Jerry Manuel touched on a variety of topics during his 38-minute news conference this morning at Tradition Field. Strangely, his contract situation didn’t take up a huge chunk of the time, maybe because he offered some pertinent insights into the team’s spring training plans. Among them:

Reyes hitting third. Manuel wants to try Jose Reyes at the No. 3 spot in the batting order, which he also did last year before switching him back to leadoff in time for Opening Day. Part of that is the absence of Carlos Beltran, who is expected to the miss first two months after knee surgery, but Manuel believes that could be a logical home for Reyes at this stage of his career. “Reyes, in my opinion, has evolved into a legitimate No. 3 hitter on a good team,” Manuel said.

I spoke to a few other team officials about a possible lineup, and this was one of the suggestions: Luis Castillo, Angel Pagan, Jose Reyes, Jason Bay, David Wright, Daniel Murphy, Jeff Francoeur, Omir Santos. Notice that Wright also is bounced from third to fifth.

Murphy the leader at 1B. Manuel sees Daniel Murphy as his Opening Day first baseman, adding that Mike Jacobs would have to do “damage” in order to unseat him at the position. That doesn’t mean Jacobs can’t win a bench spot. When asked what position on the bench, Manuel replied, “Power.” The Mets have become more righthanded since the departure of Carlos Delgado and the absence of the switch-hitting Beltran, and Jacobs could help fill some of the lefty power void.

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Niese favored for No. 5. Here’s a minor upset. Manuel spoke glowingly about Jon Niese as the fifth starter, saying that he would prefer the young lefthander to win the job out of spring training. That sort of goes against Omar Minaya giving the early edge to Fernando Nieve. Both Niese and Nieve are coming off season-ending injuries, so they have much to prove over the next six weeks.

Uncertain on set-up guy. With Kelvim Escobar coming along slowly in spring training – he’s not even cleared to pick up a baseball yet – Manuel said that the eighth-inning set up spot is his biggest question. The manager believes Bobby Parnell could fill that role, but Ryota Igarashi seems to be a close second to Escobar, especially after signing a two-year, $3 million deal.