Mets fans, by and large, are an extraordinarily patient breed of baseball fans. For the most part, dreams and demands of World Titles are desired but not required. Hope springs eternal, even amidst the ifs, and, and buts we see with the team this season. Of them all though, there are two “ifs” that stand out, and they will determine everything.
You can go through the Mets projected 25-man roster, as Mickey Callaway has probably already done a dozen times or so, and with each stop on a player questions with few answers immediately come to mind. And with each item, there can only be hope that when the season plays out, the answer will be favorable to the Mets in 2018.
Will Adrian Gonzalez be able to find at least some of the magic in his bat following an impotent year that caused the Atlanta Braves to throw him in the trash heap, in spite of the money it cost them? Will Amed Rosario come into full flight with most or all of the promise and hype thrust on the young man? And will his hitting ever catch up to his Gold Glove fielding?
And will Michael Conforto, the next David Wright of the Mets, return on or before May 1 from surgery, and how long will it take him to regain his timing and endurance? Will Todd Frazier‘s rah-rah, “good clubhouse guy” spirit be genuine or manufactured as the season moves along?
And what of the lefty/righty relay race scheduled by Callaway between Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki work out, and will there be enough offense to justify the experiment and the Mets decision not to sign Jonathan Lucroy?
And finally, on the smaller questions facing the Mets, when will the team succumb to the wisdom, if not the popularity, of granting David Wright his unconditional release, or whatever they need to do to ensure they get paid for their loss in insurance money over the years?
All of these questions, though, are overshadowed by two larger ones. Their answers will make or break the Mets season no matter what the answers to the previous questions are.
First and foremost, as always in the big leagues, will the Mets starting rotation remain healthy, and if they do will their performance as a team be up to par and enough to cover for what is still a weak bullpen?
On paper, the Mets still have one of the best rotations in the majors. Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom alone form a powerful back-to-back presence that challenges even the mightiest of teams like the Astros and their tandem of Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander. deGrom is rebounding from a season of 200 innings while Syndergaard is coming back from injury. Both look ready to go, but that needs to hold up over a six-month season.
The balance of the staff is credible, but still loaded with question marks, of which the biggest one being how much the Mets will get out of the former King of New York, Matt Harvey? Jason Vargas was a good pick-up, but he too is coming off a full grinding season with Kansas City Royals.
Steven Matz, oh yes, that Steven Matz. The one who has yet to remove his mask and be the pitcher everyone says he can be. Injury-plagued, Matz needs a good kick in the butt and Callaway just might be the man to deliver it before this season is over.
In the same vein, there is Zack Wheeler, who has had what is undoubtedly the most extended recovery from Tommy John in the history of MLB (now going on three years). Wheeler is another project for Callaway, and above all, Callaway needs to get the message across to Wheeler (much like Harvey) that jobs in the major leagues wait for no one, and this is the time...after all that time.
The second biggest, and perhaps the most frustrating of the questions facing the Mets, surrounds Yoenis Cespedes. I suspect that a fly on the wall in Sandy Alderson’s office would hear a daily refrain asking himself why he was so stupid in handing Cespedes $100 million, knowing he was taking on baseball’s newest version of Manny Ramirez.
We know the answer to that question and Alderson can be forgiven because he was only answering the din from Mets fans like myself begging him to “do something” before the start of the 2016 season.
Nevertheless, Cespedes owes the Mets a half-season of missed games from 2017, and who knows what the total will be after this season. An injured wrist has already kept him out of several spring training games, and adding insult to “injury,” Cespedes thought it was appropriate to joke to reporters yesterday that due to this injury, he is “done” playing baseball. As with Ramirez, you take these things from the mouth they come from.
But more significantly, as Cespedes goes so do the Mets. He is the Mets version of the Yankees Reggie Jackson, who once claimed to be the “straw that stirs the drink” in the Yankees lineup. The trouble is, for the most part, Jackson lived up to his own billing, while Cespedes continues to talk bigger than his bat does.
Usually, Cespedes would be considered excellent trade bait for the Mets to throw out there as a lure to inherit some much-need young talent to boost their floundering farm system, in return for a team needing one more power bat (think Red Sox, Twins to name a couple). But with all the baggage Cespedes carries, it is more likely North Korea will suspend their nuclear capability and development.
And so, the New York Mets find themselves in a familiar position of hoping for the best, but assured of little, if anything. The jockeying of Mickey Callaway in his first season as manager is a wild card in how this plays out.
Callaway, of course, has no control over the health of his players. But he certainly has the power (and apparently the balls) to control his player’s mindset. And one way to answer these questions may have to be some “tough love” extended by Callaway to those who don’t fall in line with his way of thinking of how the game should be played.
For this writer, the Mets and their players seem to be too blase about everything, most of all losing. There’s no Paul O’Neill with fire in his eyes smashing a water cooler in the dugout after a bitter loss. We saw the fire from Terry Collins at times when he (to his credit) “lost it” in the media room, but never from a player.
More than anything, and even beyond some of the questions I’ve posited, the Mets need to recover the culture which was fleetingly there in 2015. When, for instance, Matt Harvey went charging out to the mound in that fateful ninth inning against the Cubs, while Collins, against his better judgment, let him do it.
Major league baseball is not little league. I get that. I’m just looking for a little more “oomph” from the Mets in 2018.