There was a moment last month. Players and owners were at a standstill. The 2022 baseball season was in jeopardy. Then cooler heads prevailed and the nasty 99-day lockout was over. For the moment there is peace with a unified players union and billionaire owners.
A pushed back season is days away. There are some rule changes, and some new guidelines that will be implemented next season that will start on time. We go back to 9-inning doubleheaders, but another year of a bogus ghost runner at second base for extra inning baseball.
The Yankees and Mets are expected to play baseball in October. The expanded playoff field with an extra wild card helps their cause if they come up short for a division title. For New York, that is a good thing, after all these are teams with expectations in what is considered the biggest market for MLB. The Mets, of course, are owned by Steve Cohen, who will not hesitate to go over a salary threshold of $300 million as the richest owner in the game.
So, Thursday afternoon, weather permitting in the Bronx, the Yankees’ season opening series begins with the Red Sox, a perfect start for Major League Baseball as this storied rivalry in the competitive AL East gets the long haul going. The Mets with valuable additions, minus an injured Jacob deGrom on the mound, are not certain who will start at the Nationals.
Then again, is the entire Mets season predicated on the health and arm of Jacob deGrom? The Mets are hoping that deGrom will not be lost for an extended period with a right shoulder stress reaction to his scapula. Seems too often that we need to open the medical dictionary with the constant concern of that valuable arm, elbow, and now shoulder of Jacob deGrom.
But the Mets seem to be prepared. Prior to the lockout they inked three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer to a lucrative three-year, $130 million contract. Though, Scherzer this past week struggled with a hamstring issue, another concern. Then again, we have to remember that Scherzer is 37-years old and has thrown a lot of pitches with his valuable arm.
Worst case scenario is seeing deGrom and Scherzer down for the count and losing those quality starts that would be expected. In other words, a lot of this Mets season does ride with the health of deGrom and Scherzer, and the key acquisition of Chris Bassitt, who brings 27 starts and a 3.15 ERA from Oakland.
Bassitt is not deGrom or Scherzer, but he can provide innings and give the ball to a Mets bullpen pen that will rely and hope that Edwin Diaz reverts to that closer form of 2018 with the Mariners, when he led baseball with 57 saves. The Mets bullpen is always a prime suspect of trouble, but should be improved.
You give me deGrom, Scherzer, and Bassitt as the top three in a rotation and chances are your team will win a lot of ball games. Then again, it’s about health and innings that will be something to monitor in the opening months of the season.
And all of this is in the hands of manager Buck Showalter, perhaps the biggest acquisition that Cohen and GM Billy Eppler made prior to the lockout. Players I have contacted said they admire the skills and leadership that Showalter has shown.
Hey, this is Buck. His demeanor speaks volumes. He knows how to control a situation and don’t expect the adversity that was a theme of the 2021 Mets, though the roster has changed and has been built to win. The manager plans to carry nine relievers and five bench players as rosters expand for the first month.
Steve Cohen opened his checkbook. He has become an owner that reminds many of the late George Steinbrenner, who spent money across town to guarantee his Yankees reached October and became the last team standing.
The difference for the Mets are the additions of Starling Marte, Eduardo Escobar, and Mark Canha on the field in the lineup. If anything their defense will help the Mets pitching staff.
Francisco Lindor had a good four weeks during the shortened spring training season. There are expectations that Lindor will also revert to his career numbers that saw all-star seasons in Cleveland, and there’s a positive feeling here because he showed second half signs of what should be expected.
So, a bounce back season from Lindor, Marte getting on base, the DH coming into play with Dominic Smith, and JD Davis, the return of the suspended Robinson Cano, and a bounce back season from Jeff McNeil, is expected to give the Mets the run production they need to win.
Oh, Pete Alonso. Perhaps the reigning HR Derby champion hits 50 again. Regardless there is punch in this lineup and the Mets have the pieces. Bench depth is there and the pitching also.
Projection: 90 wins, because the Braves have additions without Freddie Freeman and the Phillies are improved, so the division will be hotly contested. Regardless, the Mets have one of those NL wild cards for sure.
In the Bronx, the Yankees are expected to win. Despite not being the offseason heavy spenders, manager Aaron Boone has the pieces and anything less than getting that elusive 28th World Series championship is a failure.
Though the Yankees, also in a rich division with the Blue Jays, Red Sox, and defending division title winning Rays, can also rely on that additional AL wild card. But the division is what they seek and if Gerrit Cole has a projected Cy Young Award type season, the Yankees will play deep into October.
Boone will carry more pitchers than position players for the first month. After Cole, the questions begin with Luis Severino. Will this be the season of recovery for Severino?
I don’t know if Jordan Montgomery or Jameson Taillon will provide consistency on the mound as a part of the rotation. I am not sure if Nestor Cortes will have the success of filling in the rotation, something he did quite well last season with a nasty curve and fastball.
They will look different. Long tenured Brett Gardner is still looking for a team, Gary Sanchez, along with his miscues behind the plate and swinging at bad pitches, was shipped to Minnesota along with Gio Urshela and the Yankees got back third baseman and former AL MVP Josh Donaldson. Kyle Higashioka will not get a bulk of the catching duties and may become a home run threat if he continues what he’s done in the spring.
“To still not have a banner up that you’ve contributed to, it’s tough, it’s frustrating,” Aaron Judge said this week as he awaits a contract extension that the Yankees are expected to do prior to Thursday. And Judge along with the Yankees of 2021 are still dealing with the wild card game loss last October up in Boston.
Cole was not effective then, but it was the anemic Yankees offense that failed up at Fenway Park and for the most part, was a lingering issue of 2021. There is optimism because Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo, acquired at the trade deadline last year will be in pinstripes for a whole season and hope to provide more left handed presence in the lineup.
Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are healthy. For a change we could see both Yankees power hitters on the field at the same time and playing a full complement of a 162-game schedule. Aaron Hicks showed signs of a comeback this spring and if so, that adds to a lineup that struggled to score runs last year. Recall, Hicks also hits from both sides of the plate.
DJ LeMahieu led baseball as the leading hitter during the pandemic and 60-game 2020 season. Last year he was not available for the postseason with an injury that also hindered him a good amount of time in the second half. He is expected to bounce back, provide defense in the infield, and production at the plate.
Gleyber Torres can’t be as bad as last year. He needs to bounce back and show that home run production that put up 38 home runs in his rookie 2019 season. A high ranking scout said to me, “The game is mental. Torres is back at second base and you will see the difference. Less errors in the infield and no worries at his natural position.”
Brian Cashman did not deliver Carlos Correa or Trevor Story to the equation. He traded for Isiah Kiner-Falefa. Will we see Anthony Volpe, the highly touted and top draft pick make an appearance this summer in the Bronx and get a taste as the shortstop for the future?
And the bullpen. They say closer Aroldis Chapman has worked on his control issues. Remember how much he imploded and cost the Yankees a number of wins last year? There were issues with the elbow and shoulder. Chapman’s closer job went to Jonathan Loaisiga for a spell and the left hander was moved into the set up role. Look for more from Clarke Schmidt, the 26-year old righthander who had an impressive spring.
Projection: The Yankees have the pieces. They are expected to play in October. Look for 90 wins but the Blue Jays are a notch better with their lineup and many are projecting they win it all in October.
So no Subway World Series in late October or early November with an extended season caused by the lockout. It will be a fun baseball season for the New York teams but account for the usual share of injuries and a trade deadline that can always change the complexion of a team’s season.
Rich Mancuso: [email protected] Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso