NEW YORK -- Multiple times this winter, general manager Brodie Van Wagenen has stated his case, calling the Mets "the favorites in the division," then following that with a challenge: "Come get us."
Doubtless, the rest of the National League East has its own ideas. The Braves are the division's defending champions. The Nationals and Phillies are competitive already, while still pursuing Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado -- not only the two biggest names on the free-agent market, but also a pair the Mets have spent the offseason largely ignoring.
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It's an evolving conversation. But regardless of the accuracy of Van Wagenen's words -- no one will know the outcome for several months yet -- the spirit in which they were said provides a window into New York's thinking. Coming off consecutive fourth-place finishes, the Mets had no interest in pursuing a roster rebuild. Instead, they hired Van Wagenen, revamped their front office and made several splashy player acquisitions. In Robinson Canó, Edwin Díaz, Wilson Ramos, Jed Lowrie and others, the Mets feel they've added enough to compete with the rest of the NL East all summer.
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"I hope the fan base recognizes the amount of work that we've done this offseason," Van Wagenen said, "the number of needs that we've addressed. And [I hope] they can see that this is a complete team with depth and talent, and one that can succeed going forward, and know that the ownership group has given me the support to build this plan and execute that plan."
Again, time will tell, but the vision is clear. Much as the Mets have throughout this decade, they aim to lean on their starting pitching to overpower teams, while hoping their offensive rebuild provides enough punch to back that group. On paper, this seems elementary; Jacob deGrom is the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz are dynamic supporting pieces, and the bullpen, which ranked 28th in the Majors in ERA last season, is undoubtedly stronger with Diaz, Jeurys Familia and Justin Wilson in Flushing.
In 2015, the Mets' window for contention opened when Syndergaard, Matz and Michael Conforto debuted, the team traded for Yoenis Céspedes and then reached the World Series. Four years later, the Mets haven't been back. Wheeler is under team control for one more season, deGrom for two, Syndergaard, Matz and Conforto for three. The Mets' urgency to win with this core is growing.
Tack on the facts that the Braves won the NL East last year with a young team that is still blossoming, that the Nats still boast comparable starting pitching to the Mets, and that the Phils may still improve their own young core, and the Mets' task looms as difficult as ever. That is why Van Wagenen supplemented the roster with proven big league pieces, particularly on the offensive side. Cano is one of his generation's best hitters, while Lowrie has been one of the Majors' top offensive infielders the past two seasons. Ramos, likewise, is one of the game's foremost slugging catchers.
In adding those players, Keon Broxton, J.D. Davis and others, Van Wagenen feels he has improved the Mets' run production, lineup balance and bench depth. Take the bullpen reconstruction into account also, and Van Wagenen feels he accomplished precisely what he set out to do this winter: Compete.
"We've got depth, we've got talent, we've got the ability to combine veterans with young players," Van Wagenen said. "We've got leadership and we've got enthusiasm. It's not just me who believes in this team -- I think the players really believe in this team, and we're excited about that."