Commentary

Beltran will help, but will he be enough?

With no trades on the horizon, the Mets may find it hard to compete in the second half

Updated: July 15, 2010, 4:54 PM ET
By Adam Rubin | ESPNNewYork.com

As far as New York Mets spring-training questions go:

Yes, David Wright's power returned in 2010.

No, Oliver Perez and John Maine were not better than the field of free-agent pitchers available -- even if Jason Marquis isn't looking like a bargain now in Washington.

No, Ryota Igarashi and Kelvim Escobar were not the answers for the eighth inning.

Yes, Jenrry Mejia would have been better served spending the first half in the minors, because he might be ready to contribute now in the major league rotation had that been the case.

As for what's now unresolved as the Mets resume play against the San Francisco Giants on Thursday, here's a look:

1. How does Carlos Beltran get reintegrated into the lineup?

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Manager Jerry Manuel needs to see firsthand how sharp and durable Beltran is before determining exactly how frequently he can play from the get-go. Beltran is returning from Jan. 13 arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. If Beltran gets strategically rested, that will soften the blow to right fielder Jeff Francoeur in terms of diminished playing time. Manuel indicated Francoeur will start against left-handers, which means two starts in four games in the second-half-opening series at San Francisco, against Barry Zito and Jonathan Sanchez. Soon thereafter, performance will dictate who gets playing time in the outfield. And Manuel is looking for wins, not friends. So Francoeur better produce. Otherwise, he could be in for the Gary Matthews Jr. treatment, with Angel Pagan becoming the regular right fielder.

2. Is trading-deadline help on the way?

Omar Minaya
Omar Minaya

Ace Cliff Lee clearly would have tipped the balance in the National League East had the Mets successfully negotiated a deal with the Seattle Mariners to acquire the left-hander. But talks appear never to have been substantive between Mets GM Omar Minaya and his Seattle counterpart. The next-best class of starting pitchers who could be available includes Ted Lilly of the Chicago Cubs, Roy Oswalt of the Houston Astros and Dan Haren of the Arizona Diamondbacks. But if recent deadlines are any indication, the Mets may not make any attention-grabbing deal. Arguably, the Mets need bullpen help more anyway. The list of potentially available relievers compiled by ESPN.com includes a trio of former Mets -- Heath Bell, Matt Lindstrom and Aaron Heilman -- as well as the Toronto Blue Jays Kevin Gregg, Seattle's David Aardsma, Washington Nationals Matt Capps and Pittsburgh Pirates Octavio Dotel.

3. Who finishes with more homers -- Jason Bay or Angel Pagan?

Jason Bay
Jason Bay

When the Mets invested $66 million over four years to lure Bay to Citi Field, they knew his power numbers would diminish from the 36 he slugged in 2009 while calling Fenway Park home. However, Bay has only six homers at the All-Star break, an identical total to Pagan's longball mark. Bay's career-worst total for a full season came with the Pirates in 2007, with 21. Bay will need to hustle to even reach that total. Manuel has indicated Bay could bat sixth right after the All-Star break, behind a 3-4-5 of Wright, Beltran and Ike Davis. But if the Mets are to make a serious postseason run, Bay is going to need to drive in runs. He's currently sitting at 44 RBIs -- well off last year's 119 total with the Boston Red Sox.

4. Can the starting pitchers continue to produce?

Mike Pelfrey raced to a 9-1 start, but tailed off considerably in his final five starts of the first half, when he posted a 7.52 ERA. There was better recent news regarding Johan Santana. The southpaw limited opponents to one run in 23 innings in three July starts. He also boasts a career 61-19 record after the All-Star break, which bodes well for Santana having a strong second half. That Santana-Pelfrey tandem living up to hopes would alleviate the need to acquire a frontline starting pitcher via trade. Still, the second part of the rotation equation is whether R.A. Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi can continue to be upgrades over original rotation members Oliver Perez and John Maine. Takahashi has shown more aptitude for relief, despite primarily working as a starting pitcher for 10 seasons with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan. By the third time Takahashi faces batters in a game, they're hitting .404 against him.

5. Are Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo really coming back?

You can't keep healthy players off the major league roster indefinitely, even if it sure seems as if the Mets are trying. Perez has made three starts in the minors on a rehab assignment, including Sunday with Triple-A Buffalo, when he walked five, hit two batters and issued two wild pitches in five innings. Perez is again scheduled to pitch for the Bisons on Friday. Then what? Manuel hasn't committed to Perez being assigned to the bullpen or replacing Takahashi in the rotation when he's ultimately activated. Either way, Perez is roughly at the midpoint of a three-year, $36 million deal. And the team's fans by a wide margin would love to see the organization just eat the remaining contract. Same goes for Castillo, who is in year three of a four-year, $25 million deal. Manuel indicated Castillo was due to begin a minor league rehab assignment last weekend. That hasn't started yet, though. At least Castillo's fill-in, Ruben Tejada, closed the first half in a 2-for-25 rut, which should mute the uproar if the rookie ultimately is displaced on the roster by Castillo.

Adam Rubin covers the Mets 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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