MIAMI — Thursday should be a successful opening act for the Mets’ highly anticipated 2023 season. The team’s billionaire owner, Steven A. Cohen has a record $377 million in payroll. Assessments, and about $105 million before the luxury tax bill arrived. Money doesn’t guarantee a championship, but it certainly improves the odds.
Case in point: The Miami Marlins started 2022 National League Cy Young Award-winning right-hander Sandy Alcantara on Thursday. The Mets countered with three-time Cy Young Award-winning right-hander Max Scherzer, whom Cohen brought to New York for a record annual salary before last season. But when both stumbled by allowing three runs, outfielder Brandon Nimmo, re-signed this off-season for $162 million over eight years, delivered a tiebreaking two-run double in the seventh inning of a 5-3 victory.
“It was exciting to be back there,” Nimmo said afterward. “And it felt like a home game. A lot of ‘Let’s go Mats!’ slogans.”
But two hours before the first pitch at Lone Depot Park, the Mets announced their most high-profile addition of the off-season, the pitcher they envisioned would help them go deep into the postseason after last year’s early exit. Will start the season on the injured list. Last year’s American League Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander suffered what the team called a low-grade strain of the shoulder muscle.
“It wasn’t the way I wanted my Mets tenure to start, that’s for sure,” said Verlander, who signed a two-year, $87 million contract. “I’ve worked a ton to keep things like this from happening.”
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He later added, “I’m very proud and I love pitching. I love being out there and not being able to do that, especially with a new team and a new fan base, I don’t feel great.
The Major League Baseball regular season is 162 games in about six months, so there’s plenty of time. Mets general manager Billy Eppler and Verlander both said a magnetic resonance imaging exam on Verlander’s right shoulder revealed a “very minimal” injury to the muscle that runs from the lower end of the shoulder blade through the arm pit.
Verlander, 40, felt the usual pain during his last spring training pitching and tweaking his mechanics. But that feeling lingered on Wednesday, when he threw a bullpen session in anticipation of what should have been his Mets debut on Saturday.
“The fact that I can keep throwing shows how minor the injury is,” he said. “But still, there’s something there. If it’s a different point in the season, especially later in the year, I think pitching is definitely on the table. Playoffs, I’ll definitely be pitching. Coming off the start of the season and spring training, it makes a lot of sense not to push it right now, and it’s When it’s high, high, high, low, risk for three months.”
However, Verlander isn’t the only key player the Mets are missing to start this season of high expectations. Edwin Diaz, the closest in baseball the Mets re-signed this off-season to a five-year, $102 million contract, was expected to miss the entire season following surgery to repair a patellar tendon in his knee. Torn during the World Baseball Classic. Veteran left-handed starter Jose Quintana, who joined the Mets in December on a two-year, $26 million deal, could be out until the summer with a stress fracture in a rib and an injury to his side that required surgery.
In an NL East where the Atlanta Braves are the defending division winners and the Philadelphia Phillies are the defensive pennant winners, the Mets have little margin for error. Eppler pointed out that it was part of Cohen’s plan to build Mets contenders when he took over as owner. Eppler said the team will be able to use free agency “as a luxury rather than a necessity” in the future as the farm system is restructured to adopt a high-spending strategy.
So it’s time to lean on the depth the Mets have accumulated. Tyler McGill, who posted a 5.13 ERA last year, will replace Verlander, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, coming up from Class AAA. David Peterson, who starts the second game for the Mets on Friday, will fill Quintana’s void.
And as a closer, Showalter said he will lean on multiple relievers, but he pointed out that veteran right-hander David Robertson, another off-season addition, is more experienced in that role. With two strikeouts and a flyout, Robertson picked up the save on Thursday.
“I’ve never been a part of a team from start to finish, whether it was a team that won the World Series, a playoff team, or a team that didn’t deal with injuries all season. ” Verlander said. “It seems like it piled up a little bit at the beginning of the season. But maybe we’re letting it all go now.
Showalter said the Mets didn’t dwell on those recent misfortunes, and he insisted Verlander’s injury didn’t stop the thrill of Opening Day. He didn’t deny that this season was a success for the World Series or the team with the biggest financial commitment in history.
“That’s why we’re relevant,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to do. So are the Marlins. So are the Washington Nationals and the Braves and Philadelphia. It’s going to be tough. Last year was tough. This year is going to be tough. Whatever happened last year, good and bad, we’re starting over again.