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The Mets are running out of time to prove they aren’t this bad

Jose Butto did not begin the season on the Mets roster. He has been called up twice and sent back to the minors twice, and his last three starts have been two against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders and once versus the Buffalo Bisons.

Butto, who has not started a game in the majors since May 14, leads the New York Mets in pitching Wins Above Replacement.

Mark Vientos did not begin the season on the Mets roster. He was first summoned on April 27 and sent down three days later and then called up again on May 15 in a series of moves that included sending Butto down.

Vientos, who only began receiving regular at-bats two weeks ago and still has fewer plate appearances than Omar Narvaez, was third among Mets position players in WAR.

Look, there are many ways to characterize why the Mets are in the class photo with the Astros and Blue Jays as the majors’ most disappointing teams. Though they were not gung-ho to win a title like Houston or pursuing a playoffs-or-bust season like Toronto, the Mets — as much as they were prioritizing 2025 and onward — were not punting on 2024. Their plan was not to tolerate being better in the NL than only the Marlins and Rockies, whose talent is probably closer to what Butto has been facing in the International League than in the National League.

Despite not starting a game for the Mets since mid-May, Jose Butto still has compiled the best pitching WAR on the team. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

I know so many members of the fan base feel this was the design. That the Mets didn’t care about 2024. But when I visit various camps in spring training, I routinely ask where their internal projection programs have the two New York teams. And the feedback on the Mets was persistently 80-something wins with a chance to be part of the snarl going for the second or third wild card. That is what the Mets believed as well.

This version is most of what could go right going wrong. It is reflected in Butto and Vientos ranking so high on the team WAR charts, which is a nice little small-sample size mark for them, but a far greater condemnation of how bad the veterans with expectations and big contracts have performed.

The Mets have roughly a month — the rest of June and perhaps a piece of July — to begin to scale back toward .500 and provide reason to believe that their best will come over the final two months. Or else they will be trade-deadline sellers for a second straight year.

They completed the weekend nine games under .500 — and not by accident. They are a bad team right now. Their defense is so much worse than they had anticipated with Jeff McNeil and Starling Marte, in particular, creating a gateway to hits on the right side and their catchers providing limited resistance to base stealers. The Mets had allowed the most steals (68) and thrown out the lowest percentage of runners (11 percent) in the majors. Perhaps the return of Francisco Alvarez will help.

The offense has been a bit better with Vientos playing more regularly and J.D. Martinez shaking off the rust from a late signing. But it lacks in difference-making at-bats. The Mets were last in the majors (and not by a little) in driving home a runner from third base with less than two outs. They were at 42.6 percent when the weekend concluded — the next worst was the Blue Jays at 45.1 percent (the MLB average was 51.5 percent). The Mets also were last in advancing a runner from second with none out, at 42.3 percent — the league average is 50.1 percent.

Jeff McNeil has struggled to make a positive impact this season at the plate or in the field. Corey Sipkin for the NY Post

They were 21st in ERA, a marriage of short starts and an overworked bullpen becoming more and more of a factor.

Nobody is rising up to stop the bleeding. I am using WAR as an attempt to calculate the whole player, not as a be-all, end-all metric. Francisco Lindor was 96th in the majors in position player WAR; Harrison Bader, 106th; Vientos, 112th; and then Martinez at 147th. The Brewers, Dodgers and Phillies — the three NL division leaders — each had six players in the top 95 … or before the Mets had one.

Every team in the majors had at least one pitcher higher in WAR than Butto and all but three other clubs had at least two. Nineteen teams had three or more with a greater WAR than Butto.

No Met is excelling. Certainly not groups of them. Who would you even pick as the All-Star rep from this team at this point? Reed Garrett? Sean Manaea?

As one of Carlos Mendoza’s few somewhat reliable starters, Sean Manaea is one of the Mets’ few All-Star candidates. Corey Sipkin for the NY Post

These Mets do not have a phase of the game that is working nor a player starring.

So do they have a lot of good stuff still to come from especially once well-regarded players? Or is this the 2024 Mets?

Caught my attention

The Mets’ most recent recall of Vientos came because they were facing a run of lefty starters and were looking for a general offensive boost. Also, Brett Baty was struggling, which led to his eventual demotion.

Still, I wondered if there was a quieter alternative reason why Vientos was called up, though Carlos Mendoza said my theory was not part of the discussions.

Whether the Mets included this in their thinking or not, it is important: Pete Alonso and J.D. Martinez might not be Mets after this trade deadline. Even if both are retained, they are free agents.

Should the Mets get busy trading veterans at the deadline, Mark Vientos’ future with the team might be somewhere other than third base. Robert Sabo for the NY Post

At some point, the Mets were going to have to give an extended look to Vientos to gather more information about whether he could be the solution or part of a solution at first base or DH beyond this season, since it seems unlikely he will ever play third base well enough to hold that position.

On the subject of Alonso …

Recently, I did a comparison between Alonso from the beginning of last season through the present and Rhys Hoskins from the beginning of 2022 through the present (he missed all of 2023 due to a knee injury). The overall value of the players were not far off. Hoskins was older and had an injury history. But he also is expected to cost way less in years and annual value than Alonso, so I wondered if teams might default to try to sign Hoskins and not take the longer, costlier risk with Alonso.

I have another comparison and can’t hide that Player A is Alonso from the beginning of 2023 through the weekend:

Player A

Plate appearances: 910
Homers: 59
Slash line: .223/.316/.495
OPS-plus: 125
WAR: 3.9
Walk pct.: 9.9
Strikeout pct.: 22.9

Player B

Plate appearances: 916
Homers: 45
Slash line: .258/.333/.497
OPS-plus: 127
WAR: 5.7
Walk pct.: 9.4
Strikeout pct.: 19.2

Pete Alonso is set to reach free agency alongside several cheaper first-base options. Robert Sabo for the NY Post

Player B is Arizona first baseman Christian Walker, who, like Alonso, is a free agent after this season. He is four years older than Alonso, playing in his age-33 season. But, like Hoskins, he will not command the length or dollars that Alonso will. He matches one asset of Alonso — Walker is durable. Unlike Alonso, he also is a high-end defender, having won a Gold Glove in each of the past two seasons.

It is an issue that Alonso may very well face in free agency — that there are other first baseman who can bring a similar value to Alonso without costing as much or for as long. Paul Goldschmidt, after an atrocious start, had begun to look more like Paul Goldschmidt the past three weeks with a .280/349/.547 slashline.

He turns 37 in September, but what if it only takes a one-year contract to sign him or two years to land Hoskins or three years for Walker?

A year ago this month, Alonso rejected a seven-year, $158 million extension offer from the Mets that would have covered six free-agent seasons. He subsequently changed his agent to Scott Boras. So you would expect that Alonso wants considerably more than what would have been the free-agent portion: six years at roughly $138 million. He has been an elite power hitter with durability and no signs that a big market intimidates him.

Diamondbacks first baseman Christian Walker’s defense, power and durability could be attractive in free agency. Getty Images

So maybe he will perk up from a career-low homer percentage, walk rate and average exit velocity to clobber the ball the rest of the way and set up his free agency well.

But before we even consider if Tampa Bay’s Yandy Diaz and/or Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. — who both are under team control for next season — get traded by the July 30 deadline, Alonso could be looking at a market in which there are more than a few appealing short-term options for clubs needing first baseman to consider.

Star gazing

You know what looks as if it is going to lack All-Stars?

The National League All-Star outfield.

Consider that Mookie Betts is now a shortstop and Bryce Harper a first baseman. Juan Soto is now an American Leaguer. Ronald Acuña Jr. is out for the season after tearing up his knee amid a poor start to his year. Reigning NL Rookie of the Year Corbin Carroll completed the weekend hitting .194 with a 64 OPS-plus.

In the AL, for example, Soto, Aaron Judge and Houston’s Kyle Tucker all would be in the MVP discussion. They lead all MLB outfielders in Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement. In fact, there were just four NL players among the top 15 outfielders in this category: Padres teammates Jurickson Profar (fifth) and Fernando Tatis Jr. (10th), Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich (12th) and Miami’s Jazz Chisholm (15th).

Jurickson Profar and Fernando Tatis have played well this season, but neither has put together a no-doubt All-Star campaign. AP

Tatis has star power and is having a nice season, but is being outperformed by Profar. Yelich is a one-time MVP who was having a nice renaissance season, but missed four weeks on the IL.

Perhaps the way to put on the best show is to see whether Betts and Harper would play the outfield for one day and then have Betts’ Dodgers teammate Freddie Freeman at first and the Reds’ Elly De La Cruz at shortstop.

But the fans will not have that choice when voting begins Wednesday, leading to finalists being named June 27, starters July 3 and full rosters on July 7.

In another tough area, third base in the National League hardly is going to be a star-fest of choices either with the Phillies’ Alec Bohm the probable front-runner thanks in part to Nolan Arenado and Manny Machado perhaps beginning career slides. No surprise that they are experiencing this together.

They have run a parallel course in their careers.

An eight-time All-Star, Nolan Arenado’s career-worst OPS may keep him at home for this season’s Midsummer Classic. AP

Machado had 54.9 WAR, 318 homers and a 124 OPS-plus in 1,640 games while Arenado was at 54.1 WAR, 330 homers and a 121 OPS-plus in 1,583 games.

This season, Machado was at 0.2 WAR, five homers and a 92 OPS-plus in 240 plate appearances while Arenado was at minus-0.1 WAR, five homers and a 96 OPS-plus in 235 plate appearances.

Another position lacking in oomph is first base in the American League. At a traditional offensive position, only Baltimore’s Ryan Mountcastle was over an .800 OPS and only Guerrero and Cleveland’s Josh Naylor were over .750.

Last licks

When I was researching which teams had the most pitchers with more WAR than Butto, the Mets leader, I was shocked which club had the lead.

Want to guess?

I will give you this clue: The runners-up, with five in the top 87 (Butto was 88th), were the Yankees, Mariners and Phillies. But there was a club with seven.

Give up?

It was the Nationals, who began a series against on Monday night.

You know who is the team leader? Former Mets swingman Trevor Williams. Fellow starters MacKenzie Gore, who started against the Mets on Monday, plus Jake Irvin and rookie Mitchell Parker were in that group, along with relievers Kyle Finnegan, Dylan Floro and Hunter Harvey.

Onetime Mets reliever Trevor Williams could be one of the most coveted starters available at this year’s trade deadline after his strong start to the season for the Nationals. Getty Images

What should excite the Nationals is that Patrick Corbin’s ill-fated six-year, $140 million contract expires this season. After the lefty was key to helping Washington win the World Series in his first season in 2019, he has pitched to a 5.64 ERA in 117 starts since.

Josiah Gray, an All-Star last season, made only two starts before going down with a forearm injury. He is closing in on a rehab assignment. Cade Cavalli, the Nationals’ first-round pick in 2020, made one start late in 2022, needed Tommy John surgery and has not returned to the majors since. But he is on a rehab assignment now. So the Nationals may have more starting pitching coming soon and will soon be out of Corbin’s contract.

Plus, as likely non-contenders this year, they will have Williams, Floro and Harvey — all free agents after this season — to trade at the deadline, plus Finnegan, who is a free agent after the 2025 campaign.

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