The Mets didn’t get the middle infielder at the very top of their holiday wish list. But Terry Collins still sounded like a kid on Christmas morning with some new toys to play with.

“You are talking about the middle of the infield being veteran guys that know the game, know how to play, have track records, know what it takes to be successful,” Collins said Tuesday at the Mets’ annual kids holiday party at Citi Field. “We think we are going to be better off because of it.”

One of those infielders, Neil Walker, was at Citi Field wearing a Santa Claus hat and his new No. 20 Mets jersey. When the Mets lost out on Ben Zobrist, a free-agent infielder who signed a four-year, $56-million deal with the Cubs last week, they traded pitcher Jon Niese to the Pirates for Walker. The acquisition of Walker, along with the signing of Asdrubal Cabrera, gave the Mets two switch-hitting infielders who provide the flexibility the Mets enjoyed when they acquired Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson last season.

“I think this is a team that obviously had a lot of success last year and they know where they want to improve this year,” said Walker, who hit .269 with 16 home runs and 71 RBIs in his seventh season with the Pirates. “I’m just really excited to be a part of it. Obviously there is nobody that has better pitching than this staff right here. But I think the mixture of veteran guys and young guys, and guys in between is something that is very valuable, in my opinion, about that team.”

But the addition of Walker also signaled the end of Daniel Murphy’s tenure with the Mets.

“Believe me,” said Collins, “I have only great things to say about Dan Murphy and the things he did.”

The moves also mean the Mets’ incumbent shortstops, Wilmer Flores and Ruben Tejada, will see their roles change. Collins said Flores will get opportunities at various infield positions in spring training, and unless additional moves are made, will serve as the primary backup to Lucas Duda at first base. He will also get time at third as the Mets attempt to limit the workload of David Wright, who Collins said is currently in California meeting with his back specialist.

“He’s finding out what he has to do for the rest of the winter to get himself ready,” Collins said. “So I think it’s a little early to sit down with him and say, ‘Hey look, we only want you to play 135 games.’ I just think that’s unfair at this particular stage until we know how he comes out of the winter.”

Collins said the sudden retirement of Michael Cuddyer, who had one year and $12.5 million remaining on his contract, did not come as a surprise to him. He said Cuddyer, 36, had expressed concern about his body breaking down.

“A lot of guys would not have done it,” Collins said. “They would have gone to spring training and had to sit on the DL and collect that money and not say anything. But that’s not Michael Cuddyer.”

His departure provides some financial relief but also creates a need for a righthanded bat. Collins said he isn’t asking for one from the higher-ups, but added “they are certainly searching for a couple more pieces.”

No. 5 starter up for grabs. Collins said that Sean Gilmartin and Logan Verrett could be in contention for the fifth spot in the rotation. As is Bartolo Colon, a free agent who has expressed interest in returning. “I know he wants to come back,” Collins said. “I know there’s talks with him going on.”

Blevins re-signed. The Mets yesterday re-signed lefthanded reliever Jerry Blevins to a one-year, $4-million contract.

Blevins, 32, can earn an additional $1 million via incentives. He made seven perfect appearances for the Mets last season, retiring all 15 batters he faced before getting struck on the left elbow by a line drive hit by Miami’s Dee Gordon on April 19.

Blevins suffered a fractured left forearm. He refractured it on Aug. 3 in a fall off a curb in Port St. Lucie, Florida, while rehabbing the injury.

The Mets acquired Blevins from Washington on March 30 for outfielder Matt den Dekker.

Blevins announced the signing on Twitter: “Dear @Santa, Thanks for the early Christmas present! I couldn’t be happier to return to the @Mets.”

With Blevins in the fold, the Mets will continue to look for relief help, including their own free agent, Tyler Clippard.— ANTHONY RIEBER


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