PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - In their assessments of the Mets this past week, the general manager, the field manager and the team captain took turns coating their words with heavy doses of optimism.
Sandy Alderson touted the $87 million in contracts that he handed out during the offseason. Terry Collins shared his hopes for a revamped middle of the lineup anchored by free-agent slugger Curtis Granderson. David Wright raved about how many players showed up for voluntary workouts before the official start of spring training.
"I expect us to be a better team,'' Wright said.
Yet a look around the roster provides ample reason to temper some of those expectations.
The Mets did import some talent this offseason, but they also left several glaring holes unfilled. So as spring training gets underway in Florida, their fate seems to hinge less on how the new players perform and more on whether the underachievers can turn things around.
Said Wright: "Some of these holes are going to have to be filled by guys that are here, whether it's the minor leagues or guys that are going to be kind of put into a situation where they're given a second chance."
In nearly every spot around the diamond last season, the Mets endured an epidemic lack of offense. In four of the eight positions on the field, they ranked in the lower third of the National League when measured by on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS).
Yet at some of their most vulnerable spots, the Mets failed to make any meaningful additions.
The most glaring example is at shortstop, where the Mets' .561 OPS ranked dead last in the NL. But they determined that an upgrade, either in the trade market or free agency, would be too costly. So that left the underachieving Ruben Tejada as the starting shortstop by default, with no real options in camp to push him.
The Mets face a similar bind at first base, where they ranked 11th in OPS (.721) last year.
Ike Davis and Lucas Duda endured seasons filled with injury and frustration. Both spent the offseason on the trading block. Neither found a new home. Now the Mets must hope that one of them becomes a threat in the middle of the lineup.
In centerfield, where the Mets ranked last in the NL with a .615 OPS, they might be slightly better. Even so, each of their options carries significant risk.
Eric Young Jr., Juan Lagares and free agent Chris Young have demonstrated the ability to handle defensive duties in center, but all three come with questions about what they can produce at the plate.
At catcher, where the Mets' .654 OPS ranked 13th, former top prospect Travis d'Arnaud appears ready to play his first full big-league season. But his track record is blighted by injuries.
Perhaps the Mets simply had too many items on their offseason to-do list.
Said Wright: "It probably was somewhat unrealistic to think that all those holes were going to be filled in one offseason by free agents.''
But the Mets have reason to hope for a turnaround.
Granderson's resume includes multiple 40-homer seasons. Chris Young has been an All-Star-caliber player despite his recent struggles. Free-agent righthander Bartolo Colon won’t be mistaken for Matt Harvey, who will spend much of the season recovering from elbow surgery. But Collins praised the 40-year-old former Cy Young winner as one of the best options on the market.
The additions should only help the Mets improve upon some of the core pieces they already have collected.
At third base and second base, the Mets ranked first and fifth in OPS -- a testament to Wright’s brilliance when healthy at the hot corner and ironman Daniel Murphy’s abilities at the keystone position.
The organization’s pitching depth also stands out. Promising righty Zack Wheeler will begin his first full year, with top prospect Noah Syndergaard expected to join him sometime in midseason. The Mets also have enough young arms to fill openings in the back end of the rotation and in the bullpen.
“Our goal is to try to make the team as good as it can be for this season,’’ Alderson said this past week. “I think we’ve gotten pretty close to achieving what we hoped to.’’
Now the Mets will begin to see if those efforts were enough.
One projection published by Baseball Prospectus pegged the Mets to finish 73-89 -- one game worse than their uninspiring 74-88 finish in 2013. It only underscored what appears to be the Mets’ sobering reality. For the franchise to take their big leap forward in 2014, the Mets will need every break to bounce their way.
And that means salvation rests largely on whether the Mets will be rewarded for handing out so many second chances.
“You can’t sit there and rebuild an entire culture -- or you can’t build an entire team -- in just one offseason,’’ Wright said. “It’s going to be up to some of the guys that have been here to do their part as well.’’