Four Mets who can make Sandy Alderson's 90-win wish come true

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Zach Wheeler throws a bullpen session during spring

Zach Wheeler throws a bullpen session during spring training on Feb. 18, 2014. Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

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Anthony Rieber Newsday columnist Anthony Rieber

Anthony Rieber has been at Newsday since Aug. 31, 1998 and in his current position since 2004.

Dillon Gee will throw the first pitch. David Wright, soon to be the only baseball Captain in town, likely will get the biggest ovation.

Rehabbing Matt Harvey will try not to make headlines while he spends quality time with his teammates in the city that never sleeps (and is not sleepy Port St. Lucie).

It's Opening Day 2014, and it's a magical day, fully deserving of the "capital O/capital D" treatment.

The Mets should know. They are 34-18 in season lid-lifters; their .654 winning percentage on Day 1 is the best ever.

It's the rest of the season that usually gives Mets fans fits.

Last year's opener fit the pattern. The Mets crushed the Padres, 11-2. Collin Cowgill hit a grand slam. Good times.

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It didn't last for long. The Mets finished 74-88.

So, win or lose Monday against Washington at Citi Field, what's going to make the Mets a (ahem) 90-win team, as general manager Sandy Alderson is referencing with a straight face?

It won't be Gee or Wright, who should continue to be solid performers and good citizens. It certainly won't be Harvey, whose quixotic quest to return in August will be a season-long story line, like it or not.

It says here that four Mets are the keys to the season and should be handed keys to the city if they can get this team into the playoffs.

They are Ruben Tejada, Travis d'Arnaud, Chris Young and Zack Wheeler.

If those four perform at the top of their abilities, the Mets have a puncher's chance, because in 2014, you can't count out rapid improvement from any team. It happens almost every year now. Or have you already forgotten the 69-win-to-World Series champion Red Sox?

Tejada started spring training without the ability to field a ground ball hit right at him. He stabilized later.

The Mets either a) stubbornly refused to admit that Tejada will never be the player they hoped or b) courageously did not give up on a talented 24-year-old.

This season will answer that. Shortstop is kind of an important position, and the Mets have no one else who can be expected to man it regularly. Unless you'd like to see another Summer of Omar Quintanilla, Tejada has to find his mojo.

D'Arnaud also is working without a safety net; one of the strangest non-moves by the Mets this offseason was not finding a veteran to play behind and mentor the youngster.

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It's not a question of whether d'Arnaud has the tools, it's whether he is ready on both sides of the ball and can stay healthy. If the answers are no, the Mets have no backup plan, and catcher is kind of an important position, too.

Young is a key for what he represents: The ability of the mid-market-payroll Mets front office to find value where others see only decline. Young's WAR (wins above replacement) the last four seasons: 5.4, 5.0, 2.0, minus-0.2.

So for $7.25 million, the Mets either got a great bargain or a grand bust. And remember, the Mets swooped in before Thanksgiving and signed Young before the market for outfielders had truly developed. Did they see something virtually no one else did?

Finally, there's Wheeler, the only practicing major-league partner in the firm of Harvey, Wheeler & Syndergaard.

Dream on that trio for years to come, but for now, only Wheeler is healthy and in the bigs. Among the Mets' projected starting pitchers, only Wheeler has the ability to enjoy instant greatness. If he finds it in 2014, and a lot else goes right, it could be a banner year in Flushing.

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You'd be crazy to bet on it, though. Just like any long shot. But if you're ever going to fantasize, Monday's the (Opening) Day. Capital O, capital D.

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