After second-half meltdown, Mets headed for offseason overhaul

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK – The season was going so well for the New York Mets. And then Jacob deGrom got hurt.

Minus their injured ace, the Mets collapsed over the final two months and plunged to 77-85 in Steve Cohen’s first year as owner. They got outmaneuvered by close rivals at the July 30 trade deadline and finished third in the NL East, 11 1/2 games behind division champion Atlanta.

In other words, not even close.

It was a precipitous fall for a $186 million team that spent 103 days in first place – the most ever for a club to finish with a losing record.

“We dealt with a lot of adversity this year. Lots of up and downs,” star shortstop Francisco Lindor said.

A season that began with a fresh outlook and real promise thanks to Cohen’s deep pockets and Lindor’s arrival was plagued in the end by the same sort of embarrassing episodes that have characterized the Mets for years.

Lindor clashed with double-play partner Jeff McNeil in the walkway just behind the dugout – and then gave a goofy explanation for the altercation.

Javier Baez and Lindor ticked off fans and the front office with their thumbs-down celebration intended to mock booing crowds.

And acting general manager zack scott was arrested on a charge of driving while intoxicated, hours after attending a team charity event at Cohen’s house. Scott, placed on paid leave, pleaded not guilty to the DWI charge and three traffic violations.

On the field, the Mets went 21-37 from Aug. 1 through the final day of their fourth losing season in five years – and 10th in the last 13. New York has made the playoffs twice in the past 15 seasons, advancing only in 2015 on the way to a World Series appearance.

So what happened this time?

Truth be told, deGrom’s first-half dominance and some charmed wins led by bench players against a soft portion of the schedule despite a wave of early injuries probably masked a few warts that became all too evident down the stretch.

The lineup languished even when healthy, and an overtaxed pitching staff started to crack after deGrom (7-2, 1.08 ERA) went down in mid-July with a sprained elbow that sidelined him the rest of the season.

The team says the injury has healed and the two-time Cy Young Award winner is expected to be at full strength in spring training and ready to resume a normal workload.

“As we go into the offseason, I think we’re as confident in him as we’ve ever been,” team president Sandy Alderson said.

Lindor (.230 batting average) was a huge disappointment in his New York debut after coming over in a blockbuster trade with Cleveland and signing a $341 million, 10-year contract that starts next season. He missed more than five weeks in the second half with an oblique injury and didn’t emerge from his season-long slump until too late.

His three-homer game at Citi Field on a Sunday night in September to win a Subway Series against the Yankees was a rare highlight.

“I know I’ve got to improve in every aspect of the game,” Lindor said. “I’m going to train hard, hard, hard. I’ve got to get better for sure because it wasn’t a good year for me when it comes to performance.”

Michael Conforto, Dominic Smith, James McCann and McNeil also flopped at the plate, leaving Pete Alonso (37 homers, 94 RBIs, .863 OPS) to carry the load.

An untimely 2-11 stretch against the Dodgers and Giants, baseball’s top two teams, dropped the Mets from five games over .500 and tied for first place to 62-66 and 6 1/2 games out on Aug. 26. In a middling division, they lost the lead for good on Aug. 14 and never really recovered before getting eliminated from postseason contention on Sept. 25 with more than a week remaining.

A missed opportunity.

So what’s next?

ANOTHER FRONT-OFFICE OVERHAUL

Cohen and Alderson plan to hire a president of baseball operations this offseason, and the club is expected to target big names such as Theo Epstein, Billy Beane and David Stearns. Whether they are interested and available remains to be seen.

BUT FIRST …

It sounds as though Alderson and Cohen will decide whether to retain skipper Luis Rojas, who is 103-119 in two seasons.

“I enjoyed my time here the last two years being the manager,” Rojas said last week. “It’s been fun every day just working with the guys and connecting with them and preparing. We haven’t achieved what we wanted to achieve.”

ON THE MARKET

The Mets have critical decisions to make on several high-profile players who can become free agents including Baez, Conforto and pitchers Marcus Stroman (10-13, 3.02 ERA), Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Loup and Jeurys Familia.

Syndergaard returned from March 2020 Tommy John surgery to throw two innings during the final week of the season. He sounds eager to come back and said he’s hoping to receive a one-year qualifying offer.

“As an organization we have a lot in front of us that we’ve got to do,” Lindor said.

Phillies, RHP Taijuan Walker reportedly agree to 4-year deal

Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO – The active Philadelphia Phillies added Taijuan Walker to their rotation on Tuesday, agreeing to a $72 million, four-year contract with the right-hander.

A person familiar with the negotiations confirmed the move to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because it was pending a physical.

It was the second major free-agent score for the Phillies at the winter meetings after they reeled in shortstop Trea Turner on Monday with a $300 million, 11-year deal. Walker and Turner join a Phillies team that made it to the World Series this year before losing to the Houston Astros.

The 30-year-old Walker went 12-5 with a 3.49 ERA in 29 starts this season for the New York Mets, one of Philadelphia’s biggest NL East rivals. He slots into a rotation fronted by Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola.

The Phillies recently lost pitcher Zach Eflin in free agency to Tampa Bay.

Asked about the market for Walker earlier in the day, agent Scott Boras said it was robust.

“As you can see in the marketplace, there’s a whole number of pitchers that are throwing 60 and 70 innings that have been pursued, probably with the exception of (Jacob) deGrom, at the lower end of threshold around $13-15 million a year because the demand for quality pitching is so great,” Boras said.

“So, Tai … is one of the younger ones, one of the more durable ones and we expect him to be pursued greatly as his market unfolds.”

Walker was selected by Seattle with the No. 43 pick in the 2010 amateur draft. He made his big league debut with the Mariners in 2013.

Walker signed with New York as a free agent in February 2021. He turned down a $7.5 million player option last month in favor of a $3 million buyout, making his deal worth $17 million over two seasons.

The 6-foot-4 Walker made the All-Star team for the first time in 2021, putting together a fast start before fading to a 7-11 record with a 4.47 ERA in 30 games, 29 starts.