It’s been a number of years since this type of optimism surrounded the Major League Baseball team from Flushing. If you asked even the casual Mets fan, they would tell you it’s been too long.
They wouldn’t be wrong. When was the last time one could look up and down the roster and come to the conclusion that multiple starting pitchers are capable of 20 wins, or that several players could hit 25 home runs?
The Mets enter 2015 with a drastically lower number of holes at various positions around the diamond. Not many departures, and not many arrivals, but a substantial number of improvements at almost all nine positions come to Citi Field this spring. In the rotation, we will see the return of Matt Harvey, one of the most dominant pitchers of 2013, whose career was put on halt that August after discovering a ligament tear that required Tommy John surgery. The baseball world will be compelled to find out if Harvey can return to his excellence this season, or if the surgery ended all hope of a bright future.
Joining him will be Jacob deGrom, the soft-spoken right hander who enjoyed an unheralded debut campaign in 2014, winning the National League Rookie of the Year award, the first Met to do so since Dwight Gooden in 1984. In deGrom, many see flashes of the Good Doctor himself, something that has been absent from New York pitching mounds for decades.
Harvey and deGrom will both enter this season as 26-year-olds, on the brink of their prime years. The youth of Mets’ ballplayers are constant throughout the organization, as the big league club holds an average age of 27 years, the fifth youngest among major league squads. The focus will turn to these juveniles right away, as Gold Glove center fielder Juan Lagares, catcher Travis d’Arnaud, and first baseman Lucas Duda will be expected to heavily increase their leadership roles in the coming years. Duda’s 30-home run season a year ago immediately cemented him atop the list of National League East first baseman, and he will challenge the Braves’ Freddie Freeman for the top spot. d’Arnaud and Lagares have massive expectations, which they are certainly capable of fulfilling, as they both enter their third years of big league baseball. Instead of scrambling to find a closer, the Mets have four potential candidates who can consistently shut the door in the ninth inning. Prospects like top ranked pitchers Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, along with outfielder Brandon Nimmo and second baseman Dilson Herrera are just across the country at Triple-A Las Vegas, if more holes require plugging.
What’s a team without a group of veterans to help guide the young players along? Team captain, and 2014 #FaceofMLB, David Wright will once again man the hot corner, and he plans to do so until his current contract expires in 2020. He recorded his worst career numbers last season, but Wright attributes that to a chronic shoulder injury that sidelined him for the last month of the season but reportedly limited his performance dating back to May or June. Curtis Granderson played well below expectations in 2014 after signing a four-year contract in the offseason. He should have a bounce back season with shortened Citi Field dimensions, and a fellow All-Star now manning the opposite corner outfield position.
Michael Cuddyer was high on General Manager Sandy Alderson’s list after the World Series concluded, and he went out and snatched the former Twin and Rockie during the GM meetings in early November. Most fans are quick to note his Opening Day age of 36, but it should also be said that Cuddyer was the National League’s batting champion only two years ago, when he hit .331 in 130 games. His numbers were evidently not inflated by the elevation of Coors Field either: his 2013 BAbip on the road was an outrageously high total of .365.
If a similarity can be made between the 2014 preseason and the one right in front of us, it is clear that the optimism and hope are at the top of most fans’ thoughts when predicting end of season outcomes. The actual result last season obviously wasn’t what anyone (including Alderson) had planned, but improvement is near.
The cold months of playing the waiting game are over. Pitchers and catchers report to Port St. Lucie, FL. in less than a month.