Mets eliminated from playoffs after entering season with MLB-highest $331M payroll

"Money can't buy happiness" is officially the slogan of the 2023 New York Mets.

After entering the season with the highest 26-man Opening Day payroll in MLB at $331 million, the Mets were eliminated from playoff contention Friday via a 10-inning 5-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.

It was a miserable enough season that the Mets basically gave up in the middle of the season and sold hard at the MLB trade deadline, dealing away the likes of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Tommy Pham, Mark Canha and David Robertson. In the case of Scherzer and Verlander, the Mets included a mountain of cash to cover their $43.3 million salaries in exchange for some significant prospects.

So Friday's elimination was a long time coming and hardly a surprise. Still, it's astounding to see a team that came into 2023 with the resources and track records of the Mets go down this hard.

What on earth happened to the Mets?

We're just going to go ahead and list what the Mets had going for them when players started arriving for spring training:

The richest owner in MLB with hedge fund titan Steve Cohen

Reigning MLB Manager of the Year Buck Showalter

A roster that went 101-61 last season, whose main losses were Jacob deGrom (64 1/3 innings in 2022), Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker

The addition of Verlander, the reigning AL Cy Young winner who signed a two-year, $86.7 million contract in free agency

The addition of Japanese right-hander Kodai Senga on a five-year $75.5 million deal

The additions of Pham, Robertson, José Quintana, Omar Narváez and Adam Ottavino on contracts totaling $71.5 million

The No. 11 farm system in baseball, per MLB Pipeline, headlined by No. 3 overall prospect Francisco Alvarez, who happened to play a position of need at catcher

The Mets were supposed to be good. They lost the division last season to the Braves on a tiebreaker at 101 wins, then responded by signing more than $200 million in free agents to round out their depth with MLB veterans. They lost three fifths of their rotations, yes, but they arguably upgraded from the collective 3.39 ERA and 403 1/3 innings the departed trio represented.

Then the hits came, and they came early. Our first indication the Mets hadn't quite escaped from their hard-luck struggles came before the season, when All-Star closer Edwin Díaz tore his patellar tendon while celebrating in the World Baseball Classic. Quintana was also shut down with a stress fracture in his rib.

The Mets started solidly enough with a 15-12 record at the end of April, putting them three games back from the Braves, but they were no better in May.

Then the bottom dropped out in June. The team went 7-19 in the month while the Braves went 21-4, which is how a four-game gap for the division lead turns into an 18.5-game gap. Even with a third wild-card spot to push for, the Mets instead opted to wipe the slate clean. Robertson was traded first, which led to Scherzer re-evaluating his future with the team and opening the dam.

It might take a while to truly understand what went wrong in Queens this year, but Pham seemed to believe the issue came down to work ethic, reportedly saying "this is the least-hardest working group of position players I've ever played with."

Can the Mets bounce back next year?

So the Mets had the Murphy's Law sort of season in 2023. The question now becomes how they can turn things around in 2024.

Scherzer claimed the Mets brass wasn't optimistic on his way out, telling reporters they said to him they were thinking of 2025 or 2026 as their target year for returning to contention. Of course, the Mets now have a new person in charge with president of baseball operations David Stearns, so maybe plans have changed.

A new executive doesn't change the fact that the Mets have one of the older rosters in MLB, though, or that they already have $244 million in payroll on the books for next year, per Cot's Contracts. The good news is the farm system has been refilled via the trade deadline, but if the team wants to be meaningful better in 2023, it's going to require some big trades or Cohen continuing to open the checkbook to a historic degree.

Unfortunately, even a massive jump might not be enough considering the Braves are on a 104-win pace and famously have every good young player under contract for the next several years. The Mets have a lot of work to do, but what else is new?