Big Benefit for the Opportunistic Mets: Their Division Looks Weak

Big Benefit for the Opportunistic Mets: Their Division Looks Weak

The wisdom of those moves is debatable, of course. The Mets are paying the minimum salary for Gonzalez, a first baseman, instead of bidding for Eric Hosmer, the Keith Hernandez clone who slid his way into Flushing infamy by helping the Kansas City Royals win the 2015 World Series. Hosmer signed for eight years and $144 million with the San Diego Padres, who are ready to jump-start their rebuild.

Luckily for the Mets, the Padres play in the National League West. So do the San Francisco Giants, who have added Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen since slumping to 98 losses last year. The other three N.L. West teams — the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies — look strong again after reaching the playoffs.

The Mets are also lucky not to play in the N.L. Central. The Cubs are a powerhouse, and the two winning teams below them — the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals — both made several strong additions.

And then we have the N.L. East, where the Mets reside. Their address gives them hope. Consider the analysis of Bryce Harper, the Washington Nationals’ star right fielder, when asked about the division on Monday. Harper said the usual clichés — one game at a time, kids — and then summarized his division rivals like this:

“The Mets are tough. The Braves are good. Philly, Miami, whatever.”

The Braves are not good until proven otherwise; they went 72-90 last season and have made no obvious improvements. Philly, Miami, whatever? That about sums it up.

The Phillies did add to their bullpen, and gave a three-year, $60 million contract to Carlos Santana, the former Indians first baseman. They also got a clubhouse visit this week from Jason Kelce, whose powers of inspiration will never be questioned after his rousing speech at the Eagles’ Super Bowl parade.

But without a late play for Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn, the Phillies have a flimsy rotation, and the Marlins’ could be even worse. They are not the only Florida team tearing down its roster — the Tampa Bay Rays have been busy doing that, too — but they are the only one with Derek Jeter driving the bulldozer.

“It takes time to get the right people in place,” Jeter, the Marlins’ new chief executive, said in an interview last week. “It takes time to get the right players in place. It takes time to change the culture.”

“Having said that, you don’t just assume you’re going to lose. That’s the thing that’s mind-boggling to me, how people just say, ‘You’re going to lose.’ When you go out there and compete, you have an opportunity to win on a daily basis. So you never put that in the mind-set of the players.”

Maybe not, but the players know what is happening around them. With so many teams not quite ready to win, the Mets stand out. They are not as strong as the Nationals, but they could challenge for a playoff spot by preying on their hibernating neighbors.

“We’ve got a bunch of veteran guys that understand we’ve got to play 100 percent every game, no matter who it is — but the opportunity is there,” Frazier, the new third baseman, said. “There’s also an opportunity for 80 other guys that need jobs, and it’s very frustrating to see. You want to play against the best.”

For the Mets to be among the best, they need to be healthy, especially their pitchers. Part of Callaway’s strategy involves pitch selection. Last season, his Indians ranked 29th in the majors in fastball percentage, and stayed relatively healthy. The Mets ranked ninth in fastball percentage and were ravaged by injuries.

This year, under Callaway and the new pitching coach Dave Eiland, the Mets will throw more breaking balls.

“Guys don’t hit breaking balls as well as they hit fastballs, so why wouldn’t you throw them more?” Callaway said. “And there’s also a lot of evidence and studies now that breaking balls aren’t bad for your arms. It’s kind of the opposite now — everybody’s throwing so hard that the fastball’s probably more stressful on your arm. That’s a good selling point for those guys.”

Watching Noah Syndergaard unleash torrents of fastballs on a back field Wednesday, you almost wanted to cringe. Callaway knows how it looks, he said, but he also has a plan. If the young Mets listen to him, and the elders all around them, they just might have a chance.

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