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Sunday, December 11, 2011
Paulino decision day arrives

By Adam Rubin

Monday is the deadline for teams to decide whether to cut loose arbitration-eligible players (generally those with at least three years, but less than six years of major league service time).

If the player is not cut loose, the team by definition "tenders" the arbitration-eligible player a contract, which gives the player the right to go before an arbitrator if the salary is not settled beforehand.

Ronny Paulino appears the lone uncertainty for the Mets.

Team officials have been down on Paulino, who disregarded pitch-sequence game plans and was lethargic. Still, a team source said at the winter meetings in Dallas last week that the organization had all but resolved to stay internal with its major league catching for 2012 because the free agents had warts as well and the preference was to concentrate the available dollars on bullpen spending.

Keeping Paulino would be an indication the Mets are uncertain whether Mike Nickeas, while defensively capable, has enough offense from the right side of the plate to complement Josh Thole. Still, it's entirely conceivable the Mets cut loose Paulino and then bring in Triple-A depth with major league experience as a hedge against Nickeas.

Paulino made $1.35 million in 2011 and would see no more than a modest raise, so the Mets would save about $1 million going with Nickeas over Paulino.

Angel Pagan ($3.5 million in 2011), Mike Pelfrey ($3.925 million) and Manny Acosta also are eligible for arbitration this offseason, but the Mets shipped Pagan to the San Francisco Giants last week for a pair of players who also are eligible -- center fielder Andres Torres ($2.2 million) and right-handed reliever Ramon Ramirez ($1.65 million).

Pelfrey is not a free agent until after the 2013 season and could see a raise to $5.5 million or so for 2012. It would make little sense to non-tender him, especially given the free-agent prices for starting pitchers, including Chris Capuano departing for the Dodgers on a two-year deal that guarantees the southpaw $10 million.

If Paulino remains, the Mets will need to make a different 40-man roster move in order to have room to add free-agent relievers Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch, whose signings have yet to be officially announced.