NEW YORK -- Picture one of the most talented rosters in the Majors fully healthy, recharged and ready to compete for a title. Picture tens of thousands of screaming fans once again pouring into Citi Field for a late-October postseason game.
Perhaps that's a pipe dream for a Mets club with plenty of questions heading into 2017. Perhaps it's unrealistic in a league featuring other talented young contenders such as the Cubs and Nationals -- not to mention a prickly division including the upstart Braves. But New York believes its own roster is still very much in its prime, ready to compete for a World Series title.
To get there, the Mets simply need to find proper answers to their five most pressing questions heading into 2017:
1. What is Terry Collins' future?
Shortly after last season ended, Collins said he was unsure if he would manage beyond 2017, the final year on his current contract. Now 67, Collins has accomplished more than most realistically thought possible when he signed on following the '10 season. But the carrot of a World Series title still hangs in front of him.
Collins wants badly to reach out and grab it. He also won't wait forever; the baseball lifer has said in the past he has no desire to manage into his 70s.
Perhaps the most pressing question standing before Collins is if he will be allowed to exit professional baseball on his own terms. Though injuries shifted blame away from Collins during the Mets' poor first half in 2016, he may not be so lucky if they struggle again.
About the only thing that dogged Cespedes during the free agency period was his mixed reputation. Teams, including New York, wondered how he might respond to a long-term deal, considering his two best years as a big leaguer came in advance of free agency. Cespedes has a history of not putting forth full effort on certain plays, of sitting out certain games, of frequenting the golf course. Those all remain worries until he proves they're unfounded.
But the Mets believed in Cespedes enough to commit $110 million to him, under the expectation that he will be their best offensive player. If he is, and he stays healthy, the offense stands a decent chance of being better than it was in 2016.
3. Is David Wright done as the Mets' everyday third baseman?
For the second year in a row, New York enters Spring Training with what the club considers a bona fide backup plan at third base. Last year it was Wilmer Flores, who struggled against right-handed pitchers before ceding the job to Jose Reyes. This year it's Reyes, who performed quite well in Wright's absence.
But Plan A remains Wright, still very much the captain, heart and soul of this team. Though Wright has played in merely 75 games combined the past two seasons, the Mets believe he can be a potent contributor if he stays healthy. They're not exactly counting on it -- even Wright admits he's not sure what he can still do at age 34, his most recent All-Star season now four years behind him. But New York does believe a healthy Wright could help the club reach the heights it hopes to.
If Wright cannot overcome spinal stenosis, additional neck woes or something yet unknown, Reyes will step in at third. At that point, the Mets would be reasonably certain Wright will never be fully healthy again.
4. How healthy can the rotation actually be?
There is a thought among optimistic Mets fans that given the number of injuries their pitchers sustained this past season, the rotation has to be healthier in 2017. And yet baseball's medical history has proven there is no better indicator of future injuries than past ones.
That's not to say the Mets are doomed to another summer of skipped starts and ailing arms. But it is a legitimate concern. The rib removal surgery that Matt Harvey underwent last July, for example, has relatively little precedent in baseball history. It will be up to Harvey to prove he can not only overcome it, but return to his previous All-Star form.
Steven Matz has never thrown more than 141 innings in a season in his life, missing time due to a near-constant string of elbow, shoulder and back issues. Jacob deGrom, similarly, has experienced minor aches and pains throughout the past three seasons, while Zack Wheeler has not pitched in the Majors since 2014.
Then there is Noah Syndergaard, the 24-year-old rock of the rotation. Syndergaard throws obscenely hard, which increases his risk factor for injury. The Mets need him, more than anyone, to stay healthy.
Will this group ultimately stay on the mound? That's anyone's guess. But the Mets will do everything in their power to bend the odds in their favor, relying on all the best modern medicine, nutrition, and strength and conditioning methods that they can.
5. For how long will the Mets' window stay open?
When New York made the World Series behind one of baseball's brightest young rotations in 2015, it seemed as if its window to compete would remain wide open for years. But injuries have thrust the club's ability into question, while the Mets' unwillingness to challenge baseball's top payrolls has left the roster with soft spots.
Certainly, if their pitching stays healthy, the Mets will compete for a postseason berth. But they have added little to a team that nearly missed the postseason in 2016. And if injuries strike again? The farm system no longer ranks anywhere close to baseball's best.
Perhaps the Mets add pieces at the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Perhaps they stay healthy and skate to a postseason berth. But considering where they once stood, the club would love to win a title as soon as possible, while Harvey, Syndergaard, deGrom and others remain in its employ. These types of opportunities rarely last long.
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.