This Week in Mets: Signing J.D. Martinez shows adaptability in the Mets’ long-term plan

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“This was a new recognition that perfection is admirable but a trifle inhuman, and that a stumbling kind of semi-success can be much more warming. Most of all, perhaps, these exultant yells for the Mets were also yells for ourselves, and came from a wry, half-understood recognition that there is more Met than Yankee in every one of us. I know for whom the foghorn blew; it blew for me.”
—“The Go-Shouters,” Roger Angell

For nine months, through two front offices, the New York Mets have been clear about their plan. They were going to take a step back this past winter, they were going to emphasize building out a farm system and learning more about their new players, they were going to welcome if not quite embrace lower expectations.

Their shift this past week in signing J.D. Martinez is not a repudiation of that plan but a wise refinement of it.

“The impact that he can provide from an offensive standpoint to a club is clear,” president of baseball operations David Stearns said Sunday in Port St. Lucie, Fla. “Ultimately, we’re very pleased to be able to get it done this week.”

What Martinez brings to the table is self-evident: a professional hitter to slot behind Pete Alonso in a batting order that looked shallow late in spring, and a veteran who brings a lot to the table in the clubhouse.

It’s good that the Mets thought deeply enough to establish a plan at last summer’s trade deadline and stick to it even once Stearns was hired and general manager Billy Eppler resigned. The Mets had not done that well in recent trade deadlines when they were in a position to sell. In 2018, their GM was an interim triumvirate that wasn’t empowered to do much of anything. In 2019, they tried threading the needle at the expense of their future.

It’s also good that, once that plan was established, the Mets didn’t treat it as rigid. If having no plan is the worst possible strategy, adhering intransigently to a blueprint isn’t much better. The best plans allow for improvisation within their guidelines; the Mets can still find plenty of time for Brett Baty and Mark Vientos in a way that doesn’t lean too much on either.

From a practical standpoint, entrusting two everyday spots in the lineup to unproven youngsters Swapping Martinez into the order for Vientos, at the moment, raises both the floor and the ceiling of this offense significantlwas unlikely to pay off for New York. I go back often to covering the 2014 Boston Red Sox, who handed over regular playing time to Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. for a defending champion. Neither played anywhere near expectations, and the offense flopped. These Mets don’t have as much talent around their youth as those Red Sox did, and neither Baty nor Vientos owns the minor-league pedigree or brief snippet of major-league success that Bogaerts brought to the table then.

When I wrote last spring about the challenge of incorporating young players into a major-league roster, the GM of that Boston team, Ben Cherington warned, “Be careful how many you’re trying to (incorporate) at once. The range of outcomes with younger players is just wider.”

y. It took longer than it should have, which may cost the Mets as Martinez gets at-bats in the minor leagues this week instead of at Citi Field. But better late than never.

The exposition

The Mets enter the season, as they predicted last summer, with diminished expectations. New York finished the 2023 season at 75-87, its worst record since 2017. The Mets had never previously lost exactly 87 games in a major-league season. They’d lost 85 three times, 86 once, 88 twice and 89 once; in the subsequent season, those teams averaged a .512 winning percentage, or an 83-win pace. They’re projected to win 84 by Baseball Prospectus.

The Brewers won the National League Central at 92-70, qualifying for the postseason for the fifth time in six years. They own a single playoff series win in that span, and they’re now without Corbin Burnes (for good) and Brandon Woodruff (for the season). Rhys Hoskins is new, as are DL Hall and Joey Ortiz, the pieces Milwaukee acquired back from Baltimore for Burnes. The Brewers are projected for 79 wins by Baseball Prospectus.

The pitching possibles

v. Milwaukee (2023 stats)

LHP José Quintana (3-6, 3.57 ERA) v. RHP Freddy Peralta (12-10, 3.86 ERA)
RHP Luis Severino (4-8, 6.65) v. LHP D Hall (3-0, 3.26)
RHP Tylor Megill (9-8, 4.70) v. RHP Colin Rea (6-6, 4.55)

Inside baseball

Last week, I did a thorough examination of the Mets’ options in the batting order and how they could best construct their lineup. And then they went out and signed Martinez.

So what’s the thought process now?

It’s what you think.

I still hold the Mets should start the order with Brandon Nimmo, Francisco Lindor, Jeff McNeil and Pete Alonso. Martinez, once he’s ready for the majors, is a natural fit behind Alonso, which puts less of a burden on Francisco Alvarez from the jump. (And gives the Mets a good fifth hitter on the not-infrequent days Alvarez will need off as a catcher.) Alvarez can hit sixth, with Starling Marte, Brett Baty and Harrison Bader finishing out the lineup.

Injury updates

  • A Tuesday MRI cleared Kodai Senga to start throwing — once he passes some internal strength tests. Senga should need about six weeks to build up his arm after missing almost all of spring training.
  • The Mets are slated to begin the season with Senga, Max Kranick, David Peterson and Ronny Mauricio on the injured list. Peterson and Mauricio are on the 60-day IL, which will keep them out until at least May 27. Mauricio, of course, is likely out for the season following knee surgery over the winter.

Last week in Mets

A note on the epigraph

Spring training can get long and exhausting, and so it is often refreshing in this brief period between its end and the start of the regular season to read some Roger Angell and get excited about baseball and the privilege it is to chronicle it for so many of you again. Thank you for reading today and for the next 162 games, at least.

Trivia time

The Mets are famously successful on Opening Day, boasting a majors-best 40-22 record, including eight wins in the last nine years. That record is especially impressive considering New York lost its first six Opening Day games. When the Mets finally got to 1-0 in 1968, what team did they beat?

I’ll leave the answer in the comments.

(Photo of J.D. Martinez: Jayne Kamin-Oncea / USA Today)

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