Mets manager Terry Collins gave his first press conference of the year, speaking before reporters and live on both SNY and Facebook. “This is my first experience on Facebook so I’m pretty excited,” Terry stated as the conference got underway.
As I listened and watched the 20-minute press conference, what I heard repeatedly were the words “bound and determined” and “staying healthy”. It is clear from the start that Terry’s goal is for this team to stay healthy. After losing so many key players last season – particularly key injuries to the starting staff – Terry and his coaches have changed the game plan as they begin the 2017 Grapefruit League.
What has changed? “Perhaps we throw too much too early” Terry admitted. “We’re not going to do that this year. The wear and tear on their arm will be a little less early in camp.” This is a dramatic change from conditioning in previous years. “This game is about pitching. If you can get 30 starts out of these five guys, I’ll take my chances. They’re that good.” It has been universally acknowledged that the Mets starting pitching rotation is among the best in major league baseball. “Build them up gradually is maybe in our best interest at this time.”
What has not changed? 52 guys returning from the year before. In the time of free agency, this is deeply unusual. It’s an “added ease” Terry noted. “There’s no need to re-acclimate.” The mood and the atmosphere has also not changed. “What we did last year took a lot of character. And that character is back.” Having Jose Reyes has added to a bench that includes Wilmer Flores. “We’re deeper than we’ve ever been this time of the year. I think Jose brings that.”
Of course, the questions on everyone’s mind: Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler. Terry was asked what he has seen about Matt Harvey thus far this spring training and Terry quickly said, “I saw the fire that I’ve seen in the past.” Harvey underwent season-ending surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome, surgery very few pitchers have come back from. “He is bound and determined to make last year go away. Fast.” According to Collins, Harvey looked “nice and loose and free”. Harvey is a fierce competitor, and according to Collins, was humbled last year. “There are two kinds of players: ones that have been humbled and ones who will be. Matt last year got humbled a little bit.”
As for Wheeler, the question is will he be part of the starting rotation or will Collins have him come out of the bullpen. According to Collins, “Zack Wheeler is coming in here as a starting pitcher. We’re getting him ready to start. At the end of spring training, we’ll have to decide where he fits best.” How many innings Wheeler will be able to pitch remains to be seen. “Do you burn those innings early or do you burn them late? We don’t want to get caught up in a situation where all of a sudden August 1 we need to shut this guy down.” During the night of the infamous almost-trade for Flores and Wheeler for Carlos Gomez, it is to be remembered that Wheeler contacted Mets ownership and told them he wanted to stay; he wanted to be a part of this team.
Collins had glowing praise for the Mets front office in the re-signing of Yoenis Cespedes, a key bat in that lineup. Cespedes has been in Florida far in advance of the report date and has been working out steadily to prepare for the upcoming season. Knowing that he will be with the Mets for several years to come may be a relief for Cespedes, Collins noted to the press. “He knows where he’s going to be next year. There’s nothing hanging over him. He is the guy.” Collins spoke of an “aura” about Cespedes this off-season, saying, “He is as bound and determined to show everybody that he is as great a player as people talk about him.”
There is a level of expectation about the Mets this season. Ron Darling, an analyst for MLB as well as SNY, spoke of 2017 being a “magical” year for Mets pitchers. But when asked if Collins was feeling the pressure, he said, “Embrace it. We’re a good team. It’s part of being a major league player.”
The Mets first game in the 2017 Grapefruit League will be on February 24, 2017 against the Boston Red Sox. They open the season at Citi Field on April 3, against the Atlanta Braves.