NEW YORK – For the first time in nine years, baseball’s postseason won’t include a New York team.
Neither one even came close, really.
Back in March, such a monumental flop by the Mets and Yankees would’ve been difficult to envision. After combining for 200 regular-season wins in 2022, both clubs were coming off playoff appearances and both added big-name talent in the offseason.
With stars like Aaron Judge and Justin Verlander on each side of town — not to mention the two largest payrolls in the majors — the highly anticipated 2023 campaign shaped up as one of the most exciting in the city’s history.
Maybe another Subway Series. Certainly some October thrills.
But by August, all anyone in the Big Apple was talking about was football, as both tattered, top-heavy teams played out the string in front of empty seats. Following parallel nightmare seasons, they headed home early for the winter to watch the playoffs on television.
What in the name of Nelson Rockefeller happened here?
The $275 million Bronx Bombers batted .227 — only lowly Oakland was worse — and ranked 25th in runs despite replacing hitting coach Dillon Lawson with Sean Casey at the All-Star break. They finished fourth in the AL East at 82-80, narrowly avoiding the franchise’s first losing season since 1992.
“It’s better than the alternative, but we expect to be playing baseball this month,” manager Aaron Boone said Sunday.
Pete Alonso and the Mets, with a $355 million roster on opening day that was by far the most expensive in big league history, came in fourth in the NL East, nearly 30 games behind division champion Atlanta. After winning 101 games last year, second-most in team annals, they fell to 74-87 by losing their 2023 finale — the largest drop-off in the majors this year.
Manager Buck Showalter was fired Sunday, clearing the way for new president of baseball operations David Stearns to pick the next Mets skipper. Stearns was set to be introduced Monday at a Citi Field news conference.
“When things aren’t going well in New York, things happen and they happen quickly,” center fielder Brandon Nimmo said. “It’s just our job as players to try and not let these things happen.”
Injuries played a damaging role, no doubt.
Mets closer Edwin Díaz missed the entire season after blowing out his knee while celebrating a victory with Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. That exposed an otherwise thin bullpen, while the back of a remade rotation collapsed under a pile of walks as Carlos Carrasco, David Peterson and Tylor Megill were unable to pick up the slack when Verlander, Max Scherzer and José Quintana were sidelined at various times early in the year.
All-Star right fielder Starling Marte, meanwhile, was a shell of himself following double groin surgery last offseason and played only 86 unproductive games.
Up in the Bronx, $162 million newcomer Carlos Rodón didn’t make his Yankees debut until July 7 because of forearm and back issues. Once he did, he never found his form on the mound and went a miserable 3-8 with a 6.85 ERA in 14 starts.
A slew of other veterans also drastically underperformed during injury-interrupted seasons, including first baseman Anthony Rizzo, designated hitter Giancarlo Stanton, center fielder Harrison Bader, third baseman Josh Donaldson, catcher Jose Trevino and pitchers Luis Severino and Nestor Cortes.
Domingo Germán threw a perfect game in late June, then entered inpatient treatment for alcohol abuse in early August.
Of course, the most glaring injury was to Judge, who tore a ligament in his right big toe when he crashed into the outfield fence while making a terrific catch June 3 at Dodger Stadium.
The following day, the Yankees moved a season-high 11 games over .500. They were 54-48 and still smack in the middle of the wild-card chase when the reigning AL MVP returned to the lineup July 28, only to go 8-20 in their next 28 games while essentially falling out of the race.
The Yankees wasted an outstanding season from ace Gerrit Cole, the frontrunner for the AL Cy Young Award, and reliable relief from one of baseball’s best bullpens.
“We can talk about injuries, we can talk about missed opportunities, but I think it comes down to us as players not showing up when we needed to,” Judge said.
Similarly, the Mets were 30-27 on June 1 after a three-game sweep of defending NL champion Philadelphia and appeared poised to go on a run with Verlander and Max Scherzer both healthy on the mound. But they dropped their next seven games and 19 of 25 during the June swoon that wrecked their season.
Seven games under .500 after losing 3-1 to Rodón on July 26 at Yankee Stadium, the Mets shifted their focus to the future and executed a stunning selloff in the days before the Aug. 1 trade deadline. They parted with Scherzer, Verlander and four other useful veterans in deals to obtain minor league prospects that restocked the farm system.
To facilitate the trades, Mets owner Steve Cohen agreed to pay $79 million to the clubs acquiring his former players. And if Verlander exercises his 2025 option, the Mets would send Houston another $17.5 million.
The lost season was a stark reminder that money can buy players — but not wins on the field. And while a 162-game schedule offers plenty of chances to rebound and take off, sometimes you only get about 100 to prove you’re any good.
So in the end, the Mets squandered excellent performances all year from Alonso, Nimmo, shortstop Francisco Lindor and rookie pitcher Kodai Senga.
When he returned to Citi Field with the Texas Rangers in late August, a mystified Scherzer was asked how on earth the Mets unraveled so badly?
“That’s a billion-dollar question,” he said.
NEW YORK YANKEES
After setting an American League record with 62 home runs in 2022, Judge became a free agent but stayed with the Yankees when they signed him to a $360 million, nine-year contract. He had 37 homers, 75 RBIs and a 1.019 OPS in 106 games this season.
Now, the captain needs more help. A lot more.
The Yankees must find a way to get younger and less injury-prone — no easy task — while adding legitimate protection for Judge in the lineup. Free agent third baseman Matt Chapman could be a fit.
Prized prospect Jasson Domínguez provided an encouraging spark with four homers and a .980 OPS in eight major league games after getting called up Sept. 1, but the 20-year-old center fielder then had Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow that’s expected to sideline him until at least July.
With Domínguez down for now, the Yankees must decide if they want to pursue a multiyear contract with a high-profile free agent outfielder like Cody Bellinger.
Judge is a vocal Boone supporter, and general manager Brian Cashman seems likely to return after signing a four-year contract last December.
Judge said he spoke with owner Hal Steinbrenner and Cashman, the team’s GM since 1998, about the status of the team moving forward and looks forward to talking with them more this offseason.
“We’re not there,” Boone said. “That’s the reality of it, and we have to dive in and correct it.”
NEW YORK METS
Alonso (46 homers, 118 RBIs) can become a free agent following the 2024 season and the Mets might make a critical choice this winter — trade him for future assets or sign him to a long-term contract.
Stearns did a terrific job unearthing quality pitching when he was running the Milwaukee Brewers, and he takes on a similar challenge with the Mets.
Blake Snell, Aaron Nola and Jordan Montgomery are among the attractive starting pitchers set to hit the free-agent market after the World Series. Both teams in New York figure to be interested in Shohei Ohtani, although the two-way superstar isn’t expected to pitch in 2024 following elbow surgery.
The Mets have a group of promising prospects who ended the season at Double-A Binghamton. Rookie hitters Francisco Álvarez, Brett Baty, Mark Vientos and Ronny Mauricio all flashed impressive raw power in the majors this year, but none of them had an on-base percentage higher than .296, and defense remains a question mark across the board.
AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum, AP Sports Writer Dave Skretta in Kansas City, Missouri, and freelance writer Jerry Beach contributed to this report.
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