It’s finally here. Spring training is officially on, as pitchers and catchers had all reported by Monday’s mandatory date. Coincidentally, maybe, the New York area has emerged from its winter-long deep freeze to have a relatively warm week. So spring – actual spring — is definitely visible on the horizon, even without squinting. And not a moment too soon, either.
Here in New York, the 2018 baseball season has been greatly anticipated. Across town, of course, the Yankees are coming off a surprising year. In what was supposed to be a rebuilding season, they came within a heartbeat of the World Series…again. Now, having added Giancarlo Stanton to slug side-by-side with Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird, it would appear that they – along with the World Champion Astros, of course – will be the class of the American League. A somewhat more muted optimism – but optimism, nonetheless — is also on display in Queens. By all accounts, the Mets had themselves a terrific offseason. They made good, thrifty free-agent signings in Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier and Anthony Swarzak. They brought back Asdrubal Cabrera for second base and Jose Reyes for the bench. They brought in Adrian Gonzalez to play first base and push young Dominic Smith to get serious. For his part, by the way, Smith has shed 30 pounds and looks a lot better in his uniform, at least. They have an exciting young shortstop in Amed Rosario. They jettisoned their clown-show training staff for what we can only hope will be a more competent handling of injuries. They have a new manager, with some new ideas: Mickey Callaway is enthusiastic with the press, innovative with the bullpen and sympathetic to what his players need. Most importantly, perhaps, the starting pitching appears healthy. Jacob deGrom is coming off a should-have-been-an-All-Star season, Noah Syndergaard is fully recovered from the lat issues that sidelined him from May to September, and Steven Matz – coming off the same nerve realignment surgery deGrom had in 2016 – finally looks ready for a full season’s workload. The attitude would appear to be rising, as well: deGrom, Swarzak and Syndergaard have been talking big about playoffs and such. It would all appear to be in place for the Mets to win at least a Wild Card spot, which would mark the team’s third playoff appearance in the last four years.
Even if one is bullish on the pitching staff – the meat-and-potatoes of this club – there is a feeling that this team is still incomplete. Maybe it’s because Michael Conforto isn’t back yet. Maybe they need another pitcher as insurance against all the injury worries – not even necessarily Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb: even bringing back a Jason Vargas type would bolster hopes. We still aren’t 100% convinced about the health of Syndergaard, Matz, Zack Wheeler or Matt Harvey and we’re completely unconvinced that Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo are up to stepping into the breach again. We don’t know if Gonzalez has anything left and we don’t know what kind of production we can expect from Smith or Rosario. Right now, the notoriously cautious pre-season PECOTA projection system pegs the Mets at 82-80 – unimpressive, yes, but only two games shy of a Wild Card spot. We fans, of course, would certainly love to see an improvement on that win total, especially if we’re conceding the division title to Washington. There’s something still off, still too many “ifs” around this team to fully embrace its chances. Callaway and GM Sandy Alderson have exactly 43 days to figure it out.
Meanwhile, hope springs in Florida.
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