Back for more: Cespedes, Mets take swing at Series crown

FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015 file photo, New York Mets Yoenis Cespedes watches his fourth-inning double in a baseball game against the Washington Nationals in New York. After nothing but misery for nearly a decade, the Mets have grown into a National League power. Now, slugger Cespedes and all those young arms want to take one more step and win it all. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)
AP

NEW YORK (AP) After nothing but misery for nearly a decade, the New York Mets have grown into a National League power.

Now, slugger Yoenis Cespedes and all those young arms want to take one more step and win it all.

When the Mets report to spring training this week with championship aspirations, they'll be looking to replicate a Royal feat. Motivated by a painful loss in the 2014 World Series, Kansas City made it all the way back last year and beat New York in five games for its first title in 30 years.

Same story the Mets would like to write – their last crown came in 1986.

Thanks to a hard-throwing and inexpensive rotation that's the envy of other teams, New York appears poised to make a run at its second consecutive pennant. Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, none of them older than 27, already have shown October mettle despite limited major league experience.

Toss in fantastic closer Jeurys Familia, and the Mets are an arduous assignment nearly every night for opposing hitters.

''It's really impressive,'' said new second baseman Neil Walker, obtained in a deal with Pittsburgh to replace postseason star Daniel Murphy. ''There's nobody that has better pitching than this staff right here.''

Still, it was the unexpected return of Cespedes that ratcheted up expectations.

The free agent outfielder, who helped transform a feeble offense last season after arriving in a July 31 trade, agreed to a $75 million, three-year contract to the delight of fans. He can opt out after one season – but for now his big bat reinforces the entire batting order.

''I couldn't deny the pull to come back and finish what we had started last year,'' Cespedes said in a statement when the deal was announced.

The long road back to the playoffs begins Friday, when the Mets hold their first formal workout for pitchers and catchers. He are five things to keep an eye:

HELLO, AGAIN

The team showed little to no interest in re-signing Murphy, who relocated to rival Washington after his record-setting postseason. The Mets face Murphy and the Nationals six times in spring training, including the March 3 opener.

FINDING HIS FLO

Following the additions of Walker and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, fan favorite Wilmer Flores has a new job as a utility infielder with platoon opportunities at first and second. He will likely spend time this spring trying to get comfortable at first base, an unfamiliar spot. Flores, who hit 16 homers last year, could also spell captain David Wright at third as he deals with spinal stenosis. Ruben Tejada supplanted Flores as the starting shortstop last season but his role is uncertain coming off that broken leg in the playoffs.

ON THE MEND

Three of New York's top four starters already had Tommy John surgery. Another one, Zack Wheeler, is on his way back from the elbow operation. The team is targeting a July 1 return for the 25-year-old righty, who was nearly traded last summer. He is 18-16 with a 3.50 ERA in 49 career starts. In the meantime, Bartolo Colon, who turns 43 in May, was brought back as an innings-eating stopgap. Lefty reliever Josh Edgin also is returning from Tommy John surgery.

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS

The underdog Mets were a feel-good story during their surprising run to the 2015 World Series. This time, they're favored to win the NL East and challenge for a championship. How manager Terry Collins and his team handle those heavy expectations will be interesting to watch. Collins, given a new contract, was on a roll last season until several pivotal moves backfired in the World Series.

END GAME

The Mets probably will try to ease the early workload on the young starters who were pushed past their innings targets last season. The club could even look to sign one or two of them to multiyear deals this spring. But if Familia were to sustain a serious injury, that might be the most difficult obstacle to overcome.