PORT ST. LUCIE — The method in which the Mets got to 86 victories last season was unorthodox, to say the least.
More succinctly, these were the bipolar Mets.
There was the 40-51 start to the season that seemed to eliminate all postseason hope. Then there was the 46-25 finish that kept them in wild-card contention until the final week of the regular season. So which version of the Mets was real?
As spring-training workouts approach for rookie manager Luis Rojas’ crew, with pitchers and catchers set to report on Monday, maybe no question looms larger over camp than whether the Mets are really as competent as they appeared over those final two-plus months in 2019.
If they expect to contend in a loaded NL East, they had better be that good, especially after an offseason in which general manager Brodie Van Wagenen tweaked the roster but hardly made a significant splash.
“I see the four clubs in the NL East as being really competitive, and they all have their strengths and weaknesses,” a major league talent evaluator said — referring to the Mets, Nationals, Braves and Phillies. “It can break a lot of ways, depending on how a key injury could affect the team. But I think the Mets are an 85-90 win team.”
Dellin Betances, Rick Porcello, Michael Wacha and Jake Marisnick are the key new faces on the scene, as Van Wagenen used the little financial flexibility at his disposal to upgrade the pitching and defense.
The wild card is Betances, who missed almost all of last season — first with a shoulder impingement then with a torn Achilles. The former Yankees reliever brings a high upside to a bullpen that was among the worst in the majors last season. Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia, each of whom pitched to a five-plus ERA, were the biggest offenders. Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman, Justin Wilson and Brad Brach are also back.
“They really haven’t done a lot to make the bullpen better, but those guys [Diaz and Familia] can’t be as bad as they were,” the talent evaluator said.
Porcello and Wacha bring rotation depth behind back-to-back Cy Young award winner Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Marcus Stroman.
“Porcello is a classic pitcher,” the talent evaluator said. “He’s a command and feel guy and he really knows how to pitch. The thing he should give them is innings and durability and he is capable of winning 15 games. Wacha, you don’t know what you are getting a little bit. He hasn’t been Wacha in a few years, but he’s another guy that you don’t mind fooling with at the back end of the rotation.”
The veteran Marisnick will give the team a strong defensive option for center field, but the expectation heading into camp is Brandon Nimmo will be the primary player at the position.
Pete Alonso wasn’t even guaranteed a major league roster job when camp opened last season and ended up leading MLB in homers with 53. Jeff McNeil was nearly added to a deal with the Mariners for Robinson Cano before last season and ended up earning a spot on the National League All-Star team, finishing with a .916 OPS.
Cano looked washed up in the first half of last season but was a significant factor in the team’s improved play after the All-Star break. Amed Rosario had early defensive lapses at shortstop last season, but rebounded in the field and at the plate to lessen concerns about the position.
Wilson Ramos brought a bat to the catching position, but his work behind the plate was subpar, prompting Syndergaard to seek alternatives for his starts.
“Ramos at this point would be a lot better if he caught like 110 games and you had somebody picking him up three days a week,” the talent evaluator said.
Van Wagenen this offseason backed off the catchphrases that made headlines last year — most notably, “come get us” — and has acknowledged the Mets’ competition in the NL East has improved. So this year’s crew might have to be every bit the second-half team of last year to have a chance in 2020.
“They are a team that if they won it I wouldn’t be surprised,” the evaluator said. “And if they finished fourth I wouldn’t be surprised.”