PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - When the Mets signed Curtis Granderson to a four-year, $60- million contract in December, manager Terry Collins immediately hailed the idea of having someone with prodigious power batting cleanup behind David Wright.
"One of the best things we were looking for is someone to protect David," Collins said. "And if it was a lefthanded bat, it would be big. And so he was the perfect guy. With Curtis hitting behind him now, they've got to make a decision: Are they going to go after David Wright or are they going to go after Curtis Granderson with guys on base?
"David is patient enough to take the base on balls. I think he'll get better pitches to hit because of that. We know if David gets pitches to hit, he'll do damage."
No one disputes that Wright will do damage if he gets pitches to hit. But will Granderson's presence in the on-deck circle have anything to do with how pitchers approach Wright?
Wright thinks it can.
"I'm a believer that obviously the guy hitting behind you can affect the way pitchers pitch to you," Wright said. "But does it make things any easier? You still have to go out there and have a good at-bat and do the things you're supposed to do. It's not like you've got Curtis hitting behind you and things are just going to be easy. That's not the way it works."
It won't work that way at all when a lefthander is on the mound. Granderson has improved against southpaws, but most are going to prefer to face the former Yankee rather than the Mets' captain.
Righthanded pitchers will have a choice to make, though.
It wasn't much of a problem last year when Ike Davis or Lucas Duda hit cleanup for the Mets.
Marlon Byrd actually started the most games (51) at the No. 4 spot for the 2013 Mets. Duda was next with 41 and Davis had 39.
Because of Byrd's surprising comeback season, Mets cleanup batters weren't as bad compared with the NL average as one might think. Mets cleanup batters hit .251 with a .332 on-base percentage and .419 slugging percentage. The NL averages were .275/.342/.452.
Still, the Mets got below-average production in all three categories. They hope Granderson, who hit 84 homers for the Yankees in 2011-12 before an injury-plagued 2013, can raise those numbers while helping Wright have a better season.
"It's good to have established guys who have a couple 40-home run seasons under the belt," Wright said. "The pitcher always knows where those guys are in the lineup. Ultimately, it's going to make our lineup better, but we need to take it further than that. Curtis is going to do his part to make this a much better lineup, but I think as a whole we need to take that next step from top to bottom to be more complete."
Last year, Wright hit .307 with 18 home runs and 58 RBIs in 112 games and 430 at-bats.
When the Mets were contenders in the mid-2000s, Wright was surrounded by power hitters such as Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran and a talented table-setter in Jose Reyes. If you think Wright misses those days, you're right.
"It was just stupid, the lineup that we had," Wright said. "So when you have that type of lineup, obviously you have a lot more RBI opportunities, you score a lot more runs. That's just the way it works.''
The Mets aren't there yet, but Granderson should help. He's not going to take credit, though, if Wright has an MVP-caliber season.
"Oh, no, that's David being David," Granderson said. "He has all the ability to do that. The protection comes if a guy's willing to let the next guy do what he can. And that could be across the board. If you don't get a pitch to hit, take a walk and let the next guy do it."
It's easier if the next guy can do it. This year, the Mets think they have that guy.