After so much turmoil, more than a dozen injuries and every variety of bad bounce, the Mets would seem to be owed a break this season.
And no - not a fractured tibia or cracked rib. Not that kind of break. Just maybe an extended stretch of good luck in which things actually go according to plan.
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"I'm due for one,'' manager Jerry Manuel said recently, and he was only half-joking.
But there's only so much Manuel and the front office can control, which is why these next six weeks of spring training, along with the first two months of the regular season, will be crucial in determining the path of the organization.
Back in October, COO Jeff Wilpon talked about rebuilding the Mets during the offseason through trades, free-agent signings and a retooled farm system. But after they secured Jason Bay with a four-year, $66-million contract in December, that bold plan evaporated, and the shocking loss of Carlos Beltran to knee surgery in January was an untimely blow that threatens to scuttle any hope of a quick start.
By closing the checkbook, Wilpon's intention could be to test Manuel and Omar Minaya, to see if they can do more with less before he decides to invest any more cash in what has been a failing enterprise since 2007. With Manuel a lame-duck manager and Minaya starting the first season of a three-year deal, both are extremely vulnerable.
But where a restless fan base sees despair, Manuel sees opportunity, a chance to further emphasize the attributes the Mets will need to win at spacious Citi Field. Just as he did with the endless video loop of opposite-field hitting at this time last year, Manuel plans to push pitching, defense and baserunning during the coming weeks.
With Jose Reyes back healthy and Angel Pagan likely taking over for the injured Beltran in centerfield, Manuel envisions an aggressive, gap-hitting team that brings an energy to the second-year ballpark. With all the negativity surrounding the Mets during the last two months, they have to find a way to put it behind them - the sooner, the better.
"I believe very strongly that the fans could rally around this type of team because we're a little different,'' Manuel said. "We ran well [last season] as far as stolen bases, but we just didn't run them as fundamentally sound as we would have liked to.
"I think when you have speed and the ability to hit triples - maybe inside-the-park home runs - I think that could be a fun summer for the team. I think everybody at this time is optimistic. But I think we are also realistic that we can - if we do what we project we can do - I think we can have a great year.''
Staying positive is the only way for Manuel to play it, and it's probably better that he's been home in Sacramento for most of the offseason, away from the gloomy media drumbeat that has pummeled the Mets in New York all winter long. Port St. Lucie offers some shelter, but the clock still is ticking.
"I just need to take the level of enthusiasm up rather than go the other way,'' Manuel said. "Really pushing this team, but in a very positive manner. I think every year - regardless of what my status is - you go in with the anticipation of doing real well. That's stuff you put on yourself. It's not what somebody else is thinking about you being in your last year or whatever. That's really irrelevant. Every year, really for a manager, could be his last year.''
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