Mets: It'll be tough to beat 4 aces

New York Mets manager Terry Collins plans to bring up the rival Philadelphia Phillies' addition of left-hander Cliff Lee on Day 1 of the new skipper's spring training camp in Port St. Lucie, Fla., in February.

"They got our attention," Collins said Tuesday, at the Mets' annual holiday party for New York City schoolchildren at Citi Field. "It's not like they didn't have it before, for sure. We've got some preparation ahead."

Several Mets expressed surprise at the Phillies' under-the-radar maneuver to add Lee to a rotation that already included aces Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels.

Jason Bay found out Tuesday morning when a hotel staffer mentioned it while delivering the left fielder's room-service breakfast order. Bay marveled at how the Phillies remained in the shadows throughout the courtship, while the Yankees and Rangers made headlines.

"More than anything, it's just digesting the fact that it kind of happened in that manner," Bay said. "Especially nowadays, it's very hard to keep anything under wraps. Things seem to come out."

Said Collins: "I was taken by surprise, I can honestly tell you. I really thought that New York and Texas were the two places. Certainly I was shocked. But I know better than to be shocked in our business. Someone asked me after the Jayson Werth [signing with Washington for seven years, $126 million], 'Are you shocked about the money?' So I said, 'No, I'm not.' I should have stayed with that. I shouldn't be surprised. They obviously are going to be a formidable opponent now. No question."

Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran, who in recent years had traded playful jabs with Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins about whether New York or Philadelphia was the "team to beat" in the NL East, rolled his eyes for effect while saying about facing the Phillies: "It's going to be fun, man."

The Mets, meanwhile, presently have a top four in the rotation of Mike Pelfrey, Jonathon Niese, R.A. Dickey and Dillon Gee until Johan Santana returns from shoulder surgery during the summer. The Mets still plan to add a free-agent starting pitcher such as Chris Young, but general manager Sandy Alderson has acknowledged he has only about $5 million more to spend this winter, with the payroll already projected to exceed $130 million because of past commitments.

"On paper it's pretty formidable," Alderson said about the Phillies' rotation.

When it was asked of Bay how he could arrive at spring training optimistic about the Mets' chances given the disparity in talent in the rotation, the ex-Pirate referred to his days in small-market Pittsburgh.

"I played in Pittsburgh for six years," Bay said. "I understand there are certain factors that are against you sometimes. But, at the same time, everybody goes in with the same mindset -- whether you were the best team or the worst team in the league the year before. You go in with the same mindset that we'll try to win as many ballgames and see what happens. And every year there are one or two teams that surprise a lot of people. I think we definitely have the talent. We won't surprise a lot of people, but we have the talent to do better than a lot of people expect."

Said Beltran: "I don't like to be negative. I never like to be negative. I always like to be positive. I always said in baseball there's nothing written. Philly probably on paper looks great, but we don't know how it's going to work out. I mean, we're all speculating it's going to work out great. If you ask a Phillies fan, they'd say it's going to work out great. If you ask me, I say, 'Well, I don't know.' At the same time, for us as an organization, I don't think the Mets are finished searching out to try to improve the ballclub. Probably they don't have the money to spend on a guy like him, but I believe they're still searching."

Collins said the only comparable rotation he could recall facing was during his days as a coach on Jim Leyland's staff in Pittsburgh in the mid-1990s, when Steve Avery was still healthy and Atlanta also had Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine.

"It's quite obvious when you're talking about Doc and Cliff and Oswalt and Cole Hamels, that's got to be, in my opinion, probably the best rotation in baseball," Collins said. "There's nothing we can do about it except to try to get ready to play it and attack it. We're going to have to make sure that we're prepared, make sure we take advantage of any mistakes they make. They can't make a mistake and us foul it off. We've got to do some damage with it. I don't know what to tell you. I just told Sandy, 'Well, you've got to look at the bright side: Our right-handed lineup is pretty stinking good."

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

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