There are unfamiliar and somewhat ironic dynamics around the New York baseball teams this spring.
Walk around Tampa, and you will feel an air of hope around Yankees camp. It’s more a feeling of expectation around Mets camp in Port St. Lucie.
This season, the Yankees could pave the way for future titles. The Mets are vying for a championship right now — and without one, this year would be a failure.
Historically, the Yankees have been dominant and the Mets have been, well, at least interesting.
This season, the Yankees boast the far more interesting spring camp.
There are legitimate competitions all over Steinbrenner Field. For the past 12 Grapefruit League games, either Anthony Volpe or Oswald Peraza has been the starting shortstop in a competition that Aaron Boone and Brian Cashman have said might not end until the very end of camp.
Both boast high upsides. Volpe has impressed more with the bat, and Peraza has shown off a better glove and arm. Each top prospect has made a strong case, and seemingly every day one pulls off a different, standout highlight.
But the Yankees’ camp has plenty of battles. Oswaldo Cabrera is simultaneously fighting with Aaron Hicks in the outfield and with Isiah Kiner-Falefa to be the super-utilityman of the Yankees’ present and future.
When Harrison Bader was lost to an oblique strain, a center-field spot opened up that a half-dozen players could claim. Cabrera, Hicks and Kiner-Falefa are at least loosely in contention for the job, along with Estevan Florial, Rafael Ortega and Aaron Judge.
With Lou Trivino and Tommy Kahnle out for the beginning of the season, which relievers make the cut?
Albert Abreu, who is out of options, now has a stronger case of sticking with the Yankees. Righties Ron Marinaccio, Greg Weissert, Jimmy Cordero and non-roster invite Ian Hamilton and lefty Matt Krook are fighting for what could be two spots.
The Yankees are not usually a fascinating outfit to evaluate in February and March — fans usually bring out the microscopes to examine them in September and October.
And yes, Yankees fan, you are correct that the goal for this season and every season is a World Series.
But can you imagine a scenario in which Volpe and Peraza both find their ways to The Bronx and look like the middle infield of the future; in which Cabrera plays all four infield spots and three outfield positions and hits, too, as a valuable Swiss Army knife; in which Jasson Dominguez slugs his way to the majors by the end of the season; in which Clarke Schmidt takes a leap and looks like a star?
There are conceivable worlds in which the Yankees do not win the World Series in 2023, but come out of the season looking primed for multiple championships in the next few years.
Those worlds do not exist with the Mets, who are fairly boring by comparison.
Brett Baty has had a nice camp, but he is the heavy underdog matched against Eduardo Escobar at third base.
Maybe you can get excited about Tylor Megill vs. David Peterson as the rotation’s No. 5 starter, but they both may begin the season as starters in a six-man rotation anyway and both likely will find their ways to 15-plus starts this season.
There is a bullpen competition, but it has a front-runner: Stephen Nogosek is out of options, positioning him to beat out Jeff Brigham, Elieser Hernandez and Jimmy Yacabonis.
The Mets are not terribly interesting in February and March because they, perhaps more than any other team this season, are playing for September and October.
If and when the Mets reach the postseason, their 1-2 punch will be a combined 79 years old. Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer came to Queens to win the World Series. Anything less would be a failure.
Thus, when the Mets quietly optioned Francisco Alvarez back to minor league camp Wednesday, there was not much of an outcry. The young catcher is behind Omar Narvaez and Tomas Nido on the depth chart and can use more seasoning.
If Alvarez develops as hoped, maybe he can slug his way to the majors by midseason. If it takes until 2024 for him to fully establish himself as a major leaguer, that would be OK, too.
The Mets could use contributions from the kids such as Alvarez, Baty, Mark Vientos and Ronny Mauricio, but this season will be defined by the playoffs, not by progress.
That probably holds true for the Yankees, too. But there is enough youth and hope in Tampa that this season could become nearly as much about the prospects as about the postseason.
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A cautious Cohen…for now
With those Mets expectations comes pressure. If expectations are not met, jobs are often lost.
If the Mets’ mission fails and a payroll over $300 million does not result in a playoff run, how would Steve Cohen react?
The Mets owner did not want to answer the question without more context.
“Am I going to get mad? There’s so many things that can happen in this sport,” Cohen said on “The Show with Joel Sherman and Jon Heyman” on Wednesday. “I’m usually pretty cool, so we’ll see.”
Thus far, an angry Cohen has been a tweeting Cohen. When the Mets were underperforming in 2021, he went on Twitter to take shots at their offensive approach, which in itself was a criticism of the coaching staff.
“It’s hard to understand how professional hitters can be this unproductive,” Cohen tweeted in August 2021. “The best teams have a more disciplined approach. The slugging and OPS numbers don’t lie.”
The Mets overhauled their staff following the season. Cohen, so often compared with George Steinbrenner, has not earned The Boss’ reputation for quick hooks, at least not yet.
To GM Billy Eppler and manager Buck Showalter, he is not publicly instituting a World Series-or-you’re-fired edict.
“It really depends on why we’re not performing,” Cohen said. “I’m getting more seasoned as an owner. I think there’s always dispersion in results year to year. Last year we had 101 wins, and you just can’t count on everything going right every year.”
One thing leads to another
The Jets were busy on Wednesday, but they did not make the transaction you are waiting for.
Moore, the 2021 second-round pick, gets the trade he requested but a bit late. In the swap, the Jets also are sending Cleveland a 2023 third-round pick (No. 74 overall) and receiving a 2023 second-round pick (No. 42 overall). They now have two second-round picks to play with, conceivably making it easier to send one to the Packers in an Aaron Rodgers trade.
Rodgers, technically, is still with Green Bay a week after announcing his “intention” is to play for the Jets. The two teams are still at a stalemate in trade talks, but the Jets are acting as if Rodgers coming aboard is just a matter of time.
Rodgers favorite Allen Lazard already is signed, and Hardman will be a nice speed threat. The 25-year-old is one of the game’s fastest receivers and can be used in the return game and run game, too.
The Jets are coming together — even if the biggest piece is still not locked down.