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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Mets open spring training with run-prevention focus

PORT ST. LUCIE — A new collection of arms arrived this winter, along with a few gloves, placing runs prevention as the focal point of the Mets’ plan for competing this season.

Of the team’s 13 new additions to the 40-man roster by president of baseball operations David Stearns since last season concluded, none are regarded as immediate offensive contributors.

Seven are pitchers and four are major league veterans who are more regarded for their defense than offensive potential.

Two others are prospects almost certain to begin the season in the minor leagues.

Daniel Vogelbach and Luis Guillorme were among the players non-tendered by the club, creating space for Harrison Bader, Joey Wendle and Tyrone Taylor.

The new pitchers include Luis Severino, Sean Manaea and Adrian Houser for the rotation and Jake Diekman and Shintaro Fujinami for the bullpen.

It’s an offseason that might have had a different vibe if the club were successful in signing Yoshinobu Yamamoto.

Harrison Bader upgrades the Mets’ defense in the outfield. Corey Sipkin for the NY POST

The Japanese ace instead took a $325 million contract (the same amount the Mets were offering) from the Dodgers, leaving Kodai Senga to spearhead the rotation in Queens.

It’s difficult to envision the Mets competing for the NL East title against a Braves team that remains stacked.

But hopes for finishing above .500 and battling for a wild-card berth will rest with the familiar returning offensive pieces (Brandon Nimmo, Francisco Lindor, Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil and Francisco Alvarez) and what the Mets can receive from third base, where Brett Baty and Mark Vientos are competing for the job.

Sean Manaea joins a rotation that may involve six pitchers. USA TODAY Sports

But it all won’t mean much unless the Mets have the pitching and defense to support that lineup.

“[Bader] might improve their defense in center field and depending where you want to put Wendle,” a major league talent evaluator said. “But my concern is more the top of the rotation. I really like Senga, but if you have to rearrange your starting rotation around him and have a six-man starting rotation around him, that is a concern for me.”

A six-man rotation, at least on a part-time basis, has been considered by Mets officials after Senga last season as a rookie was mostly provided an extra day of rest between starts, placing him on a schedule that mimicked the one he used in Japan.

Behind their rotation of Senga, Severino, Manaea, Quintana and Houser, the Mets have a cast that includes Tylor Megill, Joey Lucchesi and Jose Butto who could compete for the sixth starter’s spot.

Another possibility, David Peterson, is expected to miss at least two months of the season rehabbing from offseason hip surgery.

“I just have concerns about their pitching depth,” the talent evaluator said. “I don’t see any top-of-the-rotation guys other than Senga. That should be a bigger concern than the lineup. When you line them up against the Braves and the Phillies, their pitching depth just seems far inferior to what the other two teams have.”

Bader, another former Yankees player with whom Carlos Mendoza is familiar — the new Mets manager spent four seasons as Aaron Boone’s bench coach in The Bronx — arrived on a one-year contract worth $10.5 million and will bring a potential Gold Glove to center field.

Last season, Bader placed in MLB’s 95th percentile at nine outs above average as a center fielder, according to Statcast.

Bader’s addition will push Nimmo to left field and help provide additional coverage for Starling Marte, who struggled defensively last season in right in his return from core surgery the previous winter.

Taylor, who arrived with Houser in a trade with the Brewers, is another glove who can provide coverage at all three outfield positions. Mets officials view Wendle, who can play second, third and shortstop, as an upgrade defensively over Guillorme.

The run-prevention equation also hinges on improvement at third base, where Baty and Vientos are vying for playing time.

Baty struggled last season as a rookie and evaluators have viewed Vientos as more a first baseman or DH.

“There is still upside to Baty, but he just has to do a better job of making the routine play,” the talent evaluator said. “He doesn’t always make the routine play, and you have to do that in the big leagues.”

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