Welcome to Port St. Lucie, Terry Collins

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Terry Collins' first spring training at the helm of a major league club since 1999 has no shortage of minefields.

Among his biggest chores, the New York Mets' first-year manager must attempt to shield his players from distractions such as shortstop Jose Reyes' contract status beyond the 2011 season and the $1 billion lawsuit against the team's owners. On the field, Collins must select fourth and fifth starters and a second baseman and identify capable relievers while navigating the potentially prickly situation of whether Carlos Beltran can still play center field.

"We can only worry about the stuff that we can control, and that's our performance on the field," Collins said. "We're going to make sure that is brought across the first [official] day down here."

Pitchers and catchers officially report Tuesday, but left-hander Chris Capuano already has been working out at the team's Florida complex for nearly two weeks. With ace Johan Santana expected to miss the first half of the season following shoulder surgery, newcomers Chris Young and Capuano ought to emerge as the final members of a rotation headlined by Mike Pelfrey, R.A. Dickey and Jon Niese.

Also, at least technically, in the mix for those final slots: Dillon Gee, D.J. Carrasco, Pat Misch, Jenrry Mejia, Boof Bonser and Oliver Perez.

Collins won't have final say -- that goes to the front office, or perhaps ownership -- but Perez (owed $12 million) and second baseman Luis Castillo (owed $6 million) are widely expected to be released by Opening Day.

Collins already has mentioned Carrasco as his likely seventh-inning reliever, leading into Bobby Parnell in the eighth and Francisco Rodriguez to close. Misch could be destined for the long-relief role, while Gee and Mejia wind up in Triple-A Buffalo's rotation.

Meanwhile, Castillo is one of four primary options identified by Collins for second base, along with Daniel Murphy, Brad Emaus and Justin Turner.

Murphy was poised to be the Opening Day starter at first base last season, but that unraveled when he injured the medial collateral ligament in his right knee in a rundown the final week of spring training. By the time Murphy was ready to return, Ike Davis had a stranglehold at first base, leading Murphy to begin reinventing himself as a second baseman.

Emaus is a Rule 5 pick who would need to be placed on waivers and then be offered back to the Toronto Blue Jays if he does not stick on the major league roster the entire season. He is particularly attractive to new front-office executives because he shows some power (15 homers in 445 at-bats in the minors last season) while having more walks (81) than strikeouts (69).

Turner has a pair of minor league options remaining and would be most likely to end up with Buffalo because he would not have to clear waivers.

The Beltran decision will be one of the more interesting of spring training, and both the outfielder and Collins have said the right things so far -- unlike the previous offseason, when ownership squabbled with Beltran over whether he had permission to undergo knee surgery.

Beltran has suggested his arthritic right knee feels good this winter, but he also has indicated he plans to continue wearing a bulky right knee brace. And Beltran's mobility clearly was compromised when he returned for the second half of last season, which arguably makes Angel Pagan in center field and Beltran in right field the more sensible alignment.

Collins said the plan is to have Beltran play center field at least the first week or two of Grapefruit League play. If he demonstrates the requisite range for center field, Beltran will remain there. But if a switch to right field is required, it will be made decisively -- without Beltran then being jerked back and forth between the two positions.

As for the bullpen, the losses of Pedro Feliciano and Hisanori Takahashi leave the Mets short of established left-handers -- and short of workhorses, too.

Ex-Marlin Taylor Tankersley, ex-Astro Tim Byrdak and ex-National Mike O'Connor headline the left-handed relief candidates. Along with K-Rod, Parnell, Carrasco and at least one left-hander, right-hander Taylor Buchholz, an elite setup man with Colorado before undergoing Tommy John surgery, should emerge in the bullpen. If Misch does become the long reliever, that may then leave room for only one arm from a group that includes Rule 5 pick Pedro Beato, Ryota Igarashi and Manny Acosta.

So the 61-year-old Collins has his work cut out for him.

"He's a high-energy guy, and he demands you play the game properly," said new bullpen coach Jon Debus, who played for Collins in Triple-A in the 1980s, and has worked with him in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization as well as with Orix in Japan. "He's intense. Anything he asks you to do is baseball-related and, basically, to play the game the way that it's supposed to be played -- have respect for the game. And I don't have any problem with that at all. I think everybody should follow that credo."