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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Mets’ forecast looks brighter than the Yankees’ in 2017

Yoenis Cespedes of the New York Mets celebrates

Yoenis Cespedes of the New York Mets celebrates his third-inning grand slam against the San Francisco Giants in the dugout with his teammates at Citi Field on Friday, April 29, 2016. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Time to push the reset button.

Maybe take a deep breath, cleanse the mind of last season’s disappointment and visualize what possibly awaits.

And please, forget about spring training.

Those six weeks are fun while they last. It’s the only baseball we have, and checking out the Grapefruit League is far better than watching the Knicks’ awkward attempts to master the triangle or monitoring the Jets’ comical search for a quarterback.

Spring training, however, is practice. Plain and simple. With a few auditions mixed in, dressed up by relatively meaningless statistics. As far as forecasting a team’s success is concerned, no one can entirely trust what they see.

By most accounts, the Mets should have a decent chance to make their second trip to the World Series in three years, obviously an unprecedented feat for the franchise. And the Yankees, the team more accustomed to winning multiple titles in a row? Conventional wisdom says the rebuild is far from finished. Check back in 2019.

“It doesn’t really matter,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “You’ve got 162 games to figure that out, so I don’t really focus on what other people say. My job is to get the team ready to play every day and play to the best of their abilities. I don’t real ly worry about it.”

But there is a freedom in low expectations, in not having the unrelenting, win-now pressure that usually clamps down in the Bronx. The Yankees, for once, have the ability to under-promise and over-deliver. They won’t frame it quite in that fashion, but that’s the reality for them. Anticipate more growing pains, but also the fresh perspective and the energy a youthful infusion brings, especially with rapidly maturing sluggers Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez anchoring the Baby Bombers.

“I think we can create a lot of positive noise,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said.

Expect most of the attention, however, to be generated by the team in Queens, where Mets GM Sandy Alderson chose to stick with the age-old proverb: Nothing succeeds like success. Of the 55 players the Mets invited to spring training this year, 52 were on the 2016 roster — and the 25 they intend to use for Opening Day are going to look very familiar.

Alderson took care of the Mets’ No. 1 offseason priority by locking up Yoenis Cespedes with a four-year, $110-million deal, and the supporting cast around him already was in place. If there was any failing during the offseason, it was Alderson’s inability to find a taker for Jay Bruce, but there are worse things than paying him $13 million for potentially a 30-homer season.

“One of the reasons for bringing back all of those players is because they played in New York, they’ve been for the most part successful in New York and they are part of the fabric of the team and chemistry, and those things are also important,” Alderson said. “We had opportunities to make changes in the roster. We didn’t in part because we have confidence in the players.”

And specifically the starting rotation, which — if healthy — should be among the best in baseball. The Mets’ hope is that this time everyone will get to see what this heralded group is capable of.

Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey rebounded from surgery, although Steven Matz, who had a bone chip removed from his elbow, encountered a late elbow issue that the Mets believed to be minor. Noah Syndergaard breezed through the Grapefruit League to stay on target for Opening Day.

Figure the fifth spot in this starry rotation to be manned by a combination of Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo and Zack Wheeler as the season progresses. That gives the Mets both the talent and depth to navigate through some of the inevitable turbulence.

Last year, they lost Harvey, Matz and deGrom in succession from early July through mid-September but still earned a wild-card berth with only Bartolo Colon (33) and Syndergaard (30) making more than 24 starts. Colon is gone to Atlanta, but the Mets have their fingers crossed for this homegrown crew to become the Fab Five they’ve imagined.

“I really wouldn’t say I was the leader of this staff,” Syndergaard said. “I think we’re all leaders in our own way. We’re all pulling for one another. We’re all out there supporting one another. It’s like a brotherhood within the team. It’s really something cool to be a part of and really special.”

A variation of that is being preached in the Bronx, too. Just as the Mets began this project by digging out of back-to-back 74-win seasons and gradually increasing the team’s payroll from $85 million in 2014 to its current $150 million, the Yankees remain under construction, with some key bricks having been acquired during last July’s fire sale.

In their case, Hal Steinbrenner is looking forward to trimming almost $60 million from the 2017 docket on expiring contracts and incorporating rising stars such as Gleyber Torres (Aroldis Chapman trade) and Clint Frazier (Andrew Miller deal).

It’s not meant to be completed in one year, and not even two. Maybe not until the Yankees get to flex their financial might in that ’18 free-agent market. But there are reasons to savor the journey, beginning with this year.

“I just think we’re in a good place right now,” Steinbrenner said. “But now we’ve got to prove ourselves. We’ve got a good thing going, everybody’s excited about it, and now we’ve got to prove ourselves.”

As Girardi mentioned, there are 162 games to do just that. Today is No. 1.


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