PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Since Sandy Alderson took over as the New York Mets general manager after the 2010 season, 2014 was the year the team quietly pointed to for their return to glory. By 2014, the Mets knew all of the cumbersome contracts of their past -- Johan Santana, Jason Bay and others -- would be off the books, freeing them up to invest in healthy, productive free agents.

That process did unfold this winter, when the Mets shelled out $60 million for outfielder Curtis Granderson, $20 million for starting pitcher Bartolo Colon and another $7.25 million for slugger Chris Young. But the Mets did not increase their roughly $87-million payroll by any great margin, leaving questions as to how well they can compete against the behemoths of the National League East.

"We'd always like to have more players," Alderson said, "but that doesn't always make you a better team."

Instead, the Mets will rely on improved contributions from first baseman Ike Davis, shortstop Ruben Tejada and catcher Travis d'Arnaud, all of whom endured injuries and struggled when healthy in 2014. They will also lean on a rotation that includes Colon, left-hander Jon Niese, and right-handers Zack Wheeler and Dillon Gee, and by season's end should also include top prospect righty Noah Syndergaard.

The Mets hope that the defensive improvement they enjoyed when outfielder Eric Young, Jr. and Juan Lagares came aboard last season will continue into 2014. And they do have high hopes for the newcomers to their lineup, particularly given the potential of Granderson and Young to give their power-starved lineup some much-needed thump.

"Some of the acquisitions we made over the wintertime made us better," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "Our middle of the lineup is a completely different-looking scenario than it was a year ago. So that right there I think makes us better. I think we've made some good additions that are going to make us a better team."

Most of all, there is a sense of optimism around Port St. Lucie that the Mets have not felt in years. They believe they have what it takes to win, despite a mid-market payroll and lingering roster questions.

"It's not an overnight fix," captain David Wright said. "You can't rebuild an entire culture or team in one offseason. It's going to be up to the guys that have been there to do their part as well."