"Right away we knew that," he says. "Everyone was so up, so optimistic. ... We had more talent last year, but that feeling wasn't there."
Wagner, among others, believes the feeling will return this year, so long as the Mets' trade for Johan Santana is finalized. Without having spoken with any of his colleagues, Wagner is certain that same feeling, that sense of "watch out, we're good" will take hold and bring out an element he thought was absent from the first day in Port St. Lucie last year.
"If we get Johan Santana, we're back to being one of the five best teams in the game. I couldn't be happier," Wagner said. "I know we'll all feel that way."
A sampling of other Mets suggest the free-speaking closer is right. David Wright was delighted by the prospect of Santana joining the team.
"Obviously there's a lot of positive energy, if [the trade happens] going into Spring Training," he said.
Speaking before the B.A.T. dinner in Manhattan on Tuesday night, Wright said Santana's presence would help the Mets get through the residue of 2007 that probably awaits them in Florida.
"It's something that, as players, we're obviously responsible for what happened last year and because of that, we're going to have to answer questions about it," Wright said. "It's not something anyone in the clubhouse is going to run away from or shy away from. Johan has zero to do with what happened last year. I've said it before, it's the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. We know that that's going to linger around, but I think in a way that's a good thing.
"You want to have that in the back of your mind going into Spring Training because hopefully we come out with a fire, with a desire to win from the first pitch of Spring Training on. It's easier to move past last year when you get one of the best pitchers in the game."
Wright has come to know Santana through Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer.
"I've gotten a chance to get to know him over the past couple of years and he seems like a great clubhouse guy who's going to fit in perfectly with the chemistry that we have," Wright said. "If it's true, then we're going to welcome him with open arms."
What Aaron Heilman knows of Santana he has gleaned from television highlights and game accounts. "Very impressive from what I see and read," Heilman said. "He pitches a lot of innings and pitches successfully. I'm sure he'll fit in. We have a real melting pot, so he'll be comfortable in our clubhouse right away."
The impact Santana can have has already been felt outside the Mets. "This certainly evens the balance within the division," Tom Glavine said from his home outside Atlanta. "I don't think this makes [the Mets] the class of the division. I think it puts them in a position where there rotation is much better and that was their biggest need.
"Within the division, I think you have three teams that can now not only win the division, but also the World Series. I think all three teams did a nice job of filling their biggest needs.
While having breakfast before a Chamber of Commerce meeting on Tuesday morning, Glavine and John Smoltz were talking about what the possibility of the trade and what it would mean to the National League East.
"Unfortunately from our standpoint, just a few hours later the trade came true," Glavine said. "But still I can't look at any of these three teams and say they are the clear-cut favorites in the division. I think it will be a battle to the end like it was last year.
"It wasn't like you looked at the Mets and thought they wouldn't contend. They have too good of a team. But when you looked at the team, there was obvious concern about their rotation. When you looked their needs, you said they needed a young, front-line starter and they certainly addressed that in a big way."