PORT ST. LUCIE — Michael Conforto was packing his bags in the clubhouse shortly after the Mets’ disappointing 2020 season ended when he struck up a conversation with manager Luis Rojas.
Their talk centered around a message that will be at the forefront for the 2021 club.
As the Mets’ longest-tenured position player, and one of three players left (continuously) from the 2015 team that went to the World Series, Conforto has heard plenty of talk in recent years about the Mets’ talent — the stud rotation, the powerful offense, the emerging young core. And yet the results haven’t matched the expectations.
“I think this is the most talented team that we’ve had in a long time,” Conforto said Tuesday at Clover Park. “But there always seems to be this hype around either the pitching staff or the young hitters that we have — whatever it may be. It’s not that we didn’t work hard, but you can fall into this mode of thinking that you’re better than you are. You’re not good unless you win a lot of games, that’s just plain and simple. And we haven’t done that yet.
“We look forward to doing that this year, but we have to put the work in first, we have to have that process, those routines, those practices like champions, before we can go out there and win games. And I think it all starts here.”
Rojas called the talk “inspirational,” adding that he could tell Conforto was “really emotional.” He said the two rehashed it again Monday as the Mets began full-squad workouts.
In the time since Conforto and Rojas’ initial conversation, the Mets only fueled the hype by trading for Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco, bringing back Marcus Stroman and signing the likes of James McCann, Trevor May and Taijuan Walker. On paper, the moves should position the Mets to contend for an NL East title and more. But similar expectations awaited the Mets since they last made the postseason in 2016 and they responded with three of four losing seasons and a 259-287 record.
“We need to stay hungry,” Conforto said. “We didn’t win enough to get into an expanded playoff year. You can have a great offense and not make — there’s 16 teams that go to the playoffs and you miss out? We didn’t do enough. We didn’t play defense well enough, base-run, pitch well enough.”
After hitting .322 with a 156 OPS-plus last season to help fuel the Mets’ strong offense, Conforto enters this year with a potential contract extension looming. The 27-year-old said Tuesday those talks have not yet begun and insisted he has been more focused on preparing for this season. He was busy again Tuesday with more drills aimed at improving the Mets’ outfield defense, with first base coach Tony Tarasco leading the way.
As for the high expectations, Conforto plans on making sure the Mets don’t bank on talent alone.
“I think a lot of times, talent can make you complacent,” he said, “and I think this group, with the leadership that we have, we’re not going to do that.”