MLB: How the Mets, Nationals get to the postseason in 2024

October 30, 2023

At the end of each regular season in Major League Baseball, there are always teams that had playoff, or even World Series, aspirations which failed to reach the postseason. Reasons range from significant injuries, to underwhelming performance, or a combination of many. Then, there are teams who had little chance to begin the season to reach the playoffs.

In this series, we will go division by division. Dissecting each team that missed the playoffs in each division, discussing their 2023 campaigns and answering questions such as: How close are they to the postseason? Who are some key free agents they could add? What does their current payroll situation mean?

(All estimated payrolls are credited to fangraphs and do not include salaries for arbitration eligible players, AAVs for players with guaranteed contracts no longer on the 40-man roster, estimated salaries for players not yet eligible for arbitration and other players with non-guaranteed contracts, or sums of other payments.)


New York Mets

What happened in 2023?

Oh, the Mets. A $350 million dollar payroll and a record 12-games under .500 with no playoff spot to show for it. Maybe, just maybe… spending doesn’t equate to winning in baseball. Of course, I would never suggest owners shouldn’t spend more — but how you spend matters. Enough baseball politic, let’s get to the numbers.

New York’s starting rotation ranked No. 17 in the majors in FIP (Fielder Independent Pitching) as a unit, an average placement driven by a 3.63 BB/9 that ranked No. 25 in MLB. To put it simple, they walked a lot of batters. Combine that with being an average strikeout producing rotation and you get a combined 4.20 ERA as a group. Not atrocious, but certainly not ideal. However, the Mets probably could have gotten away with that rotation had they put together a strong bullpen to back it up — you can see where this is going. The Mets ran out a bullpen that ranked No. 22 in the majors in ERA (4.45) and ranked No. 21 in K-BB% (13.3). Again, too many walks.

The Mets’ offense was extremely middling. 101 wRC+ (100 is MLB average), ranking No. 22 in K% (22%) and No. 17 in BB% (8.7%). Yes, they hit 215 home runs, good for No. 10 in baseball but with just a team .316 OBP it isn’t hard to figure out that many of those dingers were solo shots. Pete Alonso (despite a 121 wRC+) had a down year in average and OBP. His wRC+ in 2022 was 141 and he could be showing some signs of regression. Starling Marte‘s age is catching up with him, and he hit to a dismal 76 wRC+ in 341 plate appearances. Rookie Brett Baty struggled mightily at the plate in 389 plate appearances (68 wRC+).

Too many significant contributors having down years to have a consistently above average offense and a below-average performance for the pitching staff meant it was hard to find ways to win games.

What’s the fix?

The Mets have enough impact talent on the roster to run it back and hope for better results. However, they’re going to need to add at least one starting pitcher to the rotation after trading away both Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. I would bet they keep player health and durability at the forefront of what they’d like to bring to their pitching staff. The bottom of the lineup needs some get-on-base ability to put the likes of Brandon Nimmo, Alonso and Lindor in more RBI opportunity situations. There are players in this class that wont break the bank and get can accomplish these two needs, but I do see a trade for impact talent (possibly a prospect loaded deal) on the horizon. Shore up the bullpen, add a piece to the rotation and get to work on adding a bat that can get on base.

Key free agent possibilities:


Washington Nationals 

What happened in 2023?

I would argue that even with a finishing record of 71-91 the Nationals had a great year organizationally, and likely outperformed their own expectations. This team has a glut of young talent at the plate in CJ Abrams, Stone Garrett, Luis Garcia, Keibert Ruiz and Riley Adams to build from with big time prospects like Dylan Crews, Brady House and James Wood on the way.

Despite just a 92 wRC+ from the offense in 2023, there are plenty of good signs. They ranked No. 2 in K%, striking out just 18.7% of the time. However, were No. 28 in BB% (7.0%) and hit less home runs than anybody but Cleveland. If I had to guess, I would say they’d exchange a few more strikeouts for a little more power. Trading Jeimer Candelario for two solid prospects was a huge bonus for this club after signing him to a cheap one-year deal.

The pitching staff was an issue all year, with the rotation ranking No. 29 in FIP (5.30), but they are young there too. Mackenzie Gore, Josiah Gray and Jake Irvin will all look to take a step forward for 2024.

What’s the fix?

Contending for a playoff spot in 2024 may not be all that unrealistic with the third wildcard spot in play, but the young roster would need to collectively outperform expectations again, while adding a few veteran players. They likely will add a veteran or two to lead this team, but not the kind of impact they’d need to contend. The Nationals will likely look to continue building this young roster from the farm and maybe a trade or two for players they either think they can fix, or a controllable arm they see gelling with this young roster.

Key free agent possibilities:

 

Casey Bellon

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