MLB spring training offers preview of New York baseball

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Lost between the end of football season and the revving up of basketball in the month of February is the start of Major League Baseball’s spring training.

Each year, teams begin their season as players and coaches report to warm and sunny practice facilities in Florida and Arizona in preparation for the 162-game campaign.

For New York’s two major league clubs, the 2014 season holds much promise and peril, with new faces giving rise to renewed hope and dreams of October baseball.

For the 27-time World Champion Yankees, 2013 was rife with challenge and disappointment. An aging and injury-depleted roster could only muster an 85-77 record, missing the playoffs for only the second time in 19 seasons while their rival, the Boston Red Sox, hoisted the World Series trophy. The Bronx Bombers spent considerable time without franchise stalwarts Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira due to injury. Third baseman Alex Rodriguez spent much of the year mired in scandal due to allegations of performance-enhancing drug use, now leaving him out for 2014.

The offseason has been a time of transition for the Yankees, as longtime closer Mariano Rivera retired after the season, while second baseman Robinson Canó and outfielder Curtis Granderson signed with the Seattle Mariners and New York Mets in free agency, respectively. The Yankees opted to fill these holes with a massive spending spree, acquiring outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltrán, catcher Brian McCann and Japanese pitching ace Masahiro Tanaka, each inking multiyear and multimillion- dollar deals.

The Yankees will look to return to their power-hitting tradition through Beltrán and McCann, and will likely challenge the Red Sox for the American League East division title. With Teixeira and Jeter both returning healthy in 2014, the Yankees will be picking up where they left off before their fall from grace.

Over in Queens, the lowly Mets will use 2014 as a chance to build for the future. The Mets’ major offseason acquisitions included former Yankee Granderson and veteran starting pitcher Bartolo Colón with the hope of improving on their losing record from 2013.

The Mets will once again be limited, however, as their burgeoning pitching phenom Matt Harvey will be out for the entirety of 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery last fall. Without Harvey, it will be up to the pitching of Colón and the hitting prowess of Granderson and franchise third-baseman David Wright to carry the club this season. But these improvements may not be enough to achieve a winning record, let alone a chance at the playoffs.

While both New York teams will likely improve in 2014, they have differing expectations. The Yankees will be dreaming big again, with fantasies of a 28th World Series title to add to their storied history. For the Mets, on the other hand, 2014 will be about giving their loyal fans a team to believe in, one that shows signs of something greater than their typical abject mediocrity.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Feb. 11 print edition. Charles Surette is a contributing writer. Email him at sports@nyunews.com

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