Mar 23

Plan for Beltran; Emaus inside track at second.

Although not definitive, the Mets’ roster is taking shape as spring training approaches.

The Mets remain insistent Carlos Beltran will be ready for Opening Day and are pushing him, although they aren’t likely to play him in a major league game in case things unravel and he’ll be forced to open on the disabled list.

EMAUS: Second base frontrunner.

Beltran was hitless in five at-bats today as a DH in a minor league game. He will play as a DH tomorrow and Friday, but possibly this weekend he could play in the field and run the bases.

Possibly.

“I do think it is fair to say at this point there’s not a lot of wiggle room in that schedule between now and Opening Day if he’s going to be on the active roster,’’ GM Sandy Alderson said. “As of this point he’s still on track for Opening Day.’’

DL assignments are backdated 10 days into spring training, so if things stand as they are and Beltran were to only play in minor league games he would only miss the first three games of the season (the Mets have two off days among the first five games).

Assuming this plan works out, Willie Harris and Scott Hairston, the outfield depth, will right field. Should Beltran land on the DL, Lucas Duda will be the 25th man on the roster.

Today, Alderson told reporters to take a look at today’s lineup card and use their imagination. Standing out was Brad Emaus at second base and Daniel Murphy at third.

Emaus, a Rule 5 pick-up from Toronto, has a greater upside than Luis Hernandez, who is out of options and is being shopped because he probably won’t clear waivers. The Mets have a good idea of what to expect from Hernandez, but Emaus has potential working for him.

“I like my chances, but we’re not all the way there,’’ Emaus told reporters this afternoon about his chances.

Murphy started at third today and has been getting time and first and second. He’s the projected left-handed bat off the bench.

Justin Turner, as expected because of his options, was sent down.

Meanwhile, Oliver Perez signed a minor league deal today with the Nationals.

Mar 18

Mets drop Castillo like that pop-up

The inevitable finally occurred..

Luis Castillo, who wasn’t having a bad spring offensively, was finally released today. However, staying with the Mets, unless somebody picks him up, will be the $6 million the club owns him.

CASTILLO: The play that defined his Met career.

The Wilpons frequently have been criticized for refusing to eat bad contracts and there was speculation Castillo might stick. I thought he’d at least last the weekend.

However, in the end, the negativity Castillo brought, his declining defensive ability and the belief he wasn’t much better – if at all than his competition – were the overriding factors in ridding the organization of one of its most scorned players in its history.

Sandy Alderson made the announcement: “After a long evaluation during spring training, after consulting with [manager] Terry [Collins] and the coaching staff, I made a recommendation to ownership in the best interest of the organization and Louie that he be released. Ownership approved.’’

Indeed, the culture has changed.

Collins was never enamored with Castillo, starting for his failure to notify the manager he wouldn’t report early because of a family emergency. A simple phone call could have diffused things.

Twice Castillo reported to spring training out of shape. There were times he didn’t hustle, including this week when he failed to cover first base. His defense and range were in decline. He was injury prone. He had one good season with the bat, hardly enough to justify the four-year, $24 million contract former GM Omar Minaya awarded him.

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Mar 15

Mets’ second base job still in the air

With two weeks remaining before Opening Day, Luis Hernandez is gaining ground on the second base job.

However, it is premature to say he’s the guy. Rarely are up-in-the-air roster decisions made with this much time remaining in camp. There’s still Brad Emaus and Daniel Murphy, Luis Castillo and Justin Turner.

Turner, because of remaining options will be sent down. That’s logical. Castillo has turned off Terry Collins, but the manager might not have the final decision, especially with a $6 million commitment. Castillo has been playing well offensively, so there’s the outside chance they’ll hold onto him and hope to make an in-season deal. The Mets don’t want to swallow $6 million.

Murphy is having trouble turning the double-play and Emaus is having a slow spring. Still, as a Rule 5 player the Mets do see some potential. What they must decide on is if he fits beyond this season should he stick.

I still think the Murphy-Emaus platoon has a chance, but I’m beginning to wane a little on that stance. What I do know, is Hernandez, despite a solid spring, isn’t running away from things and there’s still time.

Outside of it not being Ruben Tejada, nothing is concrete at second base.

 

Mar 10

Let’s see Duda in right

Assuming Carlos Beltran isn’t available to the Mets by Opening Day, replacing him shouldn’t equal the dilemma CBS will have in replacing Charlie Sheen on “Two and a Half Men.”

DUDA: Let's see what he has.

Both of Beltran’s knees are aching and he’s down for the week. Maybe he’ll come back next week; maybe he won’t.

So, who will the Mets use to replace the aching outfielder with a huge $18.5 million contract?

Veteran bench players Scott Hairston and Willie Harris can be plugged in and won’t embarrass the ball club. But, will they carry it? History says no, because afterall, they are role players. Their job is to temporarily fill a hole.

I want to see what Lucas Duda can bring to the table. Duda was a September call-up who started slow but closed hot. While Hairston and Harris could be somewhere else next season, or who knows, maybe even dealt in July to a contender, Duda could have a future with this team.

Duda is strong – he had four homers last year – so there’s power potential. He didn’t sparkle defensively and can only get better. Duda is off to a good start this spring and homered yesterday. We know what Hairston and Harris can do; Duda is an unknown.

However, for a team not expected to do anything this year, what’s the harm in giving him an audition?

 

Mar 06

Pelfrey ahead of last year’s pace

Last spring at this time Mike Pelfrey was struggling and there was talk – statistically speaking, it was rightfully so – he should open the season in the minor leagues refining his secondary pitches and learning to pitch with poise and guile.

PELFREY: Learning all the time.

Last spring at this time, Pelfrey wasn’t worried.

“I was working on things,” Pelfrey said, notably his sinker. “I knew I had time.”

He’s not ready for his Opening Day assignment – then again, who is a week into March? – but there’s no sense of urgency or concern this year after giving up one earned run on four hits in three innings yesterday against Atlanta in his second spring start.

Pelfrey is pleased with his early mechanics, saying the ball is coming out of his hand with ease and fluidity. He also has a sense of confidence knowing he has a rotation slot sewed up, which is not not to be confused with a sense of complacency.

“I’m confident in my abilities, but I still have things I need to work on,” Pelfrey said before the start of camp. “The thing I need to do is be more consistent.”

Defined, Pelfrey said consistency is for him to not get away from his fastball and lose his focus as he did during a horrid five-game stretch in July in which he gave up 24 runs on a combined 42 hits and 13 walks with only ten strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings. He had a dreadful 10.02 ERA and in three starts failed to make it out of the fifth.

That he rebounded in August with a 1.82 ERA was indicative of his growing maturity. Take away July and with a little more offensive support and better bullpen and Pelfrey could have won 20 games in 2010.

“I really think so,’’ Pelfrey said. “I was able to put that month (July) behind me and not let if ruin the entire season. I learned to not get away from my fastball. That was very important.”

With Johan Santana gone for at least the first half of the season, Pelfrey has assumed the role of ace. This is his time.