JUPITER, Fla. – In a matter of 43 days, Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen went from, “Come get us” to “I believe that we can beat any team any time, and no player signing is going to change that mindset.”
The initial authoritative statement left Van Wagenen’s lips when the Mets signed free agent Jed Lowrie to a two-year, $20 million deal on Jan. 16. The second came Thursday, when Bryce Harper signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies. And the difference was clear.
Both of Van Wagenen’s declarations were in response to whether or not the Mets are the team to beat in the National League East. The Phillies took Van Wagenen’s challenge and gave their lineup a drastic makeover – making history in the process by giving Harper the largest contract in American sports history.
A month remains until the regular season kicks off and now there’s no question mark on which team is the one to beat in the NL East. The question is whether the Mets offseason improvements will hold up against the Phillies.
“I feel like we stack up great,” Mets outfielder Michael Conforto said on New York matching Philly. “I think our lineup is long. Our starting pitching is great, as it’s been in the past. I think we bolstered the bullpen and we play great defense. We have the potential to compete. We just got to do the right things.”
The Mets added depth and filled necessary holes in their bullpen by adding Edwin Diaz – the closer with the most saves (57) in the American League last year. But the Mets neglected to sign a big-name starter to complete their already-powerful rotation behind reigning NL Cy Young award winner Jacob deGrom. Jason Vargas (7-9, 5.77 ERA in 2018) was the last man standing as New York’s fifth starter.
“I think our team is going to need to pitch,” Van Wagenen said. “Our team is going to need to pick the ball up and play defense. Our team is going to need to pitch well out of the bullpen and our team is going to need to score consistent runs. That’s what we intend to do.”
Manager Mickey Callaway said the team is paying no mind on Harper landing in the same division as the Mets. The Mets will prepare for the slugger in the same fashion they always have – with pitching coach Dave Eiland’s advanced scouting report on Harper.
“We’re worried about the guys we have in our clubhouse,” Callaway said. “That’s the approach we’ve had all offseason and we’re worried about what we feel is going to put the best team out there and we feel like we accomplished that. I couldn’t be more thrilled with what he have in that clubhouse.”
The Phillies face the Mets for the first time on April 15 and 19 games in total this season. Conforto echoed his manager in that the Mets are only focusing on their own roster. When the time comes to play the Phillies, the outfielder is looking forward to the competition.
“Well, he was in the division last year,” Conforto said. “So I don’t really see anything changing. It’s a tough division. It was tough before he was coming back and it’s going to be tougher now.
“We’re excited to have a competitive division. That’s not the case in every division in this league. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun this year to go out there and compete every single day.”
VARGAS MAKES SPRING DEBUT
Jason Vargas held the Cardinals to one run on one hit with three strikeouts and a walk over two innings in the Mets’ 3-2 win on Thursday. The left-hander said he cleaned up his delivery over the mound since his struggling start to the season last year. Vargas entered August with a 2-8 record on an 8.36 ERA over 10 starts, before turning the season around and ending on a high note.
The 36-year-old former All-Star said he doesn’t take his spot in the rotation for granted. But if the Mets decided to replace Vargas with a more efficient starter, the southpaw said he would not be insulted.
“Anything to strengthen the team is what I’d be looking for and what everybody on the team would be looking for because the ultimate goal is to have the big ring on our finger at the end of the year,” Vargas said. “So any way that we can make our team better, give ourselves more depth.”
DAVIS HAS BIG-LEAGUE GOAL
Rajai Davis is making a big splash in his first spring training with the Mets. The 38-year-old outfielder is legging out singles and cutting down runners with a power arm from the outfield. Davis said he thinks he can help the Mets win and he feels more confident at the plate than he did last year.
Callaway said Davis changed his stance at the plate by bringing his feet a little closer. Davis said he’s working on staying in the strike zone and covering the ball better.
“There was no break this offseason,” Davis said. “I had an urgency. Gotta get better. I still want to play. I still enjoy playing. I still enjoy being around baseball. I don’t want to stop that. And plus, I can still run. So I’m going to keep running.”