BY LUIS GRONDA
After finishing last season with a 74-88 record and missing the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season, the New York Mets are looking to take a step forward this year and give their fans some excitement later on in the season.
The team made some changes during the winter and spent some money to improve the ball club, something that was not seen in the past few years due to financial troubles.
Their first order of business was to improve the outfield, which many considered among the worst in the league. They signed former Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson to a four-year, $60 million contract, the most they spent on a new player this winter.
Although Granderson was hurt for much of his last season with the Yankees, only playing 61 games in 2013 due to being hit in the hand twice by a pitch, the 33-year-old brings much needed speed, power and credibility to the outfield trio.
They also signed Chris Young to a one-year deal worth $7.25 million. He batted .200 with 12 home runs and 10 stolen bases in 335 at-bats last season with the Oakland Athletics. Although he could have one of the other outfield spots as the year starts, he is also competing with Juan Lagares, Eric Young Jr. and Lucas Duda to roam the outfield. Young missed opening day against the Washington Nationals with a right quad injury.
One of the biggest storylines this season will be how much the Mets will miss their best pitcher, Matt Harvey. Their stud hurler needed Tommy John surgery in the offseason and is expected to miss the entire 2014 season. Harvey has been discussing a possible return back from the injury in September, but pitchers who undergo that surgery generally need an entire season to recover and rehab their arm.
To supplement the starting rotation, the Mets signed 40-year-old pitcher Bartolo Colon to a two-year, $20 million deal. Colon had a surprisingly dominant season last year in Oakland, finishing with an 18-6 record, 2.65 earned run average and 1.17 walks and hits per inning.
Although it remains to be seen whether or not Colon can repeat last year’s numbers, he will look to help replace Harvey’s production and further boost a rotation that also has some problems going into the season. Jonathon Niese, who was slated to start opening day for the Mets, will start the year on the disabled list with inflammation in his elbow.
While the majority of the rotation for the team is set as they open their season against the Nationals, there are still other questions at key positions.
Before spring training began, there was uncertainty about who would play shortstop and first base. Both Ruben Tejada and Ike Davis, the starters at those positions for the majority of the season, struggled last year and were demoted to Triple-A.
There was an open competition for both positions as the spring got started, but the incumbents seemingly have retained their positions for now. Mets manager Terry Collins suggested that there would be a rotation at first base, with Duda and Josh Satin sharing duties with Davis.
As for shortstop, Tejada has the job, but it remains to be seen how long his leash is. Omar Quintanilla and Wilmer Flores were his main competition, although Flores has been sent to Triple-A to start the year and Quintanilla is considered a back-up utility player. Many have called for the Mets to sign free agent shortstop Stephen Drew, though the former Red Sox infielder remains unsigned to start the season.
In a back and forth game between the Mets and the Nationals, the Mets lost opening day 9-7 in 10 innings.
The Mets got off to a promising start, taking a 4-2 lead after two innings, including a three-run home run by Andrew Brown, who was playing left field and hitting fifth instead of the injured Young.
The Nationals tied it up in the 7th when Dillon Gee and the Mets bullpen were unable to hold on to their two-run lead.
After an Anthony Rendon RBI double made it 4-3 Mets, Collins pulled Gee from the game and brought in Carlos Torres to face Nate McLouth. Torres walked McLouth to load the bases and then Collins brought in lefty reliever Scott Rice to face Denard Span. Another walk by Rice forced in the tying run.
With the game tied at five in the 10th inning, the Mets bullpen further imploded. First, an Ian Desmond sacrifice fly put the Nats ahead 6 to 5, then Rendon was clutch for Washington again, hitting a three-run homer to make it 9 to 5. The Mets scored two runs in the bottom of the inning, but their comeback bid proved unsuccessful.
Following the game, the Mets announced that closer Bobby Parnell has a partially torn ligament in his elbow and would be going on the disabled list. The team announced that Parnell is out indefinitely and may need surgery. Jose Valverde will serve as the team’s closer while Parnell is out.
The preseason over/under for the Mets is 74.5 wins. While that is about the same number of wins they had last year, General Manager Sandy Alderson has been quoted in saying he thinks the team can win 90 games this year.
Although it is hard to see the team reaching Alderson’s goal, they should be able to exceed last year’s record, providing everybody stays healthy. The future looks bright for the Mets, especially with Harvey’s expected return next season.
Reach Luis Gronda at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127, email@example.com, or @luisgronda.