PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Before signing away the next eight years of his baseball career, Mets third baseman David Wright weighed his options. Understanding that he was just a year away from free agency, a process that would have allowed him to negotiate with anyone he chose, Wright sat down with general manager Sandy Alderson to discuss the future of the Mets.
Clearly the third baseman liked what he heard, because not long afterward he signed a $138 million contract to remain in New York at least through 2020. Even Wright acknowledges that the Mets, who have finished in fourth place for four consecutive seasons, will not transform into a superpower overnight.
But he also believes 2013 will propel them significantly closer to the future.
"It's so easy to look at the offseason and see that we lost a Cy Young Award-winning pitcher, and we didn't go out there and sign a lot of those big-ticket free agents," Wright said. "We didn't spend a lot of money. But the guys that were here last year know what we were able to accomplish the first half, and that was fun, going out there and playing good baseball, winning a lot of games. We fell apart in the second half, and I think we got a little sloppy and had some injuries obviously. But we've got a bunch of guys in there that obviously believe."
The aforementioned Cy Young winner, R.A. Dickey, is now headlining a revamped pitching staff in Toronto. The big-ticket free agents all signed elsewhere. Though the Mets pursued outfielders Michael Bourn through free agency and Justin Upton via trade, they came away with neither of them.
They're fine with that.
"There's a lot of teams that wanted Justin Upton," Wright said. "There's a lot of teams that wanted Michael Bourn. I'm almost excited not to get those guys, to give these younger guys an opportunity to see what they're made of, to develop, to win that job. Maybe that's optimistic, but I like looking at things glass-half-full."
Some of those younger guys are already here. Matt Harvey came up late last July and blazed through his 10-start introduction to the big leagues, striking out 70 batters in 59 1/3 innings while posting a 2.73 ERA. Relievers Josh Edgin and Bobby Parnell both played significant roles last season and will assume even greater responsibility in 2013. Ruben Tejada is coming off his first full season as starting shortstop, with an eye toward overall improvement. Jon Niese, the Opening Day starter, is only just now entering his prime.
More talent awaits on the fringe of the big leagues. The franchise's two most-hyped prospects, pitcher Zack Wheeler and catcher Travis d'Arnaud, should both arrive around midseason. The Mets envision Wheeler grabbing a starting spot and running with it, teaming with Harvey at the front of the rotation for years to come. They see both pitchers ultimately throwing to d'Arnaud, whom the Mets received in exchange for Dickey.
"What we've tried to do," Alderson said, "is say to ourselves and communicate to the fans that we want to be as good as we can be each year given whatever circumstances exist -- but that our competitiveness long-term is paramount. We've made some decisions accordingly."
The simple translation is that the Mets are less focused on 2013 than they are on 2014 and beyond. Even so, Alderson stressed that the team is "not that far away from being able to be highly competitive."
In the interim, the Mets will need to squeeze as much production as they possibly can out of their current roster, understanding the perils of an improved National League East division. Fighting nightly against the powerful Nationals and Braves, the Mets will have precious little margin for error.
"I think it's pretty self-explanatory that we need to do things correctly in order to win," Wright said. "If you look up and down our roster, there's not a whole lot of those household names or those $20-million-a-year free agents. But what I do think we have is a bunch of good young talent, guys that I think the sky's the limit as far as potential. For us to be successful, we have to do those small things that are preached in Spring Training."
Should the Mets exceed expectations and defy the odds, their payoff will be sweet.
At least within their own clubhouse, it's also something they consider quite possible.
"There's 100 different reasons why guys are motivated and excited about this season," Wright said. "And I think when you put together a room full of those young, energetic players, those types of teams can be scary. No one in that clubhouse believes that we can't win. Everybody is extremely optimistic. Everybody understands it's going to be a challenge -- nothing's going to come easy. But everybody believes that we can win."