Five days before Mets pitchers and catchers officially report on Monday, the Mets' spring-training complex already is abuzz with activity. Among the most prominent players already making appearances in Port St. Lucie: Johan Santana, David Wright, Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, Lucas Duda, Josh Thole, Mike Nickeas, Dillon Gee and Bobby Parnell.
Wednesday's news reports:
• Fred Wilpon is on the ownership committee that is vetting prospective Los Angeles Dodgers owners, Ron Blum of the Associated Press reports. The committee chairman is Bill Bartholomay, former chairman of the Atlanta Braves. Other committee members include Baltimore Orioles chairman Peter Angelos, St. Louis Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt, Seattle Mariners chairman emeritus John Ellis, Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch and Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner.
The Wilpon family has no intention of willingly selling the Mets, it has appeared, but obviously this affords them insights on deep-pocketed individuals should they ever need to relinquish the team. No more bailouts are expected from MLB if the Wilpons cannot meet their debt obligations, such as any potential inability to repay or rework their $40 million bridge loan with Bank of America.
Bartholomay said the committee will investigate "very deep" into not just the lead individuals of the groups, but also the proposed limited partners and corporations that plan to invest. The process was agreed to by Major League Baseball and Dodgers owner Frank McCourt in a deal filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware. MLB agreed to process up to 10 bidders. Normally, Bartholomay's committee processes only the finalist to purchase a franchise. "Let's face it, when you have the United States government involved, it takes a different profile," he said.
Meanwhile, Ken Rosenthal assesses the Wilpons' long-term viability.
• GM Sandy Alderson -- of Twitter fame (@MetsGM) -- appeared on WFAN on Tuesday afternoon (listen here).
Alderson noted the Mets had no high-profile offseason acquisitions except for in the bullpen, which added Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch, but he maintained the team has the potential to be better than 2011, when the Mets went 77-85. He acknowledged the payroll decline is more precipitous than he expected, but also spun the $52 million freefall as being not as catastrophic when you consider Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo's contracts were on the books as dead weight last year since they were released in spring training. "I didn't come here to operate the Oakland A's, and I don't expect to have to do that on a long-term basis," Alderson said. He quickly added: "And am not doing that currently."
According to Alderson, Santana is scheduled to return to the mound Friday. Santana took a winter hiatus from mound work to have a semi-typical type of offseason and allow his body to recuperate after rehabbing a year from Sept. 14, 2010 surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his left shoulder. "It's going to be hard for us to fully predict what's going to happen once he gets on the mound, throws his bullpen, throws his first two or three innings in a game," the GM said. "But as we stand here today, we expect him to be ready to go [for the season]."
Of course, Santana already pitched in minor league games last year. The biggest question is whether he can sustain a pitching workload that would require him to get on the mound in a game every fifth or sixth day. And that won't be known until Grapefruit League games, or even into the regular season.
Meanwhile, Alderson also acknowledged in his radio interview that there is very little actual competition for starting position-player roles. Pressed about whether even Justin Turner might give Murphy a battle at second base, Alderson stood by his original comment that things are straightforward. According to Terry Collins, the projected lineup likely is: Andres Torres cf, Murphy 2b, Wright 3b, Davis 1b, Jason Bay lf, Duda rf, Thole c, Ruben Tejada ss.
Alderson does not dismiss Murphy or Tejada getting the leadoff nod instead, if only because the Mets might as well try to maximize on-base percentage if they don't have a speedster atop the order. Torres had a .343 OBP in 2010 vs. .312 in 2011. "You can't be the leadoff guy with a .310 on-base percentage," Alderson said. Still, the GM acknowledged Murphy is "not the first choice" to bat No. 1.
As for Turner, Alderson correctly noted that even if he's not a true second-base challenger to Murphy for Opeing Day, last year Turner ultimately emerged as a regular at second base. That came after a progression of people planned for the position, including Rule 5 pick Brad Emaus, had issues that disqualified them.
Regardless, Alderson projected Torres as a defensive upgrade over Angel Pagan, but noted there's a big discrepancy in Torres' offensive production between 2010 and 2011.
"Subject to health in Johan's case," Alderson said, the rotation is similarly pretty much set with Santana, R.A. Dickey, Jon Niese, Mike Pelfrey and Gee. Alderson noted the depth behind those five is thin, because the prospect quartet of Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey, Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia (who had May 2011 Tommy John surgery) is not ready for early season contributions. (Alderson called those four critical for 2013 and 2014.) The GM cited Chris Schwinden and Miguel Batista as the rotation safety net. The Mets also claimed Jeremy Hefner off waivers and signed Garrett Olson during the offseason.
Alderson added that he expects a lot of back-end-of-the-rotation-type pitchers to become available late in spring training. That's because the new collective-bargaining agreement requires teams to pay major league-experienced players who came to camp as free agents on minor league contracts a $100,000 lump sum if they continue on with that organization into the season but don't make the Opening Day roster. Those players also have the right to opt out June 1. To avoid the lump-sum payment, the player must be released five days before Opening Day. Alderson predicted lefty-hitting backup outfielders will become available before Opening Day for the same reason and the Mets won't necessarily have to rely on Mike Baxter or Adam Loewen for that role. The Mets watched Kosuke Fukudome sign with the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday.
Overall, Alderson acknowledged 22 to 23 roster spots are pretty much set, barring injury. That lefty-hitting outfield bench spot as well as the final spot in the bullpen behind Francisco, Rauch, Tim Byrdak, ex-Giant Ramon Ramirez, Manny Acosta and Parnell would be the obvious competitive roles. Alderson also was not ready to anoint Nickeas as the backup catcher, even though that is the likely direction.
• Former major league catcher Bob Geren, now the Mets' bench coach, will work with Thole. Meanwhile, Murphy is getting his tutorial at second base from new third base coach Tim Teufel, which included work Tuesday in Port St. Lucie, according to Andrew Keh in the Times. (You may recall Keith Hernandez gave Murphy a tutorial at first base under similar circumstances a couple of years ago when Murphy was learning first base.) One Teufel tip is for Murphy to start plays a couple of feet closer to second base, Keh writes, which should provide more time to make the play and then get out of the way around the bag. Murphy's last two seasons have ended with MCL injuries suffered on opponents' slides into second base. "Dan is a good offensive player who's got some things to work on defensively, and that's kind of where I was, too," Teufel told Keh while reflecting on his own career. "I wasn't the best double play-turner, but I worked on it, and I became efficient, and that's what we want out of Dan."
Alderson, in his radio interview, said Murphy will wear a brace on the right knee, which he injured in 2010, but not on the left knee he injured last season. Read more on Murphy and Teufel in Newsday.
• Josh Lewin officially has been named Howie Rose's radio partner for the 2012 season. Lewin replaces Wayne Hagin, whose contract was not renewed. Lewin, 43, most recently called Texas Rangers games on TV from 2002-2010. He can be found on Twitter at @joshlewinstuff. Lewin tweeted that he will continue to call San Diego Chargers games next NFL season. Lewin grew up a Mets fan in Rochester, according to Ken Belson in the Times. Read more in Newsday.
• Santana joked Tuesday to Andy McCullough in the Star-Ledger that Friday's upcoming session off a mound, his first of 2012, should be on pay-per-view. Collins told Dan Martin in the Post that the upcoming session will only be at 75 to 80 percent.
• The Mets plan to have five bobblehead days this season -- tied to this being the 50th anniversary of the team's inaugural season in 1962. The ex-Mets included: Tom Seaver on April 22 vs. San Francisco, Rusty Staub on May 26 vs. San Diego, Hernandez on June 17 vs. Cincinnati, Edgardo Alfonzo on July 21 vs. Los Angeles and Mike Piazza on Aug. 25 vs. Houston.
David Lennon of Newsday tweeted that the Mets will wait to retire Piazza's No. 31 until he is selected to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, by the way. Lennon also predicted Piazza will get in on the first ballot, and that the plaque will include a Mets cap. (I'm not sure Piazza will be voted in Year 1 -- he needs 75 percent of ballots submitted -- but I agree the Hall very likely will put him in as a Met.)
• Duda told the Post he got a lot out of a conversation with the fellow Southern Cal alum Seaver late last season. "He told me to not worry about doing too much and to take a deep breath, basically," Duda told the newspaper. Said hitting coach Dave Hudgens about Duda: "He has to try and tone down his movement at the plate. He gets so geared up and tries to do too much. But he reminds me of [Jason] Giambi a little bit. He uses the whole field and has good discipline that will get better."
• Davis maintains his left ankle, which he injured May 10 in Denver, is OK. "I feel normal," he told the Star-Ledger. "If it was still bothering me, I'd be nervous. But I'm good to go. If I play horrible, it’s not my ankle's fault. It's just because I'm not very good." Collins told McCullough he will give Davis extra at-bats, potentially as a DH, in Grapefruit League games because he has been away from seeing live pitching for so long.
TRIVIA: Since the Mets' inception in 1962, which Canadian-born player has appeared in the most major league games with the team? (Give it a shot answering in the comments section. Answer coming tomorrow.)