John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
In a month or so, it will feel as if Spring Training may never end. But for now, as official workouts begin in the next few days, there is hardly a more welcome sight in sports -- especially for New Yorkers looking desperately for a reason to believe the city's championship drought has to end sometime.
Yes, nothing sells hope quite like baseball in the Florida sunshine, especially when there is reason for optimism in Port St. Lucie.
Mets' fans may still be screaming for Bryce Harper, and rightly so, but there's no disputing that new GM Brodie Van Wagenen has made moves that give his team a chance to win the NL East.
They have plenty of proving to do before we even get to Opening Day, but with that in mind, here are the five most intriguing storylines for the Mets going into Spring Training.
1) Does deGrom Get His Long-Term Deal?
Look, there's a legitimate argument for the Mets waiting another year to lock up their ace, thereby reducing the risk of injury and gaining a slightly better negotiating position, presuming Jacob deGrom doesn't match his historic Cy Young Award season of 2018.
However, the closer deGrom gets to free agency after the 2020 season, the less incentive he'll have to take any sort of discounted offer, and already-skeptical fans will become more and more convinced the Mets won't pay what it takes to keep the guy.
The solution: Get an extension done before Opening Day and it solves a major perception problem.
2) All Eyes On Alonso
If Peter Alonso's minor-league power translates at the highest level, it adds a righthanded-slugging dimension this offense desperately needs, especially while Yoenis Cespedes is on the shelf. Because the Mets chose not to call him up in September, Spring Training becomes all the more important as a proving ground for Alonso to win the first base job.
With Todd Frazier now a first-base candidate as well, thanks to the Jed Lowrie signing, Alonso's readiness is not quite as crucial. The Mets will keep him in the minors for at least the first two weeks of the season to gain an extra year of contractual control, but at some point, they would be a much better team if he can hit bombs and handle first base defensively.
3) Making Room For McNeil
The Mets' history of trying to convert infielders into outfielders is the stuff of horror movies, from Juan Samuel to Howard Johnson to Daniel Murphy, among others. Yet, by signing Lowrie, they've painted themselves into a corner with Jeff McNeil.
If they want his bat in the lineup at least part-time -- and they should based on what he did as a surprise rookie -- they have to hope he can handle left field adequately.
He played some outfield in college and an occasional game here and there in the minors, but there's no telling how he'll do at the big-league level. Even if McNeil is OK in left, it means moving Brandon Nimmo to center, which is not ideal defensively. Hmmm…If only the Mets had signed A.J. Pollock instead of Lowrie.
4) Year Two For Callaway
Spring Training may not be terribly revealing as to whether Mickey Callaway will be a better in-game strategist in his second year of managing, which is crucial for the Mets. But certainly it should offer some indication of whether he's grown into the job, in terms of presence, personality, press conferences, etc.
Having Jim Riggleman as a bench coach should help tremendously during games, and Van Wagenen has said publicly the front office will be very involved in the day-to-day decision-making. At some point, though, Callaway needs to convince his own clubhouse he's the right guy to lead them.
5) Brodie Wearing Shades
Even in a suit and tie, Van Wagenen exudes California cool, and he's made quite an impression in his first few months as agent-turned-GM, declaring the Mets as favorites in the division. So it will be intriguing to see how visible he makes himself in the Florida sunshine, and whether he continues to make headlines by telling the NL East to "come get us."
After all, the more he talks, the higher he raises expectations for his ballclub and his manager. To hear the early arrivals in Port St. Lucie, the players seem to relish the BVW bravado, which is great…if they can back it up.