Revamped Mets have eyes set on NL East title

March 11th, 2019

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- At Mets camp, general manager Brodie Van Wagenen is a shooting star. Look left, and Van Wagenen is signing autographs, posing for pictures. Look right, and he’s in front of a television camera, telling fans why the Mets are about to return to glory.

And maybe they are. Over his first five months as GM, Van Wagenen has revamped the Mets’ roster, bringing in Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Wilson Ramos and a host of others. In a stacked division, Van Wagenen has positioned the Mets to contend. Whether he did enough over a busy offseason remains to be seen, but there’s little question that the Mets are an improved club. This spring, they’ve offered glimpses of their outlook for 2019.

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 still boast one of the game’s best starting 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 some 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 agenda items. 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 to improve not only their projected ceiling, but also their projected floor.

What could go wrong?

This is no longer a youthful roster. Offseason trade acquisition Cano is 36. Jed Lowrie is 34. Ramos is 31. Even the Mets’ rotation, led by 30-year-old Cy Young 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 could knock them out for Opening Day, while no one knows for sure when 33-year-old Yoenis Cespedes might return. It’s a familiar problem for the Mets, who have worked in recent years to revamp their training and wellness programs.

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, only three of those four can qualify for the playoffs. Realistically, only two of them probably 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 has become a forgotten man behind the club's top prospect, Pete Alonso; buoyed by a strong spring, Smith could break out in 2019. Another corner infielder, J.D. Davis, offers the Mets untapped power potential -- though he has to make the team, first.