The groundhog says there’s six more weeks of winter, while the calendar points to March 21st, but for every baseball fan, this is the first day of spring.
The warm sun of Port St. Lucie has made its way back to New York today, as the Mets go through their first workouts of the year. It will be a very different Spring Training with many notable names leaving in a few weeks for the World Baseball Classic, while manager Jerry Manuel goes through his first camp, trying to establish a work ethic for his club.
So as they open up, the Mets will look to keep their eye on a number of issues and have a few questions to be answered.
Will Johan Santana be healthy enough for Opening Day?
A healthy Santana is the most important issue for the Mets. Recovering from off-season knee surgery, the Mets’ ace already is skipping the WBC and will be working towards an opening day start.
Look for Manuel to treat Santana with kid gloves. He will get his work in, but the club doesn’t want to put him in a position where he misses time during Spring Training. That said, he says he will be ready for the start of the season, who why not believe him?
Who will be the No. 5 starter?
Tim Redding has gone on record saying he expects to be the No. 5 guy, while Jon Niese may have something to say about that.
The real question is the health of Freddy Garcia. If the former ace of the Mariners and White Sox, can prove himself healthy, he may nail down the one open slot in the rotation with Redding going to the bullpen. And that may be the best bet for the club, because if Redding goes to relief, he will get plenty of work in April as Santana and Garcia go five innings apiece.
But if Garcia is not ready, Redding will probably go to the rotation.
Niese will probably start the year at Buffalo and be called up when the Mets need a starter.
How will the WBC affect Manuel’s camp?
Manuel went on record saying he wants to stress fundamentals, which is nice for the players who will be in Port St. Lucie for the whole time. But with half the lineup in the WBC, it will be tough for Manuel to make his mark on those in the tournament.
Yet, they are all veterans anyway and the word probably won’t get through. So continue to expect to see Carlos Beltran bunt with a man on and two-outs, Carlos Delgado pull the ball right into the shift, David Wright occasionally airmail a ball to first, and Jose Reyes run the team out of a few innings this season.
Just remember though, the last time the WBC was played, the Mets ran away with the division, so this may not be a bad thing.
Are they really going to start the year with Daniel Murphy and Fernando Tatis in left?
It looks that way. Barring Manny Ramirez coming to the club and taking the league minimum, the Mets will have Murphy in against righties and Tatis will play against the lefties.
This is not a bad thing, per se. The Mets have Fernando Martinez in the minors and if he is healthy, he can come up if one fails, but Murphy played well in 2008 as did Tatis, so giving them another shot is warranted.
Is the bullpen set?
As of right now, K-Rod, J.J. Putz, Pedro Feliciano, Duaner Sanchez and Sean Green have spots in the bullpen, so there is a spot or two open.
The Mets may sign Will Ohman and ideally they would want to have another lefty out there. But they will take the best guy available. That means if Brian Stokes has a good spring, he will probably get a shot. Bobby Parnell is also in the mix.
Nelson Figueroa could be the long man if Redding makes the rotation.