PORT ST. LUCIE — Alexander Pope, George Santayana and Albert Einstein weren’t among those on the field with the Mets on the day pitchers and catchers reported to spring training.
Still, the famous words of those three legendary minds of centuries past already are waging the fiercest positional battle at new manager Mickey Callaway’s first camp with the Mets.
Pope, of course, was the 18th-century poet whose infamous line “Hope springs eternal” always is invoked at this time of year in baseball. Perhaps it never has been more apt than concerning a Mets team with little choice but to cling to such optimistic pursuits with a rotation and everyday lineup overflowing with so many players returning from significant injuries.
Then, there are the other two pertinent quotes that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about over my first week here — especially while listening to Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler and a few others speak wishfully about their health day after day — and without even hearing yet from Matt Harvey or David Wright or Michael Conforto or Yoenis Cespedes or…well, you get the point.
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The first quote is widely credited to Einstein, even if some historians have debated whether he actually really said this, but he once defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”
The second, equally apt in this context, is from Santayana. The famed Spanish philosopher, poet and novelist once wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The line has been altered and updated over the ensuing decades, with it often cited now as “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Regardless, it is fully appropriate here, too.
Which all brings us back to the Mets, who essentially have returned from last year’s 70-92 disaster with the same cast of candidates for a starting rotation in which only Jacob deGrom avoided the disabled list in 2017.
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Syndergaard appears the other safest bet to regain his All-Star form after revamping his workout routine over the winter. Thor also has acknowledged last year was a humbling learning experience, at least as far as showing up to camp looking far too much like his superhero alter ego and then suffering a torn lat last April after ignoring a team request to undergo an MRI exam.
“My first bullpen was Noah the other day, so I don’t know if that was a good one to start with to be honest with you, just right back into the fire,” catcher Kevin Plawecki said Monday. “But he looked really good.
“And I caught deGrom on Saturday, he looked sharp…So far everybody is looking good from starters to relievers.”
Yet, the remainder of the rotation — namely Harvey, Matz and Wheeler — features nothing but massive question marks.
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In fact, who else had an uneasy feeling hearing or reading Wheeler talk about undergoing six months of taking injections of an osteoporosis medication in his stomach in an attempt to improve his bone strength after two years lost to Tommy John surgery and last year’s shutdown with a stress reaction in his right arm?
Also, it’s not like the in-house fallback options — Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, Rafael Montero, etc. — necessarily inspire much confidence for the fan base.
Sandy Alderson made several cost-effective additions among position players in waiting out the market to sign Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier, while Adrian Gonzalez looks like a worthwhile, low-risk hedge against unproven Dom Smith — who definitely has reported trimmer, as advertised — for first base.
The ongoing free-agent freeze has left proven and dependable starters such as Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb available, likely at below their market value in price and contract length — as well as expected cheaper options like Jason Vargas and Andrew Cashner.
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To expect the entire Harvey/Matz/Wheeler trio to be healthy at once and remain so for an entire season may be the true definition of insanity.
By all means, these players should be optimistic that they finally can remain on the field and get their once-promising careers back on track. They never should think otherwise.
Only, that’s not Alderson’s job. His, as with any general manager in any sport, is to hope for the best, but plan for the worst.
That’s why, for me, Einstein and Santayana definitely must trump Alexander Pope on this one.
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Hope always must spring eternal, indeed. But the Mets, as we all know, are far more versed in insanity and the repeating of history.
Neither should be ignored with the opportunity to avoid both at the dawn of a new season.
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