Here are 5 Mets storylines heading into camp

June 30th, 2020

NEW YORK -- Mets camp will officially reopen Friday at Citi Field. In some ways, it will look markedly different from what the team left behind in Port St. Lucie, Fla., in March. In other, mostly baseball-related ways, it will look similar.

Many of the questions the Mets had yet to answer in Spring Training remain just that -- unanswered -- while new uncertainties have also surfaced. Here’s a look at five of the most prominent questions the Mets face heading into camp:

1. What can Yoenis Céspedes provide?
It doesn’t take much of a romantic to envision Céspedes, as the Mets’ full-time designated hitter, playing nearly every day and crushing home runs like he did during his 2015-16 heyday in Flushing. For Mets fans, it’s a nice image. It’s also not entirely realistic.

The truth is that Céspedes is closing in on his 35th birthday and hasn’t seen Major League pitching in nearly two years. It remains to be seen if he’s physically capable of playing the field at all, or even DH’ing every day. Even if he checks all those boxes, Céspedes -- given his age and injury history -- is no guarantee to be productive.

Realistically, the Mets will allot DH at-bats to some combination of Céspedes, Dominic Smith, Pete Alonso, J.D. Davis, Robinson Canó, Jed Lowrie and perhaps even others. Céspedes can certainly accrue the most opportunities at that position, but he’s going to have to earn it. Can he? Is this the Céspedes of old, following multiple heel surgeries and a fractured right ankle? If he’s even 75 percent of that guy, the Mets would benefit.

2. And what about Lowrie?
Can he provide anything at all? Shortly after signing a two-year, $20 million contract with the Mets in 2019, Lowrie began reporting left side issues that lingered for the entire season. He took just eight plate appearances, then reported to 2020 Spring Training wearing a bulky knee brace on his left leg that limited his mobility. Until he can shed that brace, Mets officials have indicated, Lowrie won’t be able to play in games.

Three months have passed since the end of Spring Training, and Lowrie, according to Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, is still wearing the brace. It’s possible he could take significant reps as a DH, but that would take opportunities away from Céspedes, Smith and others. An ideal Mets lineup would have Lowrie contributing in the field. But until Lowrie actually proves capable of playing, the expectations surrounding him will remain low. The Mets would prefer to receive a bit of return on their $20 million investment.

3. Can Edwin Díaz hang onto the closer’s job?
When Major League Baseball suspended Grapefruit League play, Díaz held a 6.00 ERA that looked every bit as shaky as the statistics might indicate. His fastball command simply was not where he needed it to be, but that didn’t seem like an overwhelming worry. It was, after all, a small sample size in games that don’t count.

Still, Díaz must prove he’s recovered from his 2019 woes -- a 5.59 ERA, seven losses and seven blown saves -- if he wants to serve as closer throughout the 2020 season. If Díaz continues to struggle, the Mets have plenty of others who would love a crack at closing. Seth Lugo, for example, was one of the best relievers in baseball last season. Jeurys Familia is slimmed down with big expectations. And Dellin Betances has had three extra months to rehab his torn Achilles tendon and add velocity back to his fastball. All three seem ready to go.

4. What form will the rotation take?
Van Wagenen has said the Mets will proceed with a traditional five-man rotation of Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, Steven Matz, Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha. He also said he expects the Mets to be creative. They have the personnel to do so, starting with multi-inning relievers Lugo and Robert Gsellman, and continuing with some other intriguing arms in their 60-man player pool -- No. 10 prospect David Peterson, for example, or hard-throwing youngster Drew Smith, who is coming off Tommy John surgery. Given the shortened season and expanded rosters, the Mets have an opportunity to use both their rotation and bullpen in unconventional ways. Will they? And if so, how will that affect the starting five?

5. How is Luis Rojas handling all this?
It’s almost easy to forget that Rojas is a first-time manager, considering how cool and collected he has been throughout his first five months on the job. But until Rojas actually manages a big league game, questions will linger regarding his readiness to lead a team consisting of players not much younger than him. Rojas has yet to reveal much regarding his preferences regarding roster construction, lineup construction, bullpen usage and other areas. He probably won’t until the regular season begins in late July; in any event, Rojas’ rookie performance may have a sizable effect on the Mets’ overall chances.