NEW YORK (AP)It’s been a bizarre and unstable offseason for the New York Mets – even by their standards.
They dumped two different managers, cut Yoenis Céspedes’ salary, and ownership took a swing at selling a controlling share of the franchise before the proposed deal collapsed just days ahead of spring training.
There’s plenty in place to feel good about on the field, though.
Jacob deGrom is coming off his second consecutive Cy Young Award, slugger Pete Alonso was the NL Rookie of the Year and the Mets (86-76) finished only three games out of a playoff spot last season following a 46-26 second half.
Hoping that’s a springboard to greater success, New York signed free agents Rick Porcello, Michael Wacha, Dellin Betances and Brad Brach to deepen a pitching staff that paced the National League in strikeouts a year ago.
Alonso belted a rookie-record 53 home runs, most in the majors, and buddy Jeff McNeil also made the All-Star team on the way to batting .318 with a .916 OPS.
Michael Conforto (33 homers, 92 RBIs), fellow outfielder J.D. Davis and shortstop Amed Rosario – all improving hitters in their 20s – join veteran catcher Wilson Ramos in a lineup that ranked seventh among NL teams in runs.
Under new manager Luis Rojas, the Mets again think they’re good enough to contend in the highly competitive NL East, where Atlanta has won the past two division titles, Washington is the reigning World Series champion and Philadelphia keeps loading up.
“We have a collection of major league players that are talented and built to win right now,” general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said.
New York is looking to end a three-year playoff drought. Comeback seasons for Céspedes, closer Edwin Díaz, starter Noah Syndergaard, reliever Jeurys Familia and 37-year-old second baseman Robinson Canó would certainly help.
The 38-year-old Rojas replaces Carlos Beltrán, who lasted just 2½ months as skipper and never managed a game. Beltrán was hired in early November after the Mets fired Mickey Callaway, but the former slugger was let go days after being implicated in the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. Rojas was promoted from quality control coach after only one season in a big league dugout. He has eight years of experience managing in the minors as high as Double-A and is popular among Mets who played for him on the way up.
Rojas is the son of longtime major league player and manager Felipe Alou, and brother of six-time All-Star Moises Alou. There are several newcomers on the staff, including bench coach Hensley Meulens and pitching coach Jeremy Hefner.
Alonso is backed up at first base by Dominic Smith and Matt Adams, who was invited to camp on a minor league contract. There are six established starters for five rotation spots even after Zack Wheeler jumped to the Phillies in free agency. The outfield appears pretty well covered, too – especially if Céspedes finally returns from a long injury absence.
The bullpen has been a major thorn lately, and a string of meltdowns by Díaz and Familia sank the Mets early last season. Díaz gets another chance in the closer role he lost after coming over from Seattle in a trade. Betances, a four-time All-Star with the crosstown Yankees, was limited to one outing last year by shoulder, lat and Achilles tendon injuries.
McNeil, Davis and Jed Lowrie give the Mets several options at third base to replace Todd Frazier. Looking to improve a shaky defense, New York traded for Jake Marisnick from Houston and he figures to platoon with Brandon Nimmo in center field, a problem spot in recent years.
Up in the owner’s box, talks ended over the proposed sale of an 80% controlling share of the team from the families of Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz to hedge fund manager Steve Cohen. The Mets said they intend to find another buyer, although it’s unclear if a future transaction would involve a controlling share of the franchise.
Céspedes, entering the final year of his contract, has been posting videos online of his winter baseball workouts. The slugger has played in one major league game since mid-May 2018 because of surgery on both heels and multiple fractures to his right ankle sustained in an accident on his ranch that apparently involved a wild boar.
The mishap led to his 2020 base salary being shaved to $6 million from its original $29.5 million as part of an amended contract with the Mets that avoided a grievance hearing. He would raise his pay to $11 million if he has one active day on the major league roster and to $20 million if he has 650 plate appearances.
Minor leaguer Tim Tebow, the former star college quarterback, returns to big league camp as the finishing touches get put on a $57 million renovation of the complex.
The regular season opens with an immediate test March 26 at home against the Nationals. New York plays 19 of its first 22 games versus 2019 playoff teams, including eight matchups with pennant winners Washington and Houston within the initial 11 games.
AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum contributed.
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