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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Lennon: Minaya's moves not answer, just start for Mets

PHILADELPHIA

Cutting Alex Cora, as the Mets did Saturday, is not going to get them to the playoffs. Nor is benching Luis Castillo in favor of Ruben Tejada or forcing Jeff Francoeur into a platoon with Fernando Martinez.

There's no sense in pretending otherwise. But the Mets did accomplish a few things with yesterday's flurry of roster moves, some of them significant.

With Cora 18 games away from a $2-million vesting option, the Mets avoided another fiscal blunder, so that's a positive.

Cora is just the first domino to fall, however, as the Mets, in the guise of improving their slim postseason chances, look to remodel themselves for 2011.

General manager Omar Minaya emphasized that bringing up the 20-year-old Tejada and the 21-year-old Martinez was in no way a sign that the Mets are giving up on this season. In reality, it was the last card the embattled GM had left to play.

With no freedom to add payroll, and a directive to hold tightly to prospects, Minaya turned to Tejada, who batted .212 in his previous stays with the Mets, and promoted the oft-injured Martinez for the first time this season. Not exactly on par with trading for Roy Oswalt, but at least Minaya can say he did more than sit by the window waiting for the sun to come up the next day.

"We just thought we need to change it up some," he said. "These are not main pieces. This is about trying to find something different to get us to score some runs. We still feel we're in the pennant race and we feel that we're bringing them up here to help us win some games."

Minaya was an instant success at one thing - angering both Castillo and Francoeur. Both couldn't understand why they were singled out to have their playing time trimmed by a pair of college-age rookies. But that probably is just the first step toward their eventual release - first the bench, then the door.

Even Jerry Manuel seemed a little uncomfortable talking about the moves before yesterday's game. The manager had backed two of his supposed core players through their tough times, and then Minaya basically torched any remaining shreds of those relationships. Preparing Tejada and Martinez for next season doesn't do a heck of a lot for Manuel, who isn't going to be here anyway. "These are not the answers," Manuel said.

No, but they do give the Mets low-cost options that might even keep a restless fan base interested to some degree. And with each day off the calendar, the more palatable it becomes to eat some of the money on the team's bloated contracts.

Castillo is down to about $2 million for the remainder of this season and $6 million for 2011. Francoeur has only about $1.6 million left on his $5-million deal, and he was going to be non-tendered by the Mets after this year anyway.

The Mets had no immediate plans to release Castillo or Francoeur even though both now want out, but that thinking could hinge on the performances of Tejada and Martinez.

The bottom line is that the Mets still have more hard decisions to make - and that's before grappling with the whole Oliver Perez headache. As much as Minaya talked glowingly about Cora as a clubhouse leader and future general manager, he was hitting .207 with a .265 on-base percentage, and his release was long overdue.

"I've known him since he was a junior in high school," Minaya said.

That probably explains why Minaya felt compelled to give Cora $2 million in the first place, but now it's time to start undoing those mistakes, and Saturday was a step in that direction.

It's too late to transform the Mets into serious contenders. The time for that was in June, when they were 10 games over .500 and wrestling with the Braves for the division's top spot. But don't worry about that now. After yesterday's shuffling, sit back, try to enjoy the Mets' kiddie corps and dream of a better 2011.

New York Sports