Infusion of experience, young arms bode well for Mets
GM Alderson, front office have high hopes due to pickups and strong starters
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Late in the night, with an early morning wakeup call for Photo Day looming, David Wright's phone broke the silence of his would-be sleep.
It was Matt Harvey calling.
Harvey wanted somebody to talk to about the latest frustrations of the slow-moving Tommy John rehab process that will sideline him for much, if not all, of the upcoming season, and so he naturally leaned on the Mets' captain. And though this moment might have cost him some needed Spring Training sleep, Wright was all too happy to have his peace interrupted for the betterment of the bottom line.
"People talk about creating a winning culture," Wright said. "Well, winning takes care of that. But to get there, you've got to have that trust and that feeling that we're all pulling in the same direction. As weird as it sounds, it starts with developing that type of relationship."
The Mets are still developing. Make no mistake about that.
Certainly, on the heels of a winter that saw them commit more than three times as much money to three free agents (Curtis Granderson, Bartolo Colon and Chris Young) than they had spent in the previous three offseasons combined, it is only natural that the expectation level has raised around here. But whether it's been raised to a realistic level is ultimately up to the eye of the beholder.
The New York Daily News reported general manager Sandy Alderson told a meeting of Mets executives that he expects 90 wins from these Mets. Unless the Grapefruit League season counts (and the Mets played an intrasquad game Thursday morning, so there's one win and one loss right there), that's a bold expectation for a club coming off consecutive 74-win seasons, to say the least.
But at least the Mets can now look you in the face and seriously say they do, indeed, have the seeds of a future 90-game winner. It's a start, and starts are actually the primary focus here.
Yes, Harvey's injury was as big a bummer as the baseball world has seen in recent years, and it's up to the doughy-yet-strangely-reliable Colon to replace those innings, if not Harvey's spot in the ESPN Magazine "Body Issue" spread. In fact, Colon's strike-throwing steadfastness is all the more pivotal now that Jon Niese is getting an MRI on his ailing shoulder.
More fundamentally, though, what the Mets have -- in Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero, in particular -- is a stash of starting talent that could one day rival that of any in the league, especially if Harvey's 2015 return is a seamless one.
Sure, that's only an "if," as is any prognostication in the pitching department. But for the first time in a long time, the Mets have hope.
Wheeler's 2013 break-in combined the good (3.42 ERA) with the bad (4.1 walks per nine innings and some velocity loss by season's end), but improved command could help him make good on all those awfully nice things we've been writing about him since '09.
Syndergaard, as MLB.com's Anthony DiComo explained, is a big-bodied, Texas-bred beast with a high-90s fastball and a plus curve who makes scouts salivate. You might see him by season's end.
The 6-foot, 170-pound Montero won't be challenging Syndergaard to any arm-wrestling competitions anytime soon, but he's consistently in the zone with quality strikes, and he had a 3.05 ERA in 16 starts in his first exposure to a hitter-friendly environment in the Pacific Coast League.
Jake deGrom is another interesting name to watch -- a converted catcher who only started pitching in 2010 and has quickly ascended to the Triple-A level.
"You see how we're going to attack this winning plan," Wright said, "and it starts with that young pitching."
The Mets cling to that plan of attack -- even, in some cases, letting it roll around in their mind in the restless hours. It's not just Harvey reaching out to Wright late at night; it's Wheeler staring at the ceiling and fantasizing about a future in which the Mets master the mound.
"You've got to keep your mind on this season, of course," Wheeler said. "But every once in a while, you'll be laying in bed at night and you'll be thinking about baseball. You think about your future, you think about winning. And winning is me, Harvey and Noah and the other young pitchers. It's going to be fun around here."
Wheeler, with a half-season under his belt, is well aware of the command it will take to make 2014 both fun and productive. In Colon, he'll have Exhibit A in the value of trusting your stuff in the zone and not giving too much credit to the hitter. That's one underrated element to the risky two-year, $20 million investment the Mets made in Colon, who is undoubtedly an injury risk.
But what Wheeler will also have is a fellow youngster throwing down the signals in Travis d'Arnaud, in whom he's built a foundation of faith on which his "get the sign and go" modus operandi will rely.
"I know he works his butt off with film and the scouting reports before each series," Wheeler said. "Maybe if you had a lazier guy, you'd have to take it upon yourself. But he puts the work in. I trust him."
"Trust" is a big word around here.
For too much of his career, Wright has served as the Mets' answer to Derek Jeter, without the surrounding talent and accompanying rings. He signed his eight-year, $138 million, prime-buying extension before the 2013 season and accepted a deferred payment plan on some of that total because of his loyalty to Alderson and his belief that the losing won't go on much longer.
Now, Wright suits up for the spring's first game action surrounded by an improved assemblage.
A 90-game winner? Count me among the many doubtful. But the Mets are creeping up on credibility, with an injection of experience, an improving rotation picture and a growing level of trust in the organization's vision and, as Harvey's late-night call to Wright illustrates, in each other.
"That's one of our goals," Wright said. "You've got to have that level where you look to your left, look to your right and say, 'I'm going out there to play for these guys.'"