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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Mets and Yankees both in transition

This Newsday composite shows Yankees third baseman Alex

This Newsday composite shows Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, left, and Mets pitcher Matt Harvey Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr., Damon Higgins

Feels good to be done with the Farewell Tours, doesn't it?

This year, New York baseball is all about who's coming back rather than the long goodbyes of the previous two seasons in the Bronx, where Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter commanded the spotlight for six months.

Now we have Alex Rodriguez returning to the Yankees after a year's suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs and Matt Harvey rejoining the Mets after his 17-month rehab for Tommy John surgery.

It's a welcome change, if you ask us. And we're not the only ones who think that way. On the Yankees' first day of full-squad workouts at Steinbrenner Field, Brian Cashman was asked if it was weird not seeing Jeter on the field. After two decades of No. 2, that must have been a little strange, right?

"No," Cashman said. "He retired. It never crossed my mind."

And that was that.

The Yankees' general manager has no time for nostalgia, even for the newly retired captain. His $209-million team has missed the playoffs the past two seasons, and Cashman can't imagine a third straight dark October in the Bronx. Neither can Hal Steinbrenner, the guy paying the second-highest tab in the majors for what could end up being a third-place team in the American League East.

With Jeter gone, it's ironic that the biggest gate attraction left is the infamous A-Rod, who remains a polarizing figure regardless of how he's performing at the plate. And so far, Rodriguez is doing OK.

Count us among the skeptics who doubted A-Rod could be a factor again at age 39, on two bad hips, after missing an entire season -- and presumably without the help of PEDs. But he's stayed healthy, and by Grapefruit League standards, he's been fairly productive.

We don't have any clue how long that will continue once the regular season begins. No one does, really, except for maybe Rodriguez himself. The worst thing we can say about A-Rod at this stage is that he's been relatively boring. No more sparring with the front office. The self-deprecating tone of his postgame interviews. This isn't the A-Rod we remember, and that's not an entirely positive development.

The Yankees, however, would rather focus on baseball and the early stages of a youth movement in the Bronx: trading for Didi Gregorius to replace Jeter, adding Nate Eovaldi to the rotation. They still have plenty riding on older folks such as A-Rod, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia, but the transition is underway. It's just that the Yankees will have a hard time collecting titles during it.

"Inside that clubhouse, the expectations are to be the best we can be and to win a World Series," manager Joe Girardi said, staying on message. "That's what we come to camp for, that's why you work all offseason. If that's not what you're working for, you don't belong here."

On the other side of the RFK Bridge, the Mets have talked tough since they arrived in Port St. Lucie this year, but it's been more about challenging the favored Nationals for NL East supremacy. First things first. Since Sandy Alderson took over as GM, the Mets have gone from being a 79-win team to, well, another 79-win team in the span of four years. They did pick up a game in the standings, however, finishing 17 behind the Nats last season.

What makes this year any different? Harvey, for starters, followed by 2014 Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom and two potential aces-in-waiting down at Triple-A Las Vegas, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz. Losing Zack Wheeler was a sobering blow, but Harvey's seamless return has observers again thinking Cy Young -- as long as he remains healthy.

A-Rod attracted most of the early attention in Florida, but it was Harvey who owned it by the end of March with a dominant spring training show. To the competitive Harvey, this never seemed like practice. And after what he did in the Grapefruit League, we're anxious to see what Harvey does in D.C. when it counts Thursday.

"I feel like I'm definitely ready for the start of the season," Harvey said. "I've put the surgery in the back of my mind, like it didn't happen, that I didn't skip a beat."

Harvey has company on the Mets' comeback tour. David Wright and Curtis Granderson need to rebound to keep this team in contention, and former Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long -- possibly Alderson's best offseason acquisition -- had the Mets leading the majors in a number of Grapefruit League offensive categories.

On Monday, that won't mean much anymore. Opening Day can't come soon enough for the Yankees and Mets, two teams that believe a better future lies ahead of them in 2015.

Will they be right?

We're about to find out.

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