Spring Training is Here and I’m Worried Already

Normally, I am filled with excitement right about now. I wax rhapsodic about the coming of spring as signaled by the Mets’ pitchers and catchers reporting to Port St. Lucie for Spring Training. It is usually a sign of renewal and hope.

This year, I felt the anticipation building but without the fervor and the team officially reported yesterday and I still struggle to muster the enthusiasm. I love the team and hope for the best and will try to go to Citi Field and catch a few games, but I just know right now that the team being fielded will not be able to compete.

The team’s management clearly mishandled their investments with Bernard Madoff and with Irving Picard coming at them for the profits they didn’t earn, coupled with an operating loss of something like $70 million; the team could not afford to be very active during the winter to plug the holes that were clearly needed. As a result, the team couldn’t even pretend to be serious about Jose Reyes, not making him a formal offer and letting him go to the free-spending Florida Marlins.

Most of the other teams in the division made some significant upgrades while the league as a whole probably let more talent slip to the American League than vice versa. Still, the Mets who will take the field on Opening Day are a mix of young and promising and those passing their prime years without a feared starter on the mound or closer in the bullpen.

It’ll be great to see a healed and healthy Ike Davis man first base, tossing to a healthy Daniel Murphy at second. David Wright, the face of the team for the last few years, remains at third but the entire first half of the season will be clouded with questions of management trading him by the July 31 deadline. Such distractions usually take their toll on a hitter but we can hope the revised right field wall at the ballpark might compensate for that as he hits more homers and regains confidence on the field. Ruben Tejada is a slick fielder but in no way replaces Reyes as a table-setter or base-running threat.

The outfield will have Jason Bay in left, hoping for one more season of power and right will be patrolled by Lucas Duda, whose bat may be the team’s best hope. He’s a better first baseman, it seems, so it’ll be interesting to see where he winds up. The newly acquired centerfielder Andres Torres will have to prove he can hit, field, and blend in with the team.

The rotation is solid but unspectacular and it all comes down to how healthy Johan Santana is more than a year after his surgery. He began throwing off the mound the last few days so we’ll see what happens. Still, R.A. Dickey, Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, and Mike Pelfrey are all swell guys but no one fears them. Johan or a surprise will round out the team and the mildly upgraded bullpen should hold more games, keeping them competitive but there is no closer to shut down the opposition.

This is a transitional year as the youth movement continues, the Picard case goes to trial, and the team saves their money for next winter when a strong crop of free agents might be on hand to help. For the 2012 season, I can but hope they play with heart and keep the travails off the field not be a distraction.

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