Harvey, Mets look to contend in wake of Tommy John epidemic
Mar. 27, 2015
NEW YORK (AP) — The big names for the New York Mets this season: Matt Harvey, David Wright, Tommy John.
Finally confident they're a playoff contender, the Mets absorbed a familiar setback in spring training — two of them, really. Zack Wheeler and Josh Edgin became the latest New York pitchers to have reconstructive elbow surgery, sidelining both until next year.
Wheeler's injury prevents the Mets from lining up three electric young arms at the top of their rotation. And the loss of Edgin, who had a 1.32 ERA last season, leaves the bullpen without a dependable lefty.
But the return of Harvey, an imposing ace back from his own Tommy John operation in 2013, has the team talking about October aspirations.
"We've been sitting around for four years asking everybody to be patient," manager Terry Collins said when camp opened. "Well, it's time."
Former batting champ Michael Cuddyer was signed to add offense, and his Virginia hometown buddy Wright looks healthy again at the plate. So while hardly anyone expects the Mets to unseat Washington atop the NL East, anything short of a wild-card push would be a disappointment.
That's a new outlook for a big-market club that has spent several years trimming payroll while rebuilding under general manager Sandy Alderson. New York improved by five wins last year and finished 79-83, its sixth consecutive losing season since moving into Citi Field.
"Is the team capable of winning 89-90 games? Yeah, I think the team is capable," Alderson said last month. "It has that capacity. I think it has that potential."
Harvey highlights a solid group of starters that includes 2014 NL Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom, who made a successful comeback in the minors from Tommy John surgery — the ligament-replacement procedure named for its pioneer pitching patient in 1974.
Dillon Gee, who was headed for the bullpen, instead slides back into the rotation as Wheeler's substitute. He rejoins Jonathon Niese and 41-year-old Bartolo Colon, a 15-game winner last season.
With young right-hander Rafael Montero also in the mix, plus top prospects Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz (a former Tommy John patient) getting close, the Mets might indeed have enough pitching depth to offset the injuries.
Especially if Tommy John veterans Jenrry Mejia and Bobby Parnell can lock down games in the late innings.
Mejia had his operation in 2011, shifted to a relief role last season and posted 28 saves. Parnell, the team's previous closer, had surgery last April and could be back this May.
New York is hardly the only team hurt by the recent rash of torn elbow ligaments all over baseball. Look no further than division rivals Washington, Miami and Atlanta.
But for a club that's been rebuilding around a young stable of power arms, rebuilding all those elbows has taken its toll on progress.
"Every guy that throws hard eventually is going to have it," Wheeler said.
The regular season begins April 6 in Washington. Here are some other story lines to watch for with the Mets this season:
POWER COMPANY: New York finished 12th in the National League in slugging percentage (.364) last year and 13th in batting average (.238). More is needed from Curtis Granderson, who hit .227 with 20 homers and 66 RBIs in his first season with the Mets after signing a $60 million, four-year contract. Kevin Long, a Granderson favorite during his Yankees days, was hired as hitting coach — and the Mets moved in the Citi Field fences for the second time to help Granderson, Wright and Lucas Duda in right-center. Wright, a seven-time All-Star, is eager to rebound after a left shoulder injury contributed to his 2014 bust. Duda will try to repeat his breakout season of 30 homers and 92 RBIs.
UP THE MIDDLE: Outside of Gold Glove center fielder Juan Lagares, the defense appears shaky. Wilmer Flores, a young hitter with a suspect glove, starts at shortstop — a gaping hole since Jose Reyes left following the 2011 season. All-Star second baseman Daniel Murphy is also limited defensively, so double-play chances could get dicey. Passed balls and wild throws are a concern for catcher Travis d'Arnaud.
UNDER PRESSURE: Increased expectations mean added scrutiny for Collins entering the final guaranteed season of his contract. Word is Alderson was even considering a change last year before deciding to bring Collins back. In truth, this is probably his first chance in five years to manage a Mets team talented enough to contend — but it might be his only one.