Every season is different, as Mets manager Terry Collins knows well. He just likes the feel of this one going into Spring Training a lot better than past seasons.Unlike a year ago, when the opening of camp proffered a plethora of questions, matters are much more settled as the club
Every season is different, as Mets manager Terry Collins knows well. He just likes the feel of this one going into Spring Training a lot better than past seasons.
Unlike a year ago, when the opening of camp proffered a plethora of questions, matters are much more settled as the club prepares to open in Port St. Lucie, Fla., on Feb. 19 with the first pitchers and catchers workout.
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With the signing of Yoenis Cespedes, the Mets will have the talented Cuban outfielder for an entire season. They will have a healthy Matt Harvey with no restrictions two years away from Tommy John ligament reconstruction surgery. They will have a new infield combination in second baseman Neil Walker and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, making them much stronger up the middle.
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They will come in as the defending National League champions rather than a team that had suffered through six losing seasons in a row and hadn't been to the playoffs since 2006.
And even though they lost in five tough World Series games to the Royals, the Mets come in with a new kind of swagger. Collins had never taken his team to the World Series in a managerial career that dates back to 1994 and spans three Major League teams and a tour in Japan.
Last year was the time to revel in that, Collins said last week. Now it's time to move on.
"Today, I don't dwell on it; but at the time, I did," Collins said. "Right now, it's about getting ready for the coming season. Hey, we've got a long way to go -- 162 [games] is a long season. We've got to get some energy back, get ready for Spring Training. That's where the focus is."
The motivation is already there, Collins added.
A year ago, it was the Royals, who arrived to camp at Surprise, Ariz., licking their wounds from a seven-game loss to the Giants in the 2014 World Series that went down to the final pitch in Kansas City's home park.
Royals manager Ned Yost was still perplexed by the loss that ended when Salvador Perez popped foul in third-base territory to Pablo Sandoval with the tying run on third.
"To that second, I really did believe that we were going to find a way to win," Yost said last spring. "That's what we did all year. When I saw Pablo catch that ball and sink to his knees, I couldn't believe it. Still can't. I don't think there's a guy out there [in the clubhouse] who does."
With modest changes -- most notably Edinson Volquez for James Shields, Alex Rios for Nori Aoki and Kendrys Morales for Billy Butler -- Kansas City had a better season in 2015 and vanquished its loss to the Giants against the Mets. In a perfect turnabout, Perez was the Most Valuable Player of the World Series.
But motivation can be a fierce force, not to mention those late-season additions of Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto to help the Royals get back to that point of ascension.
The Mets are in that same place right now as they prepare to gather in Florida.
"We were very proud of the way the team played, but we didn't finish it off," Collins said. "When I talked to Ned, he said, 'You're going to be disappointed.' And he was right. You're more disappointed than you thought. Because it was so hard to get there at the time, you were just happy about it. But then it hits you: When you come close, you just want to finish it off, and hopefully we'll get another chance."
The Mets will have to buck their own long history to do it. Since they joined the NL as an expansion team in 1962, the Mets have been to the postseason eight times, and just once in back-to-back years, 1999 and 2000. They've been to the World Series five times, winning twice, but they never made it there in successive postseasons.
The slimmest gap between Mets World Series appearances is four years, 1969 and '73, with the Tom Seaver-led team. Otherwise the waits have been long ones: 13 years to 1986, 14 years to 2000 and another 15 years before they lost to the Royals this past October.
Since 1999, when the Mets, led by manager Bobby Valentine, lost to the Braves in a six-game NL Championship Series, New York has never been favored to win it all again. In 2000, the Mets won the NL pennant and lost to the Yankees in a five-game World Series.
Now there's some inherent pressure on the 2016 team to win it all this time. There have been some changes. Gone from the World Series roster are Tyler Clippard, Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe, Jon Niese and Daniel Murphy -- who hit homers in six consecutive postseason games and was the MVP of the sweep of the Cubs in the NLCS -- and the now-retired Michael Cuddyer.
Replacing them are Cabrera, Walker, left-handed reliever Antonio Bastardo and outfielder Alejandro De Aza.
In addition to having Cespedes for the entire season, the Mets will also have Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Michael Conforto and David Wright for the duration. Syndergaard, Matz and Conforto were brought up from the Minors during the course of the year. Wright missed five months with spinal stenosis that is now lifelong and chronic.
New York was a work in process last season as adjustments were made on the fly because of injuries, suspensions and a lack of offense. The use of the young starters was always a point of contention. Cespedes didn't get there until a trade with Detroit minutes before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Jeurys Familia wasn't the closer until incumbent Jenrry Mejia was suspended for drug use.
This year, the Mets go into camp with all of these parts in place: Cespedes, Familia, Walker, Cabrera, Wright, Syndergaard, Harvey, Matz and an NL title.
Every season is different, and injury and performance will dictate what is ahead of them. With a great chance for these Mets to repeat, only time will tell which direction this season will take.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.