Mets morning briefing 3.3.11

On-the-ropes Oliver Perez starts for the Mets on Thursday against the St. Louis Cardinals in Port St. Lucie. Francisco Rodriguez is scheduled to make his first Grapefruit League appearance during the game, after being scratched earlier in the week because a court appearance limited his throwing.

There's also an appeals court hearing on Judge Burton Lifland's "clawback" standard being money withdrawn over money invested, if that excites you.

On to Thursday's news stories:

Andy Martino in the Daily News says the Mets are close to releasing Perez, and may do so if he flunks Thursday's outing. Perez isn't making it to Opening Day, so it's just a question of when. Terry Collins has been consistent in saying that Perez would start one of the split-squad games on March 8. The manager added Wednesday that he was "quite sure" Perez would appear again in a Mets uniform beyond today's appearance. Bottom line: If you predict the imminent demise of Perez, and a likely parting with Luis Castillo, you're likely to be right within the next four weeks.

• Well, it looks like trustee Irving Picard continues to play hardball with Fred and Jeff Wilpon and Saul Katz. The court has given Picard until March 18 to file an amended lawsuit against the Mets' ownership family. The Wall Street Journal reports Picard is threatening to add new charges regarding the money invested with Bernard Madoff. Authors Matthew Futterman and Michael Rothfeld quote former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, who has been appointed mediator, as saying about a settlement possibility: "The job of the mediator is to either find the road or make the road."

• K-Rod's agent, Paul Kinzer, tells Newsday's David Lennon he will be closely watching this season to ensure there's no funny business and that Rodriguez is used in a way to allow his contract to vest for 2012 at $17.5 million if he finishes 55 games. "It's going to be a point of interest," Kinzer says. "I would hope that their desire to win would override anything like that. We'll be following it very closely." Until he was injured and suspended last year, K-Rod had exceeded 55 games finished five straight seasons. The last time he didn't? When Rodriguez was still Troy Percival's understudy with the Angels, in 2004. From 2005 through 2009, his games finished totals were: 58, 58, 56, 69 and 66.

Brian Costa of The Wall Street Journal looks at the budding relationship between Jason Bay and new hitting coach Dave Hudgens. While managing Caracas in the Venezuelan winter league, Hudgens spent his mornings at a Best Western watching every one of Bay's 2010 plate appearances with the Mets. Bay indicated he made too many adjustments last year in-season and too often lunged at the ball. Costa writes: He swung at a career-high 27.1 percent of pitches outside the strike zone in 2010, according to FanGraphs.com, a 7 percent increase from 2009. Bay, by the way, went 2-for-3 against the Cardinals on Wednesday in Jupiter and drew praise from Collins for his early spring look at the plate.

Andy McCullough in the Star-Ledger gets more into the nitty gritty of Bay's change in the batter's box. The gist: Working during the offseason in Seatte with Don Long, his former hitting coach with the Pirates, Bay simplified his swing by cutting down on extra movements. Long, by the way, was one of the candidates interviewed for the position that went to Hudgens.

• Even with financial woes, the Mets and St. Lucie County split the $15,000 cost of trucking in dirt from Pennsylvania to replicate the Citi Field infield at the Mets' spring-training home, writes David Waldstein of The New York Times. Third base/infield coach Chip Hale recommended the upgrade, since Florida dirt can be sandy. "It’s basically identical to Citi Field now,” David Wright tells Waldstein. “It’s like night and day to the way it used to be. It just makes it a lot easier when you go up north and it’s the same surface you’ve been practicing on for six weeks.”

• The Times reiterates the three groups identified by the Post as being interested in buying into the Mets, although it disputes Bobby Valentine being a part of the group led by Anthony Scaramucci, a managing partner at the asset management company SkyBridge. The groups have paid a $25,000 fee to Major League Baseball to undergo the vetting process, which would pave the way to examining the Mets' books.

The group including Steve Starker of BTIG, a global trading company, has ties to the Tampa Bay Rays. Authors Peter Lattman and Richard Sandomir write:

Starker’s consortium includes Kenny Dichter, a co-founder of Marquis Jet, a company that pioneered the fractional private jet card concept; and Doug Ellin, the creator of “Entourage,” the HBO series; and Randy Frankel, a minority owner of the Rays.

Later in the Times report:

Another group includes David Heller, a Goldman Sachs senior executive; and Marc Spilker, a former Goldman Sachs executive who recently became president of Apollo Global Management, a large New York private equity firm.

Heller declined comment to ESPNNewYork.com. Scaramucci did as well, through an intermediary.

Mark Cuban did not submit paperwork to MLB, by himself or as part of a group, the Dallas Mavericks owner tells Newsday's Jim Baumbach.

• Newsday's Steven Marcus says MLB isn't necessarily entirely cutting off the Mets from additional funding. "There may be a 30-day period before a deal [in which a minority share] is closed where funds [from MLB] could be advanced,'' a source tells Marcus. "That would then be repaid with funding from the [new] partnership."

• Newsday notes Carlos Beltran is supposed to appear in a Grapefruit League game for the first time Sunday, when he serves as DH against the Boston Red Sox in Port St. Lucie. Collins has said Beltran should be in a game in right field seven to 10 days after that, although Beltran is less specific. "Right now, we're going to start with DH," Beltran tells David Lennon. Beltran won't write off returning to center field in 2012, although it's highly unlikely he's back with the Mets. "I feel like I can still play center field," Beltran said. "This was just the right move for now."

Mike Puma in the Post notes how R.A. Dickey did not pitch with any "sense of entitlement" Wednesday, in his first outing since signing that two-year, $7.8 million deal. ... Steve Popper in the Record also reviews Dickey's performance.

• Record columnist Bob Klapisch speaks with Jose Reyes. “Jose has done more to make me a better player than anyone I’ve played with,” Wright tells Klapisch. “I can’t think of what it would be like if he were gone.” Klapisch goes on to note that Ruben Tejada is being placed at Triple-A as a shortstop to be Reyes' heir apparent. A scout tells Klapisch: “[Tejada] is OK, but nothing special, definitely not someone who will remind you of Reyes. He’ll make the routine plays, occasionally make a great one, but not an impact player. No way.” I think that's too harsh on Tejada's fielding ability -- he'll make a lot of above-average plays. But even slightly bulkier this year, he still may struggle to get extra-base hits and may be best suited as a backup middle infielder during his career.

BIRTHDAY: Jorge Julio turns 32. He was famously referred to as Julio Jorge by Anna Benson, as in: "They got a ---- bag of balls for Kris. They didn't get ----. Julio Jorge [sic] and John Maine. They traded a No. 1, stud pitcher who was 30 at the time, and they blame the red dress."