NEW YORK -- When the Mets walked off the field following Game 5 of the 2015 World Series, they were defeated but not dejected. With a young core of pitching firmly in place, the Mets knew their window to contend would be open for years to come. Losing in five
NEW YORK -- When the Mets walked off the field following Game 5 of the 2015 World Series, they were defeated but not dejected. With a young core of pitching firmly in place, the Mets knew their window to contend would be open for years to come. Losing in five games to the Royals would serve to harden them, to steel them, to prepare them for the future.
"They learned how to get through a long season," then-manager Terry Collins said that night. "They learned what it's like to play in October, and they're going to be a lot better because of this experience."
In the two years following that defeat, however, the Mets appeared in just one additional playoff game -- a 2016 National League Wild Card Game loss to the Giants. All but one member of their World Series starting staff has since suffered at least one major injury. Their window to compete, which seemed wide open just two years ago, appears to be closing as those pitchers grow older and inch toward free agency. (The first of them to arrive on the scene, Matt Harvey, can -- and likely will -- depart after this season.)
All of that provides context for the 2018 Mets, a win-now bunch despite their fourth-place finish in the NL East last season. As early as last July, the Mets began shifting their eyes toward '18, selling off pieces to fortify their farm system, and even acquiring one big league asset, reliever AJ Ramos, who can help them this summer.
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Since November, the Mets have reassembled a large chunk of last year's roster, exercising 2018 options on infielder Asdrubal Cabrera and reliever Jerry Blevins, and re-signing free-agent outfielder Jay Bruce and infielder Jose Reyes. But they also found help outside their New York bubble, signing reliever Anthony Swarzak to a two-year deal in December and coming to terms on a two-year pact with free-agent third baseman Todd Frazier on Monday.
"Sometimes it looks like it's just same-old, same-old, but there's a combination of factors," Alderson said before the Frazier signing.
It is possible that Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Yoenis Cespedes and others stay healthy in future seasons, giving the Mets the ability to compete for playoff berths well into the next decade. But with the Phillies becoming more aggressive in free agency, the Braves amassing a young core of talent and the Nationals still employing one of the game's best rosters, the NL East isn't as easy as it used to be. Beyond the division, the Brewers, D-backs and others have emerged as perennial Wild Card threats.
Given that backdrop, the Mets' best chance to return to the World Series is now, not later, with deGrom, Syndergaard, Cespedes, Bruce, Ramos and others all in their primes. That is why they have been aggressive compared to other teams this winter, committing $72.5 million in new money -- including Frazier's $17 million deal, which is pending a physical.
"The plan was to contend last year, but with injuries we weren't able to," deGrom said. "Now, you get all these guys back, I think that's the plan again this year, is to contend."
Consider that when the Mets fell out of contention early last season, they refused to consider a full-scale fire sale. Trading deGrom, for instance, would have propped up the Mets' flagging farm system in an instant. But it also would have handicapped the team's ability to compete, which the Mets were not willing to do.
Their belief is that by combining their in-house talent with Frazier, Swarzak, Callaway, a new training staff and other big-picture upgrades, a return to contention is more than just a pipe dream. The Mets see 2017 as a speed bump, not the start of a decline. So when they report to Port St. Lucie, Fla., next week, they will do so with legitimate goals of competing once again.