By Ernie Palladino
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Even as the first real pitches of the baseball season fly plate-ward the next two days, a lot of folks already will have written off the Mets and, conversely, placed the Yankees in a comfortable postseason position.
Not that they’re necessarily wrong. The whole purpose of the regular season is to figure out just those types of issues. But until they do start throwing around the old hardball for real, everybody’s even despite the obvious baggage the Mets bring against the Nationals at Citi Field or the free-agent improvements the Yanks take to Houston for their opener Tuesday night.
Uncertainty abounds. The only sure thing is that there will be enough mystery to go around for both teams in this 2014 season.
Will Derek Jeter go out with a bang or a whimper?
The farewell ceremonies started in Saturday’s spring training finale rainout when the shortstop was given the keys to the city of Tampa. There will be more, most likely, as farewell ceremonies from conquered opponents seem to be in vogue these days.
The real issue, though, is how the shortstop situation will play out. Jeter, who finished spring training at .137 with a double and two RBIs, may or may not last the season. And Joe Girardi decided that Yangervis Solarte, not Eduardo Nunez, was a better fit for that last roster spot because of his .429 spring. That means Solarte will split backup time between second and third, while untested Dean Anna becomes Jeter’s primary caddy. Whether or not Anna becomes as solid a backup as the experienced Nunez was — he’d better because who knows if Jeter can stay healthy for the whole season — will go far in determining the Yanks’ strength up the middle.
The last thing the Mets need to worry about is their rotation. Or is it?
Dillon Gee, Bartolo Colon, Zack Wheeler and Jenrry Mejia are the top four guys, with Daisuke Matsuzaka waiting in Las Vegas if Mejia can’t go. And nobody seems worried about Jon Niese. But one should have some amount of concern. Two trips to New York for MRIs in a month is nothing to sneeze at, and even though he’s slated to come off the DL for an April 6 start against the Red at Citi Field, much attention will be paid to that bothersome left shoulder.
He pitched his first, pain-free 4 1/3 innings last Thursday, but will that continue? If he can’t stay healthy, the Mets may have to bring up Noah Syndergaard sooner than they want, which may or may not be a bad thing. But a healthy, productive Niese would certainly take all worries out of the rotation issue.
How about the Mets’ center field situation?
Yeah, how about it. Six weeks of spring training and Terry Collins had as much trouble picking between Juan Lagares and Eric Young, Jr. as he did between Lucas Duda and Ike Davis at first. Not a good situation. Lagares offers great defense, Young a nice bat at leadoff. Given the Mets’ needs, Collins might just go with the offense.
And what about that first base situation? The whole conversation this spring has involved Duda and Davis. But Collins’ best option might end up being the forgotten third man, Josh Satin. Just one more issue to figure out quickly.
David Robertson is ready to succeed Mo Rivera, which is kind of like asking an opening act to replace the headliner. As excited as you are, you just don’t want to be that guy.
The Mets? Just another decision Collins will figure out on the fly. Bobby Parnell would be first choice, of course, but the fact that he comes off neck surgery could force Collins to finesse his usage. That wouldn’t be horrible if Jose Valverde proves he can still close games. But that’s a big if, since Valverde gave up 10 hits in his 10 2/3 innings. He did make good on his one save opportunity, however.
The one sure thing is that both the Mets and Yanks’ seasons will have plenty of mystery around them.
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