The Mets made a whole slew of changes at the end of last season. They pushed out long-time manager Terry Collins and replaced him with first-time manager Mickey Callaway, touting his caring, cooperative and fresh approach. They fired long-time pitching coach Dan Warthen, who had helped develop all of their major league starters, and replaced him with Dave Eiland, the pitching coach on two World Series winning teams (Yankees, 2009, and Royals, 2015). GM Sandy Alderson shook up the medical staff, firing long-time head trainer Ray Ramirez and bringing in a director of sports science and performance to oversee every aspect of the players’ health from prevention and recovery to stretching and sleep habits.
While the Mets are talking about their changes, the key to turning around their 70-92 result from 2017 will be answering some familiar questions that have haunted them the last two seasons.
1. Will the pitching finally perform?
The days of dreaming of the so-called Five Aces are seemingly over. Now, the Mets are hoping for five innings from five guys every five days after two seasons of having injuries decimate their starting staff.
And any chance of rebounding from last season’s disaster hinges on that staff, as GM Sandy Alderson acknowledged.
“Our season is going to turn on the health of our pitching,” Alderson said last month. “If we have a reasonably healthy season out of our pitching, particularly our starting pitching, we’re going to be pretty good.”
It’s why they brought in Callaway, the pitching coach for an impressive staff in Cleveland, and Eiland this winter. They have to turn around a staff that finished with a 5.01 ERA last year (29th among the 30 MLB teams).
Jacob deGrom was the only Mets starter who did not spend time on the disabled list last season, eclipsing 200 innings pitched for the first time and arriving in Port St. Lucie last week talking about competing for a Cy Young this year. They are optimistic for more from Noah Syndergaard, who spent most of the season recovering from a torn lat muscle.
They just hope they can find a little more from the rest of the group. Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler, who all spent significant time on the disabled list in 2017, struggled when they did pitch last year. Seth Lugo, who is pitching with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament, and Robert Gsellman, who was just unimpressive last season, could be fill-ins for the rotation or help for the bullpen.
2. Can the Mets stay healthy?
It wasn’t just the starting pitchers who were going down in 2017. Yoenis Cespedes, in the first year of a four-year, $110 million deal, missed half the season with hamstring injuries. Like Syndergaard’s injury, the Mets privately pegged some of the blame on their offseason workouts.
Alderson said last month that Syndergaard’s injury in particular was one of the factors in the decision to revamp the medical staff. That included hiring Jim Cavallini as director of performance and sports science in an attempt to be more proactive in monitoring the players health and conditioning.
That said, the Mets have also held on to Mike Barwis, the controversial trainer who helped Cespedes bulk up his legs last winter.
The 32-year-old admitted that he would have to change his leg work after dealing with the two hamstring injuries last season, but was adamant he would continue to work with Barwis. Alderson has also repeatedly backed Barwis, whose background is more connected to football than baseball.
This spring, after surgery to repair a torn posterior capsule in his left shoulder, Michael Conforto will be eased back to baseball activities. He is not expected back in the major league lineup until May 1, but privately many around the game wonder if he will regain the power he displayed last season with the reconstructed shoulder.
3. Did the Mets make enough moves this offseason?
They brought back slugger Jay Bruce, signed third baseman Todd Frazier and right-handed reliever Anthony Swarzak. There are a lot of quality free agents still out there, so did the Mets, who have had a limited payroll, miss out?
4. Who will hit leadoff?
This team doesn’t have a natural leadoff hitter and has very little speed. This question looms more now that Todd Frazier’s signing has sent Jose Reyes to the bench.
Is Amed Rosario a good fit there and is he ready to hit there? By far the best prospect in the organization, the 22-year-old shortstop hit .248 with four homers, four triples, seven stolen bases, 16 runs scored and a .271 on-base percentage last season.
5. The never-ending David Wright saga
What does the future hold for long-time third baseman and face of the franchise David Wright, who has not played in a major league game since May 27, 2016 because of injuries related to his back, neck and shoulder? What does signing Frazier to a two-year deal mean for Wright, who is owed $47 million through 2020, and the Mets, who get back 75% of his salary if he misses 60 games from insurance.
Despite the changes this winter, the Mets will find the familiar questions waiting for them when they convene in Port St. Lucie this week.
Send a Letter to the Editor