FLUSHING, N.Y. (FAF) — The New York Mets have formed an exploratory committee to “gauge our desire to compete for the National League Eastern Division title in 2008.” While a formal declaration of candidacy is expected to follow the 2007 campaign, this decision by the Mets anoints them the frontrunners for the season that is slated to start in a little more than 14 months.
“We're in it to win,” says a senior Mets adviser.
The Mets' announcement, made without fanfare on mets.com, both confirms long-held certainties that they would indeed enter the race and confounds experts who predicted they would wait until at least after this year's spring training to make their intentions explicit.
One baseball insider appraised the Mets' timing as necessary, noting “if you're not playing for 2008 by February 2007, then you might as well forget it and start focusing on 2010.”
The Mets are the third team to indicate their interest in the '08 N.L. East title, joining the Atlanta Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies as contenders for next year's championship. Each of those clubs formed an exploratory committee earlier this month. Observers anticipate the Florida Marlins and Washington Nationals will also throw their caps into the ring soon, though neither is given much of a chance of keeping up with “the big three” when the '08 derby begins in earnest.
“The Marlins,” says one prominent baseball forecaster, “are really positioning themselves for the Wild Card in '09.”
Recent polling shows the Mets far ahead of the 2008 East field, though conventional wisdom dictates their lead owes as much to strong name recognition as it does potential for performance. “At this stage of the '08 contest,” one pundit offers, “it's hard to look at anything as written in stone. But at the same time, the Mets have to be considered the team to beat.”
A high-ranking National League East official indicates the division would like to have a champion in place by the first week of May in order to focus on whatever playoff opponent emerges from the pack in the N.L. Central or West. “Whoever comes out of the first three series of the year in first place,” says one well-connected baseball analyst, “probably has a hammerlock on the division crown. That will give them plenty of time to prepare for the fall.”
Intense behind-the-scenes maneuvering is already underway. 2008's traditional April opener at Shea Stadium has been moved to mid-March in an effort to “frontload” the schedule and take advantage of the Mets' early advantage in organization and resources. The Phillies, however, have held what one senior aide terms “serious discussions” about moving up their opener to late February, while a counselor to the Braves campaign says Atlanta “does not want to be bypassed” at such a critical juncture in the process. “There is a real likelihood,” he says, “that the first game at Turner Field in 2008 could come as soon as December 2007.”
The Mets insist they will proceed with “business as usual,” with one group of pitchers and catchers reporting to this year's spring training in three weeks and another group to next year's spring training in two weeks.