Fantasy Football 2014:

Mets season preview: Optimism abounds

The SportsXchange

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The New York Mets may be reloaded with talent after shedding several expiring contracts over the winter, but are they better?

That is the question the team is asking itself heading into the season. The free agent acquisition of outfielder Curtis Granderson, right-hander Bartolo Colon and others gives the Mets plenty of optimism, but injuries to right-hander Matt Harvey and other pitchers leave plenty of unanswered questions.

"We think we've added some talent to this team," manager Terry Collins said. "We think 2014 is going to be a good year for us. We've got some guys. Now it's time for them to step up and show everybody that they are true major league players and can compete at this level."

To improve and become legitimate playoff contenders, the Mets are relying on Granderson and outfielder Chris Young to supplement third baseman David Wright in the middle of the lineup. The keys, however, will be first baseman Ike Davis, shortstop Ruben Tejada and catcher Travis d'Arnaud, all of whom gave the Mets next to nothing last year. Improvements from those three would go a long way toward transforming the Mets from pretenders to contenders.

"All of the sudden, our middle of the lineup is a completely different scenario than it was a year ago," Collins said. "I think right there makes us better."

As the Mets evaluate those three, they will continue to hope their rotation carries them. Though Harvey will miss the entire season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and left-hander Jon Niese will skip his first turn through the rotation due to left elbow soreness, the Mets still like the depth they have with their pitching staff.

Right-handers Dillon Gee, Colon and Zack Wheeler represent a formidable trio, with righty Noah Syndergaard, a top prospect, waiting in the wings. The hope is that the starting pitching strength will be enough to fulfill general manager Sandy Alderson's spring training prophecy of 90 victories.

"I think we've made a lot of progress," Alderson said. "Every team would like to do one or two other things, but we're very happy with where we are right now."

NOTES, QUOTES

--LHP Jon Niese underwent two MRI exams this spring, one on his left shoulder and one on his left elbow. Both revealed nothing more than inflammation, but the issues cost Niese enough time that he will open the season on the disabled list. Niese, who otherwise would have been the Mets' Opening Day starter, plans to return as soon as he is eligible and start April 6 against the Reds.

--2B Daniel Murphy missed a week's worth of games late in camp with a sore right calf, but he returned in late March and is ready for Opening Day. Murphy is coming off a season in which he set career highs in plate appearances, home runs and stolen bases, but the Mets want him to improve his on-base percentage, which decreased each of the past three seasons.

--INF Wilmer Flores did not make the team, but he opened eyes in spring training for his work at shortstop. A natural middle infielder, Flores converted to third base several years ago due to his size, then went back to second base more recently. This winter, he attended a fitness camp in Michigan to work on his range and flexibility, and he lost approximately seven pounds. The Mets consider him an option at shortstop should Ruben Tejada falter.

--RHP Matt Harvey will rehab from Tommy John surgery in New York instead of Port St. Lucie, Fla. The Mets wanted Harvey to rehab in Florida, where nearly all of their players with long-term injuries spend their summers. However, Harvey wanted to stay home in New York, and he had the collective-bargaining agreement on his side. It stipulates that the Mets cannot force him to work in Florida for more than 20 days without his written consent.

--RHP Jenrry Mejia is officially a starter. After coming through the Mets' system as a starting pitcher, converting to relief, suffering through years' worth of injuries and organizational indecision and finally returning to the majors last year as a starter, Mejia finally convinced the Mets to keep him in the rotation. That could mean spending a chunk of this year at Triple-A Las Vegas, but no matter what, the Mets will not use Mejia early in the year out of the bullpen.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We know what we want to achieve, now we have to look at the dots and how to connect them to get there. Look, we have made nice additions to this team and feel we can win, so we are going to be asking some guys to reach these expectations." -- Manager Terry Collins, on the front office's expectation of 90 wins.

ROSTER REPORT

ROTATION:

1. LHP Jon Niese

2. RHP Dillon Gee

3. RHP Bartolo Colon

4. RHP Zack Wheeler

5. RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka

Niese will not start Opening Day due to left elbow soreness, but he was rehabbing in Florida and expects to start the team's sixth game of the season, April 6. The biggest concern with Niese is health after he missed nearly two months with a partially torn left rotator cuff last summer, then endured brief periods this spring with left shoulder inflammation and elbow soreness.

With Niese sidelined, the Mets will turn to Gee as their Opening Day starter. Rarely flashy, Gee was nonetheless the Mets' most consistent pitcher for most of last season, and he has one fewer win than Niese since Opening Day 2011. From last May 30 through the end of the season, Gee was 10-5 with a 2.71 ERA, and he is coming off a strong spring training.

Matsuzaka or RHP Jenrry Mejia could still win the fifth starter's job. In either case, the winner may hold that job only until top prospect RHP Noah Syndergaard is ready to make his big-league debut sometime in midseason.

BULLPEN:

RHP Bobby Parnell (closer)

RHP Jose Valverde

RHP Jeurys Familia

LHP Scott Rice

RHP Carlos Torres

RHP Vic Black

LHP John Lannan

Parnell did not show his usual velocity this spring as he worked his way back from last September's neck surgery. However, he is fully healthy, and the Mets believe he can be an elite closer after he saved 22 games in 26 chances last season and posted a 2.16 ERA.

Valverde gives the Mets the veteran presence they craved in their bullpen, and he can step into the closer's role if Parnell falters. The Mets also consider Black a closer-in-waiting, though they may shy away from using him in high-leverage situations early in the year due to his disappointing spring. Familia, who enjoyed a strong Grapefruit League campaign, could receive those chances instead.

With Rice in place as a situational lefty, Lannan could see more of his action as a long reliever. The Mets would like to keep Lannan stretched out as a starter in case they need to bump him to the rotation early in the year.

LINEUP:

1. OF Eric Young Jr.

2. 2B Daniel Murphy

3. 3B David Wright

4. OF Curtis Granderson

5. OF Chris Young

6. 1B Ike Davis

7. C Travis d'Arnaud

8. SS Ruben Tejada

Don't expect Eric Young to play every day in the outfield. Even if he starts in left on Opening Day, Juan Lagares often will play center field, shifting Granderson from right to left, Chris Young from center to right and Eric Young from left to the bench. Though Eric Young gives the Mets a much-needed speed element, Lagares is one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball. When Lagares plays, Chris Young is the leading candidate to lead off.

The Mets expect big things out of Chris Young and Granderson after sinking $67.25 million in those two over the winter. Though Granderson is unlikely to replicate his 40-plus homer seasons of 2011-12 with the Yankees, the Mets do think he can infuse them with pop. Wright's power production fell off over the past five years, and Davis is inconsistent, making Granderson the most reliable source of home runs.

RESERVES:

C Anthony Recker

1B Josh Satin

OF Lucas Duda

OF Juan Lagares

INF Omar Quintanilla

Satin and Lagares will both see significant time in the starting lineup despite their designation as bench players. Just as the Mets value Lagares for his defensive prowess, they believe Satin can be a legitimate source of power versus left-handed pitchers. He will platoon -- or something close to it -- with Davis at first base.

If Davis struggles, Duda will step in as the left-handed-hitting component of that setup. He will also be the Mets' primary designated hitter in American League parks.

Recker and Quintanilla are backups in a truer sense, and they only would play regularly if d'Arnaud or Tejada get hurt.

ROOKIE TO WATCH: C Travis d'Arnaud is still technically a rookie, and the Mets are expecting big things out of him. D'Arnaud drew rave reviews for his pitch-framing abilities behind the plate last season, but now the Mets need him to step up the offensive portion of his game. He hit just .202 in 112 plate appearances last year.

TOP PROSPECT: RHP Noah Syndergaard is the organization's latest top pitching prospect, and he should follow in the footsteps of RHPs Matt Harvey and zack Wheeler. That means a midseason call-up to the big leagues, assuming he handles his first taste of Triple-A Las Vegas without any real issues.

COMEBACK PLAYER: 1B Ike Davis spent most of last season mired in a massive slump, prompting the Mets to demote him to Triple-A Las Vegas midway through the summer. Just when he felt he was hitting his stride, Davis strained his oblique and missed the final month of his season. Now he is back with something to prove, after the Mets spent most of the winter unsuccessfully trying to trade him.

MEDICAL WATCH:

--RHP Matt Harvey (Tommy John surgery in October 2013) was throwing off flat ground in Port St. Lucie, Fla., during spring training, and he will rehab in New York during the season. He hopes to return to the majors by September, but he is more likely to remain sidelined until Opening Day 2015.

--RHP Jeremy Hefner (Tommy John surgery in August 2013) was throwing off flat ground in Port St. Lucie, Fla., during spring training. He hopes to return to the majors by late August or early September.

--LHP Jon Niese (left elbow discomfort) will open the season on the disabled list, but he will return in time to start April 6 against the Reds.

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