Feb 17

Fred declares innocence; K-Rod wants fresh start.

Yesterday it was Jeff Wilpon’s spin on the Mets’ legal issues. Today it was father Fred Wilpon.

WILPONS: Telling their side.

The message was basically the same:  They were duped, insists Fred Wilpon. The father said he invested millions with Bernie Madoff shortly before the Ponzi scheme unraveled. His argument does make sense: Why would he throw good money after bad if he knew Madoff was scamming him?

It’s a reasonable defense, but only the legal process will decide if it holds water. Both Wilpons said the payroll will be around $140 million, which is what it was last season. They also stressed GM Sandy Alderson wants more payroll flexibility, which is to say there will be no big signings or trades at the All-Star break. Contracts might go, but they won’t come.

With all that’s swirling around the Mets these days, it was good to see the Wilpons show up and not go into hiding. There’s nothing that screams guilt like hiding.

As for Francisco Rodriguez. He said all the right things about anger management, wanting to apologize to his teammates, and needing to turn his life and career around. For his part, manager Terry Collins said Rodriguez’s appearances to finish 55 games aren’t an issue and haven’t been discussed.

I know Rodriguez has to say those things, but who really knows what’s in his heart? Ditto for Collins.

The Mets can’t come out and say they will limit Rodriguez’s contract as it would raise ire with the Players Association and send a clear signal to the fans the team doesn’t want to compete.

It will be interesting to see what will happen if the Mets amazingly are competitive this season and are in the race deep into September. If there is a slight chance of making the playoffs, how can they limit Rodriguez.

Even so, smart money says the Mets will closely monitor Rodriguez to close save siutations. There will hold him back whenever they can to avoid the $17.5 million option from kicking in. This option is in his contract and makes him nearly impossible to trade, so don’t expect him leaving in July.

I know Carlos Beltran is going and the team doesn’t want to bring back Rodriguez. The Mets will do everything they can to unload Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo. None of that is surprising and shows their financial concerns.

To me, the one issue that dictates financial fear is Jose Reyes. If Reyes has a good year and they don’t bring him back it will raise the red flag. However, if Reyes has a poor season, it would be his third straight down year and they can’t be faulted for being conservative.

Feb 03

Why it is important for Beltran to play center

BELTRAN: Easier to move as center fielder

Angel Pagan said manager Terry Collins has not talked with him or Carlos Beltran about who will play center, but this is an important issue for the Mets to decide as soon as possible in spring training, and it must be the veteran.

With Beltran making $18.5 million this year, the Mets know they will not re-sign him to an extension. They also know with their roster they will not overtake Philadelphia and the wild-card is also a long shot. And, that’s with Beltran and Jason Bay healthy and producing.

Pagan was the better center fielder last year and might be better this season, but the best interest of the Mets in the short term is for Beltran to prove he can play the position.

The Mets have had surface discussions with teams about Beltran, but there aren’t any serious talks because nobody wants to take the gamble on his salary, age and injury history the past two seasons. And, there won’t be any legitimate conversations until Beltran proves he can play, and that means center field.

If Beltran is back in center and hitting, he’ll be easier to trade and a contender might bite. Because Beltran won’t be returning and the Mets aren’t winning this year, his value to the franchise is not as a player but what he can bring back in prospects and the salary they might save.

And, he’ll be easier to move as a center fielder.

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

Collins getting ready for spring training

It was cold and rainy outside, but there was a definite feel of spring in the air inside Citi Field this afternoon when manager Terry Collins and several players played host to 25 fifth and sixth graders at the Mets’ third annual After School Sports Program.

COLLINS: Getting ready for spring training.

With spring training less than a month away, Collins touched on a myriad of issues, saying:

1) Mike Pelfrey will be his Opening Day starter against Florida. Said Collins: “He deserves it. Right now, I think Mike Pelfrey should be the No. 1 guy on this staff.’’

2) He will meet with Carlos Beltran at the start of spring training about a move to right field. Beltran will get a chance to prove he’s healthy. Collins said a decision would be made after roughly 10 games.

3) The top five in his batting order would be: Jose Reyes, Angel Pagan, David Wright, Beltran and Jason Bay. Collins said Beltran and Bay are ready physically.

4) Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez are expected to be in camp and not released before. Collins said Castillo could still win the second base job.

5) With Reyes healthy, “I’ll turn him loose,’’ and he could be a 50-60 steal player again. Reyes said he’s ready for spring training, and regarding his contract situation, added that’s not on his mind. “I want to play baseball and see what happens,’’ Reyes said.

6) Could live with 150 strikeouts from David Wright “as long as he’s driving in runs.’’ Wright’s production should increase and his strikeouts decrease with a healthy Beltran and Bay behind him.

7) He is set with three starters Pelfrey, RA Dickey and Jon Niese, with and Chris Young, Dillon Gee and Chris Capuano competing for the fourth and fifth spots.

8) Will stress fundamentals in spring training, adding he’s aiming for 30 innings from the starters and 70 at-bats from the starting position players.

9) The Mets anticipate adding another left-handed reliever.