Entering spring training, a few New York Mets storylines could be described using the word "surprising" or "exhausting." After all, the team will be entering camp with more questions than they probably care to admit.
While there is no doubt that the 2014 team has much more star power and substance than the 2013 team, there are certain players that need to be focused on. In particular, will Bartolo Colon succumb to injury? Has the team finally gotten any closer to figuring out who they want at first base? And will Ruben Tejada remain the everyday shortstop?
Here are some stories to keep an eye on.
Bartolo Colon Staying Healthy
Entering his 17th major league season, Bartolo Colon will be turning 41 years old in a couple of months. The signing of the veteran starting pitcher this past December was certainly surprising.
Colon was stellar last season with the Oakland Athletics. He had a record of 18-6 and a career-best 2.65 ERA. Colon only walked 29 batters last season, while he struck out 117 hitters.
The key is to stay healthy. At 5'11" and 265 lbs, Colon is a pretty big guy who is capable of getting injured early and often. And he’ll be the first to admit it. "The key has been staying healthy," Colon told Jorge Castillo of The Star-Ledger. "I've been able to stay healthy and get on the mound every five days."
If Colon stays healthy, the Mets will a lot more games. If he gets injured, the team will struggle for pitching like they did last season. But Colon can do it. If he manages to stay healthy, he can use his fastball to dominate hitters while mentoring young pitchers behind the scenes. He can have it all.
And although it is quite early, spring training can be an early indicator of things to come.
Ike Davis versus Lucas Duda
One of the bigger stories this offseason will be carried into spring training. Yeah, that’s right, it’s the debate concerning who should be the full-time Mets first baseman—Lucas Duda or Ike Davis?
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson recently shared some of his plans regarding the situation. In an interview with WFAN’s Mike Francesa, Alderson said:
We look at Duda and we look at Ike, and we see left handed power that is fairly rare in the game right now. The clubs we’re talking to acknowledge that but you know, look at the risks associated with performance or non-performance. So, there’s been a little of disconnect. But as it stands right now, we’ve decided that the value to us in hedging our bets on one or the other or the possibility of injury, is more valuable than what we think we can get in the marketplace.
Around the 10-minute mark of the interview, Alderson suggested it’s almost impossible that both players will return to New York. In other words, if both players remained on the team after spring training, one would be heading to Las Vegas rather than the Mets’ bench at Citi Field.
The Mets seemed pretty keen on Duda earlier on in the offseason. After all, they were dangling Davis around like a piece of meat at the winter meetings. It will be interesting to see if the team still favors Duda over Davis.
In fact, the Mets are already adjusting their plans to include more hitting practice for Davis. Manager Terry Collins told Anthony Rieber of Newsday that he believes more at-bats will equal fewer slumps for Davis early on in the season:
One of the things we're going to do obviously in spring training is we're going to give him some more at-bats. I think it's very, very important to try to get him in midseason form when the season starts. A lot of guys leave spring training and have 50, 60 at-bats. I might get him 80 to 100 this spring just to make sure he's ready to go when we start.
Not only is giving Davis more playing time indicative of his future with the Mets, but Collins is even suggesting he’ll be around this season. Take note, Duda. This is one storyline that will be followed everyday in Port St. Lucie.
The Ruben Tejada Mess
Will Ruben Tejada perform to the best of his capabilities this spring? Actually, the better question might be, would he even want to?
All offseason long, and heading into spring training, there have been discussions and rumors regarding Tejada.
Time and time again, Stephen Drew’s name has been tossed into the mix. Will he sign with the Mets or not? Apparently, the Mets have already offered him money and the two sides are just trying to determine the number of years on the contract, according to WFAN’s Francesca.
In 2013, Tejada had the worst year in his professional career. In 208 at-bats, Tejada didn't hit a single home run and only hit 10 RBI. Those statistics look even bleaker when compared to Drew’s .253 batting average, 13 home runs and 67 RBI.
So where does that leave Tejada?
At the moment, none of us know whether Drew will be a Met or not. If he does join the team, Tejada’s days with the organization might be numbered. Or, Tejada can back Drew up at shortstop.
Whatever his possible new role might be, it will be interesting to see how Tejada reacts in camp.
According to Castillo, Alderson arrived to the winter meetings ready to tell the world that he wanted to upgrade the shortstop position. And after the season ended in September, Alderson went on WFAN once more. He told Francesca that his frustration with working with Tejada is that it's "like pulling teeth."
So when spring training rolls around, try paying attention to how Tejada carries himself. The usually quiet player might shut down completely. Or he might take the criticism and convert it to positive results.