Mets seek productive mix of new talent, core
Club has pieces to win, but chemistry will create identity
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Consider, for a moment, the Mets at their most basic level. Consider the names embroidered on the back of the uniforms: Wright. Reyes. Beltran. Bay. Rodriguez.
"There's so much talent here," starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey says.
With each name comes a caveat, of course, an explanation for how mightily this team has struggled in recent years. But the Mets still possess arguably the most dynamic shortstop in baseball, one of the game's most-coveted third basemen, one of the generation's best center fielders -- and the list goes on and on and on.
Most around baseball will take one look at the Mets -- who open the season on the road against Florida on Friday at 7:10 p.m. ET -- consider their fourth-place finish last season and their lack of major changes over the winter, and pencil them in for a similar year in 2011. And that, too, is fair. On paper at least, the Mets have done nothing to prove that they can compete with the Braves or Phillies for NL East supremacy.
But they do have enough talent to make some noise.
"We know and we are aware that the expectations outside the clubhouse are low," starting pitcher R.A. Dickey said. "Inside the clubhouse, it's a lot different culture, a lot different environment. And it needs to be."
From a marketing standpoint, the Mets did little of note over the winter, sticking to small, low-risk acquisitions of players such as Chris Young, Chris Capuano, D.J. Carrasco, Taylor Buchholz, Pedro Beato and Brad Emaus, all of whom will break camp with significant roles. They made few headlines -- few of the right kind, anyway -- while the Phillies spent their winter building an über-rotation and the Braves kept busy touting the development of their youth.
Now, the Phillies and Braves are dealing with their own various issues. And the Mets are ready to surprise some people.
To win, they will need significant contributions from Young and Capuano, considering their lack of rotation depth. They'll need daily production out of Carrasco, Buchholz and Beato, the core of a revamped bullpen. They'll need a strong rookie season from Emaus, perhaps the most anonymous starting second baseman in baseball.
Most of all, though, the Mets will need production out of those who have been here. A dynamic season from Jose Reyes, a 30-homer campaign from David Wright, a healthy summer from Carlos Beltran and a bounce-back year from Jason Bay -- those are the ingredients of success. Jon Niese, Ike Davis and Josh Thole will need to hold onto their gains. The new additions must integrate seamlessly with the old guard.
"I think the team in general is still trying to figure out that identity," Dickey said. "That's what we need. We need, collectively as a team, to get that personality. And we're moving toward that."
Questions linger, of course, most notably regarding the health of Beltran and the trade market for Reyes, two issues certain to impact the Mets all summer. There is also the left shoulder of Johan Santana, who almost certainly will remain sidelined until midseason. And there is the specter of Irving Picard, whose lawsuit against Mets owners could loom all summer.
And even if all the question marks in Mets camp morph into exclamation points, it's possible the firepower just may not be there anymore. It's possible the Phillies could still steamroll the Mets with their pitchers, the Braves could still overcome them with their talent.
But right now, at the end of a healthy and productive spring, the Mets aren't thinking that way. They can't think that way.
"It couldn't have run better," Terry Collins said of his first camp as Mets manager. "Our pitchers are throwing the ball great. Our players are ... seeing the ball great. They're not too tired. They're not overused. I think we're on a great path to start the season, for sure."
Now it's just a matter of remaining on that path for six months, for 162 games, through all the requisite chaos and drama.
Let the noise begin.