MLB Misery Index: New York Mets season already clouded by ace's injury, star's free agency

Welcome to MLB Misery Index, USA TODAY's weekly dive into the bad vibes and troubling trends across baseball.

It's only fitting that the inaugural Misery Index features the New York Mets, who have already lost their ace indefinitely to injury and are dealing with the specter of their beloved homegrown star's free agency.

This is a team that had the highest payroll in baseball history last season and lost 87 games, (wisely) throwing in the towel ahead of the trade deadline by unloading Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander for prospects.

Expecting to compete for a wild-card spot (two seasons after winning 101 games), here's a look at what's going on in with the Mets:

Kodai Senga's injury is a gut-punch

Kodai Senga finished second in the voting for the 2023 National League rookie of the year award.
Kodai Senga finished second in the voting for the 2023 National League rookie of the year award.

The Japanese import's spectacular rookie season — 2.98 ERA, 202 strikeouts in 29 starts — was one of the team's few bright spots in 2023. His leading a fairly shallow rotation is what gave the Mets hope entering camp.

Then came the injury.

An MRI showed Senga has a capsule strain in his throwing shoulder and he returned to New York to receive a platelet-rich plasma injection, which will prevent him from throwing for at least three weeks.

It's an all-too-familiar situation for the team, which spent many a spring trainings riding the roller-coaster of two-time Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom's injury updates — or lack thereof.

In an absolute best-case scenario, Senga could make his season debut in early May. But with any further delays, the Mets could be looking at nearly half the season without their ace.

Not a great way to start the spring.

Pete Alonso's impending free agency

The polar bear in the room is Pete Alonso, one of the greatest sluggers the organization has ever developed, and a free agent after the 2024 season.

Since setting the rookie home run record with 53 in 2019, Alonso has continued to mash, hitting 37, 40 and 46 home runs in the other full MLB seasons.

And while teams throughout baseball — notably the perennial NL East champion Atlanta Braves — have handed out long-term extensions to their young players, the Mets are letting Alonso play out his walk year. In fairness, that was the inevitable path with Alonso represented by Scott Boras, as new president David Sterns noted.

With Alonso potentially commanding $300 million on the open market, Mets fans are understandably anxious.

Now 29, Alonso grew up in the organization after he was drafted out of the University of Florida in 2016. He is the club's single-season home run leader and needs about 1.5 more seasons in New York to break the franchise's career mark.

A fan favorite for all these reasons and more, Alonso is unquestionably one of the best hitters in club history.

"I definitely have envisioned myself being a lifelong Met. That’s something that I've definitely thought about. I love New York," Alonso said upon his arrival at spring training. "I’ve definitely welcomed the idea, but I can't predict the future. And for me, I just want to focus on the season."

Alonso's name has been floated in trade rumors since last summer and if the Mets fall out of contention again, dealing him might end up being the most prudent move.

Ultimately, Alonso's future is going to be a cloud hanging over the Mets' 2024 season.

“I’m not tone deaf, OK,” owner Steve Cohen said. “I totally understand the fans’ love of Pete. I can’t predict the future.

“I hope he hits 55 home runs and makes it so difficult on me in free agency. I would call that a great outcome.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kodai Senga injury, Pete Alonso free agency cloud Mets 2024 season