Play Ball: Will Yankees and Mets Rebound?

nysportsday wire

Was it just yesterday we said goodbye to the Yankees and Mets in early October?

No postseason baseball in New York and for the Yankees a very rare occurrence after a 2023 season that went wrong. The Mets had all those expectations and playoffs were almost assured with pitchers Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.

But all of the disappointment is in the past. Both teams have set their goals as the Mets and Yankees begin the long 162-game campaign Thursday afternoon. The Yankees begin in Houston and the Mets at Citi Field, weather permitting of course, as they host the Brewers minus manager Craig Counsell who now guides the Cubs.

Regardless, fans expect more in New York for a postseason, World Series, and not a bust of a season. Can’t imagine both teams having putrid outcomes again and remember Yankees GM Brian Cashman and owner Hal Steinbrenner said 2023 was disastrous.

The Mets accepted their outcome and revamped with David Stearns in his initial season as Director of Baseball Operations, a rookie manager in Carlos Mendoza, and JD Martinez as the needed DH punch in the lineup.

Expectations have lessened and now the Mets are an underdog instead of a favorite. And the Pete Alonso contract will be a continuing storyline. Will Alonso remain a Met at the trade deadline or be granted a long term deal with the financial means to do so by owner Steve Cohen?

Questions to be addressed for the Yankees are a starting rotation in the first few months without Cy Young Award winner Gerrit Cole, who avoided Tommy John surgery and hopes to return with a collateral ligament that remains intact.

And will Juan Soto, in a walk-off contract year, become the prized acquisition that will seek a $500 million payday to remain in pinstripes? Every Soto swing will be watched. He is a perfect bat for a Yankees lineup that has needed lefthanded presence. Will Aaron Judge have lingering issues with a toe that sidelined him last season? Will Judge be as good as that historic and record 62 AL home run season of 2022? Can the Yankees get bounce back seasons from Anthony Rizzo, Giancarlo Stanton, and DJ LeMahieu? Will newly acquired Alex Verdugo be a part of that added lefthanded presence and become a premiere hitter in the Bronx after his disappointing seasons with the Red Sox?

Manager Aaron Boone said this spring it was the mindset of his players to be in the playoffs. He said after last year things had to change. The Yankees are expected to bounce back with a veteran team mixed in with youngsters, including the sophomore year for shortstop Anthony Volpe, while their most consistent hitter from last year, Gleyber Torres, is always surrounded with trade rumors.

The key, though, is staying healthy. Need I remind you, 2023 was a disaster with one Yankees injury after another. The concussion injury to Rizzo, lingering issues that kept 34-year old Stanton out of the lineup while he posted a career low .191 average, though he still hit 24 home runs with 60 RBI. Stanton showed some reminders of his former self by hitting three long home runs in a spring training game last week. Now he is healthy, but it must be reiterated we have just begun.

Soto and Judge provide that back-to-back punch in the lineup. Stanton can add to driving in runs, and a healthy Rizzo are all components that can turn around the disaster of last year. However, LeMahieu begins his recurring trend of 2023 on the injured list with a bruised right foot.

A lot of guys were embarrassed,” Judge said about last year. “I think it was a wake-up call for a lot of us. I think just collectively as a group we all kind of looked at each other and said, “This can’t happen again.”

So Judge made a statement and had some input with management making some changes. The Soto acquisition was a needed addition but it came with a price of giving up perhaps too much pitching that helped the Yankees bullpen a bit last year.

And without Cole the Yankees will learn as they move along. Questions will persist about comeback years for Carlos Rodon, who did not live up to expectations last year while spending time on the injured list and also Nestor Cortes.

The left hander gets the opening day start Thursday after spending much time on the injured list last season. 32-year old right hander and former Met Marcus Stroman, signed to a two year contract, is a valuable addition to the rotation. He was also affected by the injury bug after being diagnosed with a rib cage cartilage fracture last year that cost him the second half of the season. Stroman is a ground ball pitcher who has not had good numbers at Yankee Stadium but he can keep the ball in the ballpark.  Luis Gil earned that final rotation spot after a good spring, but he’s two years removed from Tommy John surgery and there are some questions about length and innings pitched for the 25-year old righthander.

Clay Holmes is a formidable closer and the Yankees are confident with their bullpen arms, all contingent on their starters providing enough innings. Nevertheless, the Yankees have improved.

But the Yankees will not overtake the Orioles as AL East champs and until they find a solution to get by the Astros, will not be good enough to be World Series bound.

Prediction: 87 wins, second place finish in AL East. AL Wildcard

The Mets need more than one column here to provide a 2024 outlook, but there is no question they are underdogs and not favorites. The Braves and Phillies are that much better in the NL East but the Mets have enough to sneak in as a competitive NL Wild card team.

The Mets also made improvements, something they had to do without the spending spree of recent seasons to be competitive. Stearns’ philosophy is to go with youngsters and a mixture of veterans. The late addition of Martinez to the lineup provided that message of we are in to win now, a bit different from the offseason philosophy of staying competitive and beginning the championship push in 2025.

But, yes the Mets are a different look, especially with their starting rotation. No Kodai Senga until late April or May. A lot of questions about Jose Quintana, Adrian Houser who was acquired from the Brewers, plus free agent signings Sean Manaea, and Luis Severino. And is Tylor Megill good enough to fill the final rotation start? Megill had a solid spring, though inconsistent with his repertoire of pitches. If not, prospects Christian Scott, Mike Vasil, and Dom Hamel will be ready for the call, and I expect at some point they will debut. Scouts claim all three will be ready to get the call.

Why the Mets will win more ball games is not only about a healthy Alonso, another MVP type year from Francisco Lindor, a hopeful rebound from Starling Marte, and consistent leadoff hitter Brandon Nimmo. Brett Baty will get the opportunity to start at third after an inconsistent rookie season.

Mendoza and the Mets will have the benefit of a decent bench and if needed, they can reach down to Double A and Triple A where they have upgraded their talent. It can be a difference after the Mets went through a 2023 season of futility. The numbers did not meet what was said on their baseball cards and that resulted in a 75-87 record, fourth place in the division.

It was unacceptable, in part due to the cost to pay Verlander and Scherzer that was not a successful plan and brought their payroll to the highest in baseball. There was the loss of All Star closer Edwin Diaz for the entire season, a factor that played into losing so many games out of a revamped bullpen that the previous manager Buck Showalter worked to the best of his ability.

The difference this year, Diaz is healthy and will be back as the closer. Close games and effective Diaz will amount to wins. But the Braves and Phillies are that much better and division title hopes will wait another year, but the Mets could be a surprise team and fight for a final NL wildcard spot.

Prediction: 84 wins. Third place NL East, NL Wildcard

Rich Mancuso: X (Formerly Twitter) @Ring786 Mancuso

About the Author

Rich Mancuso

Rich Mancuso is a regular contributor at NY Sports Day, covering countless New York Mets, Yankees, and MLB teams along with some of the greatest boxing matches over the years. He is an award winning sports journalist and previously worked for The Associated Press, New York Daily News, Gannett, and, in a career that spans almost 40 years.

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