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The Mets' spring-training questions

New York Mets, David Wright laughs while drilling

New York Mets, David Wright laughs while drilling on the field during spring training in Port St. Lucie on the morning of February 26, 2009. (Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara) Photo Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

We talked yesterday about the Yankees' "questions" in spring training. The Mets have questions. No quotation marks. Really, if you wanted to get snarky, you could discuss the Mets' "vision" for the long term.

Now, having written that, this has not been a lost spring training for the Mets, despite the obvious setbacks of Jose Reyes and Kelvim Escobar. The performances of players like Ike Davis, Fernando Martinez, Jenrry Mejia and Hisanori Takahashi have provided much-needed new topics of conversation for the fan base.

When you throw in that David Wright looks primed for a rebound, Johan Santana appears on his way to coming back and Jason Bay is steady and very good, you at least have some reasons for hope.

Meanwhile, while it's silly to make too much out of spring training results, you can't help but notice that the Nationals - a young team that could certainly benefit from some Grapefruit League victories - are 0-11.

The Mets have so many questions about the state of their entire organization - like who will be the team's general manager and manager a year from now, that kind of stuff - that it sort of seems trivial to just discuss some short-term, on-the-field issues. But #$!&@ the heck, let's do it anyway. There is a season to play, and in the National League, hope springs eternal.

1. Who is the fifth starter? With the Mets, of course, the starting-rotation questions begin either after Santana or with Santana, depending on your level of pessimism. But for better or worse, Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez and John Maine are slotted in after Santana.

The fifth spot? Jerry Manuel said yesterday that the competition will probably go toward the end of camp, and the skipper spoke very highly of Takahashi, who is living up to his reputation as a savvy competitor without overwhelming stuff.

The Mets would like Jon Niese to win the job, and Niese hasn't done anything terribly wrong this spring. It could make a great deal of sense to slot Niese in that fifth spot - he's ready, as long as he's healthy - and take Takashi aboard as a long reliever, always a needed component when Perez is in your rotation.

And then Takahashi could be the first man into the rotation when someone falters or gets hurt, which is as much a certainty as Duke getting defeated by a lower seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament.

2. Who is the everyday first baseman? This is a tough call and, again, sort of a happy one for the Mets, who loooove Ike Davis' future. Yet as Jon Heyman reported, Davis will likely start the season at Triple-A Buffalo, with Daniel Murphy then getting the big-league job. This is the conservative call, and probably the right one. The worst thing for Davis' long-term development would be heading to the majors before he's fully ready.

3. Who is the eighth-inning setup man? Going back to the Mets' vision or lack thereof, if they could develop a plan to use Jenrry Mejia in the major-league bullpen without jeopardizing his future _ The Jenrry Rules _ then perhaps that would make some sense. But look at the way Jerry Manuel wore down Bobby Parnell last year, and then remember that Parnell's potential is nowhere near that of Mejia's.

Nevertheless, with Manuel continually lobbying for Mejia, and with Escobar down, you could see this happening. And hey, he could be great. Still, if Kiko Calero uses the final two-plus weeks of camp to start looking like his 2009 self, then it would make more sense, big-picture, to use him, and to hope that Ryota Igarashi can handle the seventh inning, with Pedro Feliciano, Nelson Figueroa, Sean Green, Nieve and Parnell also in the mix. Figueroa could wind up getting designated for assignment yet again.

4. Who are the injury fill-ins for Reyes and Carlos Beltran? Heyman reports that Tejada will likely join Davis at Buffalo. This would be a mistake, IMO. Tejada would provide at least steady glovework if he starts in the big leagues, and maybe he could even provide an offensive lift of some sort with his speed. Alex Cora won't embarrass the team most days; he just won't help it, either.

In centerfield, meanwhile, it has to be Angel Pagan, doesn't it? He delivered one of the most encouraging performances last year. Might as well build on that.

--With the Yankees off yesterday, Erik Boland offered an assessment of camp so far.

--From Buster Olney's blog, I found this Mike Vaccaro column on Derek Jeter's future. I agree with Vac that the Yankees will have a plan ready to switch Jeter out of shortstop, when the time comes.

Here's an interesting follow-up: How big will the difference of opinion be between the Yankees and Jeter over when that time is? You know the Yankees will try to wait until an offseason arrives to conquer that. Will Jeter, an extremely proud man, immediately jump on board?

--If you have fans to go to spring training, and you like golf, you might want to check this out.





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