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Mets' big picture doesn't appear in focus

Mets manager Jerry Manuel ponders a question during

Mets manager Jerry Manuel ponders a question during a press conference at Citi Field in New York Monday, oct. 5, 2009. Photo by Craig Ruttle. Credit: NEWSDAY/CRAIG RUTTLE

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - The best-run baseball teams, just like good businesses in any other industry, appreciate the big picture. They sense that it's paramount that your ship be headed in the right direction, even if you must endure some choppy waters.

So if you want even more evidence that the Mets still are not one of baseball's best-run teams, you needed only to listen to Jerry Manuel here at the club's voluntary minicamp.

"I think, for us, because of the troubles and the struggles we had last year in keeping people healthy and playing well, I think it's important to get off to a good start," the Mets' manager said at the team's minor-league complex. "To invigorate the people again to come out and be a part of what hopefully we can accomplish."

I don't think Manuel had his job security primarily in mind. Manuel is a pretty relaxed guy. He knows his checks will clear in 2010 whether he's managing all 162 games or sitting in his Sacramento home by the All-Star break.

No, I think this was a case of the skipper acknowledging the pressure the whole organization feels. It's pressure that, if poorly managed, could deepen the current quicksand in which the Mets find themselves.

Given this self-proclaimed need to get off to a fast start, will Manuel go to the well too often on say, a Kelvim Escobar, the high-upside reliever who has missed most of the last two seasons with arm problems?

With the strong possibility that the Mets will have problems with their starting rotation, could Manuel lean too heavily on Johan Santana, who is coming back from left elbow surgery?

Will Manuel's immediate supervisor, Omar Minaya, push players to levels for which they are not yet ready? Would he make an ill-advised trade for the chance of a short-term upgrade?

These types of questions will linger over the Mets until they can rediscover their footing in the National League East.

Which, let's make clear, is eminently possible. We can go ahead and whack away at the Mets, yet days like Monday - when you saw Santana looking trim and cheery, ready to take on the world and prove that last year was an aberration - can bring out the glass-half-full perspective in you.

"If we stay healthy, we're going to be good," Santana told reporters. "I think our chances are better. You'll see a lot of guys ready to go and ready for the season, and that's what we're looking for."

When you see Oliver Perez moving freely, if not quite as lean and mean as Santana, and speaking of the workouts he's had with Phoenix-based Brett Fischer - whom Randy Johnson credited with keeping him in shape - that's a positive.

And when you remember that the nucleus remains from the team that would've made the playoffs in 2008 if not for a ghastly bullpen, that's also reason for optimism.

Really, the Mets' bigger problem is their bigger picture. Will they finally spend money this year on the amateur draft? Will Minaya ever learn to embrace statistical analysis? (Based on the trade for Gary Matthews Jr., you'd guess "No" on the latter question.)

And will they have the pieces in place to stay competitive when Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes and (possibly) Francisco Rodriguez reach free agency after the 2011 season?

You don't answer such questions with fast starts. You answer them with vision and execution.

Maybe Manuel deserves some credit for acknowledging the elephant in the room. But the Mets truly will become a quality organization only when this elephant doesn't exist - regardless of how poorly any one season goes.

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