We are here. We made it. The snow is mostly melted and yesterday – March 29 – the New York metro area hit 61 degrees. Not only that, the Mets’ 2017 spring training is essentially over. Today is the last Florida game, a scrimmage against their AAA Las Vegas 51s. Tomorrow, they’ll be at Citi Field, taking on Army for charity. Come Monday, it’ll be alright when the Atlanta Braves hit town for the first official 2017 test match. Should be fun. In fact, if the sporting pundits are to be believed, the whole darn season should be fun. Your intrepid columnist is starting to believe the pundits. Well, mostly, anyway.
If you can cast your mind back to this time a year ago, there was excitement, yes, but there was also the Mets’ traditional love hangover. Oh, rest assured that we were certainly loud and grew louder as the 2015 pennant was raised, but we didn’t seem as rabid as the previous year, when the noise of the crowd threatened to drown out the La Guardia jets. We had our pennant winners and we were supremely – dare I say almost smugly? – confident of a repeat. As history has shown us, the Baseball Gods don’t ever want Met fans to feel smug. No. Having lost three-fifths of the starting rotation to injury, the excitement came in late August, as the Mets roused themselves to a sprinting, panting, improbable finish which resulted in the number one NL Wild Card berth. As we all know, the Mets went down in a taut, tense game, cruelly truncating their playoff performance. Right now, this year feels more like ’15. There are mostly good, glowing reports from Port St. Lucie. Matt Harvey is on the rise in his recovery from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. Zack Wheeler appears to have recovered from a murky two years’ recovery from Tommy John surgery. Noah Syndergaard – Monday’s Opening Day starter – is the consensus pick as the man to challenge Clayton Kershaw for the NL Cy Young Award. The offense has the potential to generate plenty of power. It’s conceivable that the Mets could sport four 30-homer guys if everyone stays healthy. They seem geared for a looming dogfight with the Washington Nationals at the top of the NL East standings.
And yet, we can still cast a sideways look at this team and see the outlook as not being quite that rosy. Steven Matz will, apparently, begin the year on the DL with a tender elbow. OK, there’s one-fifth of the staff down and luckily the Mets have the likes of Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo in reserve. Except that Gsellman was supposed to be the fifth starter, in the absence of Bartolo Colon, now toiling for the Braves. It would appear, then, that Lugo will take that spot, but below him would be a not-all-the-way-there-yet Wheeler, who would likely stay in Florida with Matz until he is absolutely ready to go. There isn’t as much pitching depth as a year ago in Vegas, so if Gsellman, Wheeler or Lugo should falter, there could be a moon crater in the rotation. There is also the crowded outfield situation. Juan Lagares suffered an oblique strain a couple of weeks ago, thus seemingly opening the door for Michael Conforto – who’s been tearing the cover off the ball this spring — to possibly slot into centerfield. This calls a conundrum, though. Without Lagares, the team doesn’t have a true centerfielder. Curtis Granderson will play there most of the season, it seems, but he’s 36 years old and his legs aren’t as spry as when he was roaming that real estate a decade ago in Detroit. Now it turns out, Lagares’ injury may not be as serious as originally thought, so while centerfield defense might be solved, it also means the probable relegation of Conforto down to Vegas, a move which could be detrimental to his development and the team’s future. These are things to bear in mind as things get real.
But for now, the trucks are packed and Citi Field will be draped in bunting. I can’t wait for Monday.
Follow me on Twitter @CharlieHangley.