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Mets have eyes set on winning 90 games in 2014

Terry Collins speaks during a press conference announcing

Terry Collins speaks during a press conference announcing a two-year contract extension as general manager Sandy Alderson looks on at Citi Field. (Sept. 30, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Earlier in spring training, in a closed-door meeting of staff at the Mets' spring training complex, general manager Sandy Alderson raised eyebrows when he predicted that the Mets could win 90 games this season.

At first, the comment elicited a muted reaction, which the Mets mirrored in public. After all, the goal was said in a private setting, apparently not intended for public consumption.

But the Mets seemingly have embraced the goal, even though few outside of the organization believe it is attainable.

"To say the 90-win thing, I think it sets a tone for us," Mets captain David Wright said. "It's a good starting point for us. It makes guys realize, 'Hey, we're not going out there and just be better than last year.' We're trying to be much better than last year."

The Mets haven't won 90 games in a season since 2006, when they went 97-65 before falling in the National League Championship Series. Those days seem even further away, given that the franchise hasn't enjoyed a winning season since 2008.

During Alderson's tenure, the Mets have never won more than 77 games. And after finishing 74-88 a year ago, the Mets emerged from spring training with many of the same question marks.

After spending the winter exploring trades for Ike Davis and Lucas Duda, the Mets brought both of them back to camp to compete for the starting job at first base. But injuries sidelined both for nearly three weeks, which only complicated matters.

The struggles of shortstop Ruben Tejada emerged as a critical issue last season, but the Mets failed to come away with an upgrade. So they turned to Tejada, who saw an uptick in performance only late in spring training.

While the Mets spent money to upgrade the outfield by signing Curtis Granderson ($60 million) and Chris Young ($7.25 million), they filled the bullpen with inexpensive reclamation projects such as Jose Valverde and John Lannan.

All of this came against the backdrop of losing Matt Harvey. After emerging last season as perhaps the franchise's next great arm, Harvey underwent Tommy John surgery that most likely will sideline him for the entire season.

The Mets responded with a stopgap, signing 40-year-old free agent Bartolo Colon to a two-year, $20-million deal. The former Cy Young Award winner has rejuvenated his career, but he still is not Harvey.

Through all of those uncertainties, though, Alderson sees a team capable of winning 90 games.

Team insiders point to the Mets' relative pitching depth, which they hope can make up for the holes in the starting lineup. Zack Wheeler will begin his first full season in the majors with top prospect Noah Syndergaard waiting in the wings.

"Our expectation is to win," Opening Day starter Dillon Gee said. "We're going into this season with a different mindset."

While the 90-win goal has become a punch line outside of the Mets' clubhouse, it has been no laughing matter to those on the inside.

"I'd be a little [upset] if people in here were saying we can't win 90 games," Gee said. "Well, why can't we?"

But setting a higher bar also means more pressure -- for the players, for Collins and for Alderson himself. In his fourth year as the general manager, the Mets have never been more fashioned in his own image.

"I love the idea that these are Sandy's guys in here," Wright said. "Sandy's had enough time to get the guys he wants in here and he has faith in those guys."

Now the Mets will learn if Alderson's faith actually translates into 90 wins.

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