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80° Good Afternoon

Mets' bright future getting closer

Matt Harvey delivers a pitch to a Phillies

Matt Harvey delivers a pitch to a Phillies batter during a game at Citi Field. (Sept. 19, 2012) Credit: David Pokress

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The present and the future met briefly here this past week.

It happened on a bullpen mound at the Mets' minor- league complex, where two of the players tasked with revitalizing this organization loosened their arms, throwing pitches at the same time and at the same place.

It lasted but a few tantalizing minutes. But by simply winding up here, Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler offered a glimpse of an idea that Mets general manager Sandy Alderson firmly believes to be true.

"I don't want anybody to believe that this is a long-term project that has no possible realization anytime soon," Alderson said this past week, insisting that contention is within arm's reach. "We're at the point where we can make significant improvement in a hurry.''

It's a statement that appears embellished with the optimism of a new spring training. Nevertheless, as the Mets begin camp caught somewhere between the present and the future, Alderson insists that it might take only a few more well-timed moves to "change the perception of things."

There's plenty of evidence to contradict such a belief.

The Mets won only 74 games last year, their fourth straight losing season, and that was with the services of a Cy Young Award winner. Of course, R.A. Dickey is gone now, traded away for prospects.

Even the strengths of their roster -- the infield and the starting rotation -- are mitigated by weaknesses. The outfield remains a mess and the bullpen might not be far behind.

Meanwhile, the National League East reigns as the most fearsome division in baseball, with the Nationals, Braves and Phillies all vying for supremacy.

"In a way, it provides a model for us," Alderson said. "It sets the standard and it also reinforces the direction we've taken because we don't want to just get lucky. We want to be able to compete with teams of that caliber on a consistent basis. And in order for us to do that, we've got to be methodical about how we get there."

That methodical approach has been a hallmark of Alderson's tenure. But with a recent willingness to stray from it, Alderson has reinforced his belief that contention might not be so far off.

The Mets generally have shied from major free-agent moves, but they continue to entertain the idea of signing free-agent outfielder Michael Bourn despite significant hurdles that make his acquisition a long shot. If Bourn agrees to take a discount contract, the Mets could wind up with an elite defensive centerfielder, one who once was thought to be out of their price range.

Alderson also pointed to trade discussions this offseason regarding another outfielder, Justin Upton. Before the Diamondbacks traded him to the Braves, the Mets were involved in discussions that fizzled because they wouldn't part with Harvey or Wheeler.

Still, to Alderson, just having the pieces needed to trade for a star player represented progress.

"The fact that those things may not come to fruition doesn't mean that they're not possible or close to being achievable," Alderson said. "But if those things happen, I don't think it's a leap of faith to think we could be very good. So it's not that far off. This is not one of those things where, OK, gee, another two, three, four years, whatever. We've got the currency, which is the young talent, to be in play for some of these things."

The Mets took a major step by locking up David Wright to an extension that should cover the remainder of his career. But it wouldn't have happened had Alderson not been able to sell the third baseman on the idea of a bright future.

Said Alderson: "We're not that far away."

Of course, there is no way of knowing exactly how far the Mets still have to go. But as pitchers and catchers report to camp Monday, there's no denying the intrigue of learning what might come next.

"It's exciting. It pushes you a little bit," said Wheeler, who some believe could lead the starting rotation someday. "But if you don't perform, you're just another guy who never did anything."

Indeed, much remains to be determined as the Mets navigate the blurry area separating the present from the future. To end their streak of losing seasons at four, plenty of questions must be answered. That long process begins this week.

But Alderson believes there is reason for optimism. Perhaps he's not alone.

"Obviously, there's huge upside to what's possible in the next couple of years," Harvey said. "But we don't look at it that way, I don't look at it that way. I look at it as what's going on now and how we can win now."

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