Jan 27

Smooth sailing not guaranteed for 2012

The conventional thinking is this is a throwaway season with the Mets not being able to compete until 2012 after the team clears its books of Oliver Perez, Carlos Beltran, Luis Castillo and possibly Francisco Rodriguez.

However, that’s not a given.

While the Mets should have more financial flexibility next winter, they’ll have a wide range of holes to fill including an outfielder to replace Beltran, at least two starting pitchers and possibly a closer if they don’t bring back Rodriguez.

There’s also the possibility of needing a second baseman and maybe a catcher if Josh Thole doesn’t pan out.

Take away those four contracts and the Mets will have $54 million to play with, but that’s only for one year. That’s probably enough to fill four spots, but will the Mets make four long-term signings?

That doesn’t appear to be Sandy Alderson’s way of doing things.

Another potential hole could be shortstop if Jose Reyes walks after the season.

The bottom line is the Mets could still have a lot of work to do after this season, and possibly next year as well.

Jan 26

Santana not throwing

Despite being cleared to begin his post-op throwing program, Johan Santana hasn’t begun, yet. It is premature to say this is a setback.

General manager Sandy Alderson said last month he expects Santana to be throwing before the start of spring training, but wouldn’t specify a date. He did say Opening Day was out and the expectation was for the second half.

When we see Santana could very well depend on how well the Mets are playing by the All-Star break. If the team is playing poorly and opts to rebuild by dealing Carlos Beltran, then there’s no sense in rushing Santana.

If the Mets are competing and have realistic wild-card aspirations, then it isn’t hard to envision there might be some pressure – probably self-imposed by Santana – to come back.

Either way, the clock on Santana’s return won’t start until he starts throwing and he hasn’t yet started long-tossing.

Jan 24

Could be a defining year for Parnell

One of the more interesting Mets this spring will be Bobby Parnell, who hasn’t spoken to Terry Collins about a defined role but said his aspirations of being a starter are gone.

PARNELL: Looking for breakthrough season

“I see myself as a reliever,’’ Parnell said. “I’d like to be later in the game. The seventh, eighth, ninth inning.’’

With his fastball and improving slider, speculation has him moving into the set-up role for Francisco Rodriguez, who has a $17.5 million option for 2012 if he finishes 55 games this season. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine the Mets limiting his appearances to get out from under that contract.

That could happen if Rodriguez doesn’t show up at camp 100 percent.

“That’s where I want to be,’’ Parnell said of his goal of someday assuming a closer role. “If he comes in hurt, I would definitely like to help the team in that role until he gets healthy.’’

Parnell said his handful of starts at the end of the 2009 season – despite his numbers – were beneficial because it gave him experience and enabled him to work on the slider.

Parnell said having a fastball that touches 100 mph. does not guarantee him taking that next step to a higher level. It is trusting that fastball and “attacking the hitters,’’ and working on his command that will improve his game. “It’s being consistent,’’ Parnell said.

Jan 20

Collins seems refreshing

The impression in talking with Terry Collins yesterday is that he’s decisive, something we haven’t always had with Mets managers.

It’s January and Collins already named his Opening Day starter and the top five of his batting order, after which you can figure the rest out. Ask most managers simple questions this time of year about the rotation and batting order and they waffle, saying it is too early, even though the answers seem obvious.

Of course, injuries, performance and match-ups can change things, but the impression is Collins wants to use a set batting order as much as possible, something Jerry Manuel didn’t always do, even when health wasn’t an issue. And, there will be no fooling around with Jose Reyes. Collins recognizes him as a premier leadoff hitter and will ride that horse.

Collins will bunch his speed in Reyes and Angel Pagan at the top of the order, go the traditional route and use his best hitter in David Wright third, utilize his power in Carlos Beltran clean-up and protect him with a right-handed bat in Jason Bay fifth. From there he’ll go with left-handed power in Ike Davis sixth, followed by Josh Thole, the second baseman and finally the pitcher.

Collins knows the landscape about the fans’ expectations and interest this time of year and fueled it with something to talk about. I hope he maintains this approach during the season when things get rough. Who wants the Mets to have eight different batting orders in ten games?

Incidentally, Chris Young passed his physical and the team will make an announcement today or tomorrow. If healthy, he should be among the top four, with Chris Capuano and Dillon Gee competing for the fifth spot. Pat Misch is on the peripheral, but he’s out of options and his best chance of making the team is as a long reliever.

The Mets are counting on Francisco Rodriguez to be healthy and stay the closer with Bobby Parnell seemingly having the inside track as the set-up reliever.

Jan 19

Pelfrey embraces ace role

PELFREY: Likes ace role.

Freshly armed with a $4 million contract to avoid arbitration, Mike Pelfrey said this morning he welcomes the ace role created by the absence of Johan Santana.

“I embrace it,” Pelfrey said this morning on WFAN. “I want to go out there and lead by example. I’ll be out there every fifth day.”

Pelfrey won 15 games last season after a sluggish spring training. However, with the expectations high, Pelfrey didn’t panic in the spring, the first sign last year of his growing maturity on the mound. He said he wasn’t worried about the spring becoming a prelude to the season.

“I felt like I was working on things,” Pelfrey said. “I was working on the split. I was getting better every time out there.”

A knock on Pelfrey in previous years was his inability to finish off hitters and innings by losing focus. Save a horrid July, he had tunnel vision in 2010. With Santana out and questions throughout the rotation, Pelfrey should be able to take another step this summer. The Mets sure think so, which is why they rewarded him with the contract.

Should Pelfrey continue to improve it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Mets try to get an extension done next winter. Pelfrey is arbitration eligible next year.

NOTE: I will be at Citi Field today for a Mets function and will post again this afternoon.