The Mets head into spring training with players entrenched in most key roster spots, but here are some position battles that new general manager Sandy Alderson and Mets fans should be following closely:
1. What’s on second?
Second base was an offensive black hole for the Mets last season. Regulars Luis Castillo, Ruben Tejada and Alex Cora combined for a paltry .220 batting average, .307 on-base percentage and just one home run. With Cora gone and the 20-year-old Tejada back in the minors, Castillo may be the front-runner for the job, but he faces some competition. Daniel Murphy is trying to make the difficult defensive transition to second base, further complicated by the knee brace he’ll be wearing following an MCL tear. He’ll depend on his serviceable major league average of .275 and .768 OPS to compensate for his lack of defensive range. A dark-horse candidate is Brad Emaus, a natural second baseman with an Alderson-friendly .364 OBP in the minors, whom the Mets acquired in the Rule 5 Draft. Justin Turner also has a shot after tearing up Triple-A Buffalo last season with a .333 average and .906 OPS.
2. Chance to get out there
Given that the Mets’ starting outfielders missed 176 games in 2010, the fourth outfielder may play a crucial role. Two darlings of the Mets’ farm system, Nick Evans and Lucas Duda, have not yet proven their major league readiness in limited appearances in Flushing. They’ll compete with two newly acquired journeyman outfielders, Scott Hairston and Willie Harris. Mets fans need to hope for a breakout season, as none of these four candidates have a career average better than .257 or an OPS higher than .737.
3. A start, but no end yet
The Mets’ opening rotation will feature Mike Pelfrey, R.A. Dickey and Jonathon Niese, leaving two spots up for grabs – at least until Johan Santana’s expected return from shoulder surgery at midseason. Late-season call-ups Pat Misch and Dillon Gee pitched respectably in limited 2010 work, with Gee posting the better ERA (2.18) and Misch displaying sharper command (5.5 K:BB). They’ll be pushed by newcomers Chris Young and Chris Capuano, who are four and five years removed from All-Star seasons, respectively, and have been slowed by injuries in recent years.