as a result.
Three teams from the division reached the playoffs, and while the lowly Marlins were one of them, the Mets were not. For a fanbase that celebrated the expulsion of the Wilpons from their lives, this new era under Steve Cohen's leadership was supposed to be better than "same old Mets."
The Mets front office has tried to temper expectations this offseason, relying mostly on smaller moves to supplement a roster that, despite the cost, isn't on the same level as that of the Braves or the Dodgers. Still, Mets fans are, at least for now, cautiously optimistic about the possibility of a bounce-back season. Let's take a look at three players fans can expect to be better in 2024, and two that might struggle to improve.
5. Brett Baty is a prime candidate for a sophomore season surge
Mets fans who are ready to give up on Brett Baty after one season need to slow their roll. Baty just turned 24, and he was the No. 1 third base prospect in baseball when he was called up. Expecting someone to be Mike Schmidt in Year One isn't realistic.
Speaking of Mike Schmidt, the man known as arguably the greatest third baseman of all time didn't exactly play like a Hall-of-Famer in his rookie year either, hitting .196 with 18 homers in 443 plate appearances. Compare that to Baty, who hit .213 with nine homers in 389 trips to the plate, and all of a sudden things don't seem so bad.
Baty's work in the field is also a work in progress, and while it's doubtful that he's going to become a Gold Glover anytime soon, he's not a disaster out there. If his bat improves like it has throughout his minor league career, that will be more than enough to cover for mediocre or average defense.
Heading into the offseason, Baty's spot as New York's starting third baseman was very much in jeopardy. Ronny Mauricio's star was on the rise within the organization, and there was always the chance that new president of baseball operations David Stearns could sign a free agent to take Baty's place. That didn't happen though, and Mauricio's season-ending knee injury, while extremely unfortunate, should ensure that Baty gets the chance to show what he can do.
Playing in New York is more difficult than playing in most other places; that's an incontrovertible fact. The media scrutiny and the passion of the fans all create an environment that doesn't lend itself to nurturing young talent. Baty survived his first full year in the big leagues, and now he'll get the chance to build on it. Even more promising is that in this impatient sports climate, the Mets front office is giving him the chance to do it. He's improved every year of his career. I wouldn't bet against him now.