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Mets aim for NL East crown after busy offseason

@AnthonyDiComo
March 25, 2019

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- At Mets camp this spring, Brodie Van Wagenen was a shooting star. Look left, and Van Wagenen could be found signing autographs, posing for pictures. Look right, and he was posted in front of a television camera, telling fans why the Mets are about to

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- At Mets camp this spring, Brodie Van Wagenen was a shooting star. Look left, and Van Wagenen could be found signing autographs, posing for pictures. Look right, and he was posted in front of a television camera, telling fans why the Mets are about to return to glory.

And maybe they are. In his first six months as GM, Van Wagenen revamped the Mets’ roster, bringing in Robinson Canó, Edwin Díaz, Wilson Ramos and a host of others. In a stacked division, Van Wagenen did his best to position the Mets to contend. Whether he accomplished enough over a busy offseason remains to be seen, but there’s little question that the Mets are an improved club. Now, with Opening Day on the horizon, it’s time for them to put Van Wagenen’s vision to the test.

What’s the goal?
At his introductory press conference, Van Wagenen vowed that his mission was to “win now” and “win in the future” -- a slogan he has since repeated countless times. Although the Mets finished fourth in the National League East last year, they boast one of the game’s best rotations and a strong core of hitters. This is a veteran club in a difficult division, with a clear and straightforward goal: win the NL East for the first time since 2015, then make additional noise in October.

What’s the plan?
This offseason, the Mets rebuilt their roster around four focal points. They wanted to improve a bullpen that ranked 28th in the Majors in ERA last season, so they acquired Diaz, Jeurys Familia and Justin Wilson. They aimed to improve at catcher and add right-handed thump to their lineup, so they signed Ramos to accomplish both of those goals. And they wanted to deepen their roster, so they made a series of trades and signings (both major and minor) to insulate themselves against injury. The idea was for the Mets not only to improve their projected ceiling, but also their projected floor.

What could go wrong?
This is no longer a young roster. Offseason trade acquisition Cano is 36. Jed Lowrie is 34. Ramos is 31. Even the rotation, led by 30-year-old NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom, is starting to show some age. That’s not to say those players are past their primes, but they are unquestionably more susceptible to injury.

Already this spring, Lowrie and 33-year-old infielder Todd Frazier have suffered maladies that might knock them out for Opening Day, while no one knows for sure when 33-year-old Yoenis Céspedes might return. It’s a familiar problem for the Mets, who have worked in recent years to revamp their training and wellness programs, aiming for fewer of those types of setbacks.

The other issue has nothing to do with the Mets themselves and everything to do with the teams around them. The Nationals, Phillies and defending NL East champion Braves are all in win-now mode, making for a stacked NL East. At most, three of those four can qualify for the postseason. Realistically, only two of them will. Even a very good season might not be enough for the Mets to meet their goals.

Who might surprise?
The Mets are hopeful that fifth starter Jason Vargas, who struggled throughout the first four months of last season, can become a consistent contributor at the back of their rotation. At first base, Dominic Smith is currently a forgotten man behind hot prospect Peter Alonso; buoyed by a strong spring, Smith could break out in 2019. Another corner infielder, J.D. Davis, has untapped power potential -- though he’ll have to make the team, first.

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.