For the longest-tenured Mets, a group that includes Brandon Nimmo, Jeff McNeil, Pete Alonso and Edwin Diaz, this spring training will be simultaneously familiar and not.
On one hand, so much of what they encounter will be new — the manager (Carlos Mendoza) and the baseball operations leader (David Stearns) and a bunch of the coaches and players. The vibes necessarily will be different, especially with expectations severely lowered. Among the themes of camp — which will begin Monday, when pitchers and catchers are due to report to Port St. Lucie, Florida — will be learning the new personnel and finding a new rhythm with this new version of the organization.
On the other hand, they have done this before. A lot. The Mets have lived through a bizarre degree of upheaval and turnover in recent years. This is, for example, the sixth time in the past seven spring trainings that they’ll feature a new manager, a new front-office boss or both. Stability is chief among the Mets’ goals under the new(est) leadership.
One variable that won’t quite be brand-new for Mendoza: the Mets’ facility. As part of his de facto orientation, Mendoza, the coaching staff and some executives congregated at the sprawling Clover Park campus for a few days of meetings and tours in January.
“There’s a lot of space,” said Mendoza, whose previous employer, the Yankees, had separate and smaller major- and minor-league setups in Tampa. “You got back fields. It’s a great facility. So yeah, it was good to get down there and get familiar with it — as well as meeting some of the coaches in person.”
Ah, yes, meeting in person for the first time. Key to Mendoza’s early acclimation, he said, are the coaching-staff holdovers who have been able to share their institutional knowledge: pitching coach Jeremy Hefner, hitting coaches Eric Chavez and Jeremy Barnes, catching coach Glenn Sherlock and strategy coach Danny Barnes.
“Not only with the roster, but putting together practice plans, what certain guys are working on, some of the suggestions when they left when the season was over, things that they needed to be working on during the offseason,” Mendoza said in a phone interview with Newsday. “So it’s been huge. It’s been huge. It’s been a big help to count on people like that. Hef on the pitching side, Chavey and Barnes from the hitting side and Danny Barnes with practice planning. It's been great.”
Perhaps the most prominent storyline heading into the Mets’ new year is Alonso’s contract status. Stearns recently said “everyone is going to focus on this year,” so there might not be any substantial movement regarding a long-term deal. But his pending free agency next offseason will be an attention-grabbing topic nonetheless.
On the health front, Starling Marte’s condition and ability will be a source of intrigue after he was plagued by groin issues all of 2023 and dabbled in Dominican Winter League play during the offseason. Francisco Lindor was expected to be fully ready for spring training at the time of his October surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow. Diaz will be back on the mound in game action for the first time since suffering a knee injury last March during the World Baseball Classic.
This roster has much less star power — as owner Steve Cohen said last summer would be the case — but will include a handful of job competitions.
The Mets have what looks like two open bullpen spots at the outset, as well as some level of uncertainty at third base and DH. Brett Baty and Mark Vientos are the top candidates for those roles. Both will be looking to join Francisco Alvarez as young players who are entrenched pieces of the Mets’ present and future.
An upper-minors wave of position-player prospects will be competing, too. They’re long shots to make the Opening Day roster, but they can improve their chances of a 2024 debut with a strong showing. The group includes Jett Williams, their consensus top prospect, plus Drew Gilbert and Luisangel Acuna.
On the pitching side, Christian Scott, Mike Vasil, Dominic Hamel and Nate Lavender are new names to watch.
“I always feel like competition brings the best out of people,” Mendoza said. “We got so many young players — not only position players but arms that finished last year at the upper levels. I’m excited to see and watch them pitch and perform. We got a lot of options.
“We got an exciting group. We got talent and we got established players, but we also got a core group of young players that are knocking on the door, and I’m excited to get to know them and watch them play.”
COUNTDOWN TO OPENING DAY
March 28: Brewers at Mets, 1:10 p.m.