PORT ST. LUCIE, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 20: Yoenis Cespedes #52 of the New York Mets takes the field … [+]
There were a couple times where things felt almost normal during Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen’s 40-minute Zoom conference call with reporters Monday afternoon. There were injury updates about the oft-sidelined Yoenis Cespedes (close to returning) and Jed Lowrie (not so much). There was discussion about a Mets rotation that is still strong despite the loss of Noah Syndergaard to Tommy John surgery.
And Van Wagenen, working for a team that has mastered the art of finding the most optimistic of sample sizes to justify its perpetually short-term decision making, noted the Mets were in good position for the 2020 season because they had the NL’s best record over the final 60 games of 2019.
“So if we could pick up where we left off and go through a 60-game sprint, I think we’re going to be in a position at the end that we’re going to be happy with,” Van Wagenen said.
Of course, the phrase “a 60-game sprint” is the latest reminder that nothing in 2020 is normal.
The original 2020 schedule had the Mets enjoying their 12th off-day of the regular season Monday. Instead, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Monday marked the 109th consecutive day without baseball in New York or anywhere else. If all goes according to plan, the counter will reach 112 days before the Mets convene Friday for the start of their second spring training (which will be sponsored by Major League Baseball under the moniker “Summer Camp,” which is not nearly as impressive as it is cynical and shameless).
Three weeks later, the 60-game season is scheduled to get underway. Nobody knows who the Mets will play, or where they will play — or if they and everyone else will play, and for how long.
“We all want to play baseball,” Van Wagenen said. “I know that the fans want to watch as much baseball as they can. That’s what we all go to work for. And provided that we can all work together to comply with these protocols and respect each other and respect the rules, I’m optimistic that we can make this happen.”
While Van Wagenen always speaks in the most optimistic of terms, there’s reason to believe the Mets are in a decent position, in terms of both baseball health and the far more important matter of overall health and readiness for the challenges that lie ahead, as the second spring training nears.
While Syndergaard, who was injured just before the shutdown and underwent his elbow surgery in late March, won’t see a diamond before 2021, the Mets should have outfielder Michael Conforto back on the field when the team convenes Friday. Conforto suffered an oblique injury in early March and likely would have missed most of the first month, but he back to taking batting practice by late April.
Cespedes, who has been limited to one game since May 13, 2018 by multiple heel surgeries and that encounter with a wild boar on his farm, appears to be on pace to have a chance to open the shortened season as the Mets’ first full-time designated hitter.
“We are looking forward to him getting into camp and believe that he should be closer to being game-ready than when we saw him last in March,” Van Wagenen said. “We’re optimistic this bat can be a real impact and be a little bit of a separator for us as we prepare ourselves for the rest of the teams in the league.”
Of course, preparation is a far different and more foreboding task this season. Teams have never had to test players for a highly contagious virus, nor pondered the possibility that players could choose to sit out the season.
As of Monday, Van Wagenen expected all of the players in the Mets’ 60-man player pool to report to camp this week. One member of the 40-man roster tested positive for coronavirus during the shutdown and is recovering. Van Wagenen said he wasn’t sure if the player would be cleared for activities by Friday.
More players, of course, could test positive upon returning from other states and countries. Once everyone is under two roofs — the Mets will hold their second spring training at Citi Field as well as Brooklyn’s MCU Park, which normally houses the Mets’ New York-Penn League affiliate — Van Wagenen is confident the presence of executives who were stationed in New York as the area became America’s first epicenter for the coronavirus will help underline the precautions players must take to minimize their risk and exposure.
“Those of us who have been in the tri-state area for the last several months recognize that this market has had to look at the Covid virus in a different way than maybe some other markets,” Van Wagenen said. “So the behavior we feel that we have in place now as a community, we think, is a good one. And we are going to continue to educate our players on how we have overcome some of the initial spikes in the virus as a community over the course of the early parts of this.
“We want to continue to improve so that we can stop this spread and continue to try to see some declines or at least a stabilization of it.”