Steven Cohen's first season as New York Mets overlord did not go according to plan. The Mets spent 103 days in first place yet still managed a losing record, the most days in first place for a sub-.500 team in history. Marquee addition Francisco Lindor, who signed a 10-year deal worth $341 million before even playing his first game with the Mets, had a down season, and franchise pitcher Jacob deGrom was limited to 15 starts by arm injuries. It was a disappointing year for many reasons.

"I'm willing, for the right deals and right free agents, to go get the players we need," Cohen told ESPN's Jeff Passan in November. "We want to be competitive. We want to win our division and be in the playoffs and get deep into the playoffs. I've let (GM Billy Eppler) and (team president Sandy Alderson) know: It's whatever they need."  

In the weeks following that followed the Mets went on a free-agent spending spree that reshaped the lineup and brought in Max Scherzer to play Robin to deGrom's Batman. Or, more accurately, to be co-Batmans. The other 29 owners were so shook by Cohen's spending that they created a fourth competitive balance tax penalty tier in the new collective bargaining agreement in an effort to slow him down. "I'm OK with it and I'm willing to live with it," Cohen said after the lockout.

The Mets are an improved team heading into 2022. Improved enough to unseat the defending World Series champion Braves and win the NL East, if not make a run at the Fall Classic? That remains to be seen. This much is clear: Cohen didn't commit this much to payroll ($285.5 million per FanGraphs) to have another disappointing season. If the club needs help at the trade deadline (or even before Opening Day), they'll get it. Let's preview the season in Flushing.

Win total projection, odds

  • 2021 record: 77-85 (third place in NL East, missed playoffs)
  • 2022 Sportsline projection: 91-71
  • World Series odds (via Caesars Sportsbook): +1100

Projected lineup

  1. RF Brandon Nimmo
  2. CF Starling Marte
  3. SS Francisco Lindor
  4. 1B Pete Alonso
  5. DH Robinson Canó
  6. LF Mark Canha
  7. 3B Eduardo Escobar
  8. 2B Jeff McNeil
  9. C James McCann

Bench: C Tomás Nido, IF Luis Guillorme, 1B/OF Dominic Smith, IF/OF JD Davis

Last year the Mets gave over 600 plate appearances to Billy McKinney, José Peraza, and Kevin Pillar, three players who wouldn't sniff New York's roster in 2022. Smith and Davis are overqualified bench players (Smith had a down 2021 while playing through shoulder and wrist injuries) who provide depth in the event of injuries or underperformance. It also should be noted the Canha, Marte, and Escobar additions improve what was one of the game's worst defenses a year ago.

Projected rotation

  1. RHP Jacob deGrom
  2. RHP Max Scherzer
  3. RHP Chris Bassitt
  4. RHP Taijuan Walker
  5. RHP Carlos Carrasco

Scherzer was the big pre-lockout signing and Bassitt the big post-lockout trade. There is still quite a bit of risk in that rotation, it should be noted. DeGrom did not pitch after July 7 because of his injuries, Scherzer is now 37, Carrasco was limited to 12 starts by injuries (and wasn't all that effective when he did pitch), and Walker faded badly in the second half. Still, the Mets have a lot of talent in their rotation, and David Peterson and Tylor Megill will go to Triple-A until needed. Last year they combined to make 33 starts.

Projected bullpen

The Mets lack a shutdown lefty reliever (Shreve is in camp as a non-roster invitee along with fellow southpaws Alex Claudio and Mike Montgomery) and they're probably going to want to find one seeing how they share a division with lefty mashers like Bryce Harper, Matt Olson, Kyle Schwarber, and the great Juan Soto. Andrew Chafin would have been a fine addition, methinks. Overall, the late-inning crew will rack up strikeouts, though Díaz and Ottavino have a knack for untimely meltdowns. They'll make your heart race a bit in the eighth and ninth innings.

And now, three questions facing the Mets ahead of 2022 Opening Day.

1. How much will they get from deGrom and Scherzer?

Max Scherzer
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The single biggest question for the Mets in 2022. On paper, deGrom and Scherzer are the best 1-2 punch since at least Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander with the 2018-19 Astros, and possibly since Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee with the 2011 Phillies. They rank one (Scherzer at 29.1) and two (deGrom at 29.0) in pitching WAR since 2017 and it's not close either. Aaron Nola is a distant third at 22.9 WAR. DeGrom and Scherzer throwing in the bullpen side-by-side was a spring training sight to behold:

As long as they're healthy, there's no reason to think deGrom and Scherzer will be anything less than two of the very best pitchers in baseball, if not the two best. DeGrom had a 1.08 ERA with nearly twice as many strikeouts (146) as total bases allowed (75) in his 15 starts last year. Scherzer finished third in the NL Cy Young voting, and no one would have questioned it if he won.

DeGrom and Scherzer are not without health questions, however. Several injuries, including forearm issues, limited deGrom to 15 starts last season, and although he said his elbow is "perfectly fine" last week, a few spring training bullpen and live batting practice sessions don't mean he's out of the woods. DeGrom has yet to really stress test the most prized elbow in baseball.

As for Scherzer, he had to skip his Game 6 start in last season's NLCS because he was fatigued. Scherzer pitched four times in the previous 12 days, so the fatigue was understandable, though it was something new for Scherzer. He has been a workhorse of the first order throughout his career. This is a yellow flag more than a red flag, but it is a flag.

Given deGrom's injury issues last year and Scherzer's age, giving them extra rest every so often wouldn't be a bad idea this year. They don't have to skip starts or anything, but if you can squeeze one or two extra days between starts every now and then, go for it. As long as they're healthy, I'm confident they'll be great. It's up to the Mets to make sure they stay on the field.

2. How much can Canó give them?

Robinson Cano

Now 39, Canó did not play last season as he served his second career performance-enhancing drug suspension. There was some thought the Mets would release him in the offseason, but they owe him over $40 million over the next two years, so it makes sense to see whether he has anything left in the tank before paying him to go away.

"I think the best lesson you can have is from yourself, when you make mistakes yourself," Canó told reporters, including Tyler Kepner of the New York Times, last week. "There's no why or how. There's no excuses for that. All I know is that I can't live in the past. Just move on from now on and just go out there and keep being the same Robbie Canó that I've always been."  

Canó apologized to his teammates last week and is slated to serve as New York's DH this season (McNeill will play second). The last time he was on the field, Canó was really good! He hit .316/.352/.544 in 2020. That was also a 60-game season and one PED suspension ago, and the aging curve for players in their late-30s can be steep. Canó's skills may have deteriorated since then.

If Canó plays poorly and the signs point to him being done (like done done), then Cohen can eat the money and the Mets can move on. I don't think the man who paid $141.3 million for this will think twice about eating a tick over $40 million spread across two years. But, if Canó hits well, the Mets suddenly have an impact middle-of-the-order bat they didn't have a year ago.

The Mets don't need Canó to produce. They added enough to their lineup over the winter they can essentially roll the dice on him, and see whether he has anything left in the tank. If he does, great. If not, then they can move on and plug Davis and/or Smith in at DH. There's a chance, albeit a small one, Canó makes a real difference for a team trying to return to the postseason.

3. Do they have another move in them?

Other than finding a reliable lefty reliever, the Mets' roster appears pretty set. That said, Smith and Davis (and McNeil) have popped up in trade rumors all winter. They all project to make $3 million or so through arbitration, and while money is no object for Cohen, it is fair to wonder whether the roster spots can be better used. Smith in particular is a great change-of-scenery candidate seeing how he is capital-B Blocked at first base, left field, and DH.

My hunch is the Mets are done making major moves but will tinker with the margins of the roster before Opening Day. I think Smith or Davis lands elsewhere before the season begins and the Mets bring in a more versatile bench piece who adds defense without being a zero at the plate. A Jonathan Villar reunion would have made sense. Perhaps Brett Gardner as a New York battle-tested fourth outfielder?