Commentary

The Mets' blueprint for 2011

Now that the GM and manager are in place, here's a look at the work that lies ahead

Updated: November 25, 2010, 3:22 AM ET
By Adam Rubin | ESPNNewYork.com

There are 95 days until the New York Mets' Feb. 26 Grapefruit League opener against the Atlanta Braves in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

And if you have not tracked the Mets' offseason activity -- that is, beyond assembling a talent-rich front office and anointing a manager -- it will not take that long to recap:

  • Released Hisanori Takahashi, per a stipulation in his contract, after failing to come to terms on an extension.

  • Offered arbitration to fellow left-hander Pedro Feliciano on Tuesday, although that provides no assurance he returns.

    Clearly there is work to be done.

    What can be expected of newly hired manager Terry Collins and the 2011 Mets?

    Both Collins and GM Sandy Alderson predict competitiveness, not a resignation to rebuilding. Still, it may be an uphill battle in a division in which the Roy Halladay-Roy Oswalt-Cole Hamels triumvirate remains intact and the Atlanta Braves only bolstered their roster with the addition of Dan Uggla.

    Alderson acknowledges his concentration will be on pitching during the Dec. 6-9 winter meetings at Disney's Dolphin & Swan, and throughout the remainder of the offseason.

    Rightfully so.

    [+] EnlargeMike Pelfrey
    William Perlman/The Star-Ledger/US PresswireIs Mike Pelfrey ready to be an ace? With Johan Santana out, he may have to be.

    Collins on Tuesday echoed Alderson's assessment that ace left-hander Johan Santana will not be able to contribute at the start of the season. That necessitates Mike Pelfrey, Jonathon Niese and R.A. Dickey each sliding up a spot in the rotation. It also necessitates Alderson adding at least one established rotation contributor from outside the organization, so that the Mets need to go young with only one spot in the rotation -- whether that's right-hander Dillon Gee or someone else -- until Santana returns.

    The bullpen needs a more drastic overhaul during an offseason in which Alderson has said the Mets will not be lavish free-agent spenders.

    Alderson has all but committed to Francisco Rodriguez as his 2011 closer. The GM added that he would not do anything sly in order to ensure K-Rod falls shy of the 55 games finished that would trigger a $17.5 million vesting option for the following season.

    Bobby Parnell could serve as one late-inning option leading into Rodriguez.

    Beyond that? It's anyone's guess.

    All that offering arbitration to Feliciano on Tuesday ensured is that the Mets will pick up a supplemental first-round pick if the durable southpaw signs elsewhere this offseason.

    Feliciano has until next Tuesday to accept or reject the Mets' arbitration offer. If he accepts, he will return on a one-year deal, with an arbitrator setting the salary next spring training -- potentially at $4 million or more -- if the sides cannot work something out before the hearing.

    If Feliciano rejects the arbitration offer, it does not preclude him from re-signing with the Mets later this offseason. But it leaves the Mets in a precarious position of having no reliable left-handers in the bullpen, since Takahashi already is gone. (Because the Mets released Takahashi, rule-wise they cannot re-sign him and use him in the majors until May 15, ensuring he will sign elsewhere.)

    Even unremarkable left-hander Raul Valdes, let go by the Mets, has signed a minor league deal with the St. Louis Cardinals, leaving Pat Misch as perhaps the best major league-ready option for left-handed relief currently under the Mets' control.

    From the right side in the bullpen, beyond K-Rod and Parnell, there are few guarantees. In fact, the organization could even choose to cut loose arbitration-eligible Sean Green by the Dec. 2 deadline to offer him a contract -- although Green made only $975,000 last season and could be worth retaining. Ryota Igarashi also has a season remaining on his two-year deal.

    There is far less concern about the team's offense, and rightfully so.

    Left fielder Jason Bay mustered only six homers and had his season substantially cut short by a concussion, and is bound to have a better second season in New York. And while Collins may have a prickly situation in spring training determining whether Carlos Beltran belongs in center field or right field, Beltran is bound to give it his all in 2011 -- balky knees or not. That's because Beltran needs to maximize his value for wherever he will continue his career once his current seven-year contract has expired next offseason.

    Similarly, shortstop Jose Reyes appears likely to be in the final year of a contract in 2011, with the Mets having picked up an $11 million club option. He, too, should be ultra-motivated to produce.

    Collins committed Tuesday to Josh Thole as his No. 1 catcher. The manager also revealed he will soon visit Luis Castillo in the Dominican Republic. Collins can foresee a battle between Daniel Murphy, who is playing second base this winter in the Dominican Republic, and Castillo for the starting role in spring training. Collins did not list Ruben Tejada -- probably wisely -- among his second-base competitors, which may mean the young infielder gets to continue to mature at Triple-A Buffalo.

    Of course, Castillo could still get dealt this winter for a matching bad contract.

    Meanwhile, Collins promises he will not be a robotic middle manager who simply follows front-office doctrine and relies solely on stats. He pledged to take advantage of the Mets' speed and bunt when appropriate -- all while trying to balance a fiery side with sensitivity to how today's players differ from their predecessors of 20 years ago.

    "I have been around Tom Lasorda, Lou Piniella, Jim Leyland," Collins said, listing managerial royalty. "And excuse me if they're not intense, because you better be focused. They may handle things differently than me. But I believe to manage this game you've got to have some intensity and some desire."

    Adam Rubin covers MLB for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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    Adam Rubin has covered the Mets since 2003. He's a graduate of Mepham High School on Long Island and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He joined ESPNNewYork after spending 10 years at the New York Daily News.
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