With the releases of Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez this month, the Mets ate $18 million in 2011 salary, signaling that the franchise may have greater financial flexibility than the Bernard Madoff victims’ lawsuit and skimpy offseason signings would suggest.
As this team reinvents itself with a new manager, Terry Collins, and general manager, Sandy Alderson, after four seasons with no playoff appearances, the Mets’ most compelling questions in 2011 are:
1. Who’s on second?
Brad Emaus — for now. Winning a starter’s role because 26-year-old Justin Turner has minor-league options is not a resounding vote of confidence. Eamus will hit eighth, but he had a solid glove and a .364 OPB with 81 BB in 125 minor league games last year. Utility bat Daniel Murphy struggled defensively this spring but will spot-start at second.
2. Will Santana’s return be ‘Smooth’?
Unlike Carlos Santana’s comeback, Johan Santana’s return may be rocky. Santana had rotator cuff surgery on Sept. 14 and is slated to return in July. Pitchers often have great bounce-backs the year after surgery — but not so much when they return at midseason. Temp ace Mike Pelfrey had a typically shaky spring. Will knuckleballer R.A. Dickey repeat his career year of 2010? Newcomers Chris Young and Chris Capuano had great springs (1.33 and 2.30 ERAs, respectively).
3. Angels in the outfield?
Angel Pagan will excel in center field, but are his fellow outfielders bedeviled? Carlos Beltran, hobbled by arthritic knees, missed most of camp and will be lucky to stay on the field. Will grinder Jason Bay, felled by a concussion last July, settle into Citi Field, will the left fielder continue watching his fly balls die on the warning track?
4. Will Reyes run out of Queens?
Expect a monster year as Jose Reyes approaches free agency, where he is expected to command a Carl Crawford-esque price tag (seven years, $142 million). First-base coach Mookie Wilson and Reyes will make magic on the basepaths in the most-fun-to-watch subplot of 2011.
5. How do you spell relief?
Not “F-e-l-i-c-i-a-n-o.” With the underappreciated lefty specialist Pedro Feliciano donning Yankee pinstripes, bullpen roles are up for grabs. Right-hander D.J. Carrasco and lefty Tim Byrdak are definites, while other candidates include righties Bobby Parnell (who has options), Taylor Buchholz (0.00 ERA this spring), Pedro Beato (a Rule 5 pick) and Blaine Boyer (a hard-throwing former Brave). Right-hander Jason Isringhausen, the 38-year-old former co-star of Generation K in the 1990s, surrendered two hits in six innings this spring before suffering elbow inflammation. Perhaps the most interesting question is this: Will closer Francisco Rodriguez’s temper, chilled by court-dictated anger management, result in a cooled-down heater?