Mets morning briefing 3.18.12

Mike Pelfrey takes the mound as the Mets make a two-plus-hour drive to Kissimmee to take on the Houston Astros. The Mets then will have Monday off, with the complex closed until a Tuesday night game. Monday will not be quiet, however. Inside U.S. District Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff's courtroom in lower Manhattan, jury selection and opening statements are expected to occur Monday in the $386 million lawsuit against Fred Wilpon and family regarding Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme. The trial is scheduled to last 10 additional days.

Sunday's news reports:

Jon Niese tossed 5 1/3 scoreless innings despite allowing all six leadoff batters he faced to reach. Still, the Mets lost to a split-squad Atlanta Braves team, 3-2, on Saturday at Digital Domain Park. Daniel Murphy had a two-run single for the Mets, but Chuck James and Ramon Ramirez combined to allow three eighth-inning runs. The Mets are 0-7-1 in their past eight games and have the worst record either in the Grapefruit or Cactus League. Read more in Newsday and the Daily News.

Zack Wheeler allowed an unearned run while tossing three innings for the Double-A squad in the first day of minor league exhibition games. Read the full Buffalo and Binghamton recaps here. Watch video of Wheeler facing Cardinals farmhand Raniel Rosario here. Read more on Wheeler's outing in the Daily News, Star-Ledger and Newsday.

• The Mets signed infielder Oswaldo Navarro to a minor league contract.

Anthony Destefano in Newsday previews the Madoff-related civil trial that opens Monday. Writes Destefano:

[Trustee Irving] Picard's case, Rakoff has said a number of times, is far from rock solid. The trustee has to prove that the Wilpon defendants were willfully blind and ignored warnings about Madoff. Noted white-collar defense attorney and author Stanley Arkin describes the concept of willful blindness this way: "You turn your head away from facts that cry out for inquiry and you take no steps to make inquiry." Rakoff said it will be up to the Wilpons and partners to demonstrate that they weren't willfully blind to the fraud.

Barry Meier in the Times suggests Mets fans may want the Wilpons to lose the entire $386 million at stake. Of that amount, Rakoff already has declared the trustee is entitled to the profits made in the two years before Madoff's arrest -- as much as $83 million. Writes Meier:

The proceeding took place in the people’s food court (technically, the bar and snack stands along the right-field line) at Digital Domain Park before Friday’s game, in which a Mets squad was demolished by the Detroit Tigers, 9-0. The verdict of fans polled, while not unanimous, was clear. Put simply, they would like to see Wilpon and Katz have their financial clocks cleaned so the only option will be selling the team. “That is the biggest hope that I have for the Mets this year,” said Judy Sromovsky, a longtime fan who lives in Bridgewater, N. J.

The Daily News also outlines what's at stake in the case.

Jeff Bradley in the Star-Ledger has a Q&A with Justin Turner. Turner credits former Cincinnati Reds GM Wayne Krivsky, also a former special assistant with the Mets, for his opportunities at the major league level. "He was the GM of the Reds and drafted me in 2006," Turner told Bradley. "He got let go by the Reds and went to the Orioles and traded for me there. And then he came over to the Mets and picked me up when the Orioles put me on waivers. I owe a lot to him. He believed in me. He’s the reason I got this chance." Krivsky now has landed with the Minnesota Twins, where his career first ascended.

• Bench coach Bob Geren, a former major league catcher, tells the Star-Ledger Josh Thole is going to be prepared for games. Writes Bradley:

“He’s going to come to the field at a certain time at the start of the series to do his preparation from the video,” Geren begins. “Then, at a certain time, he’s going to meet with the pitching coach to go over it. He’s going to be heavily involved in the pitchers’ meeting, passing on what he’s observed. He’ll talk to the pitchers in between innings about how that inning went and who’s coming up next. That’s just the beginning.” Geren says when other players are playing cards on team flights, he expects to see Thole with his iPad, watching video of the next opponent. Not only does Geren want to see Thole putting in extra time, he wants the pitchers to see it.

Mike Kerwick in the Record looks at the competitors to take the lefty specialist role in the bullpen while Tim Byrdak takes approximately another five weeks to recover from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. Garrett Olson likely is the frontrunner. The Mets have pulled Josh Edgin into major league camp, even though he has not pitched above Class A. James appears the primary consideration beyond Olson. Daniel Herrera is the fourth competitor. Writes Kerwick:

On road trips, the left-handed reliever likes to sneak away, stealing a moment for himself in the cheap seats. Accompanied by his Nikon D700, he sets up shop high above home plate. Garrett Olson chooses a lens. He snaps a photo. Then he quietly returns to the clubhouse. These are his butterflies, the camera his net. Olson has attempted to capture a portrait of every major league stadium. During his six seasons in the majors, he has compiled a modest collection. "Not all 30," Olson said before the Mets' 3-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Saturday at Digital Domain Park. "Maybe half. Just a guess." There is one important stadium missing – the leopard absent from his safari. "This one," he said. "Citi Field. Certainly this and a lot of National League teams."

Mike Puma in the Post quotes pitching coach Dan Warthen regarding Edgin as saying: "I’m not going to talk about major leagues right now for him. But I wouldn’t be surprised if some time this year we saw him.”

• The Post quotes a Mets official as saying it's "50-50" whether the Mets sign left-hander C.J. Nitkowski. Newsday reported last week a deal was likely and seemed imminent.

• Columnist Joel Sherman in the Post wonders whether Johan Santana or Andy Pettitte will contribute more this season. Writes Sherman:

Both lefties missed all of last season, albeit for different reasons. Santana was recovering from shoulder surgery while Pettitte took what now amounts to a one-year sabbatical. Santana is close to a necessity for the 2012 rotation-thin Mets. Pettitte appears a luxury for the rotation-deep Yankees. Santana is seven years younger than Pettitte, but the shoulder ailment he is trying to return from does not come with a high success rate, and certainly not a speedy one.

• Sherman also says there really are only four positives for the Mets -- Santana, the middle of the order, the bullpen and their pitching prospects.

• Infield coach Tim Teufel tells columnist Kevin Kernan in the Post that he is using Chase Utley as an example to Murphy of how to turn double plays, because Utley also has a larger frame. Teufel also is repositioning his middle infielders. “The goal for us is to become better at double-play turns, and that means being more aggressive on groundballs, getting the transfer a little bit quicker,’’ Teufel told Kernan. “So I’m moving the guys in a step and one step closer to the bag. We’re going to give up a little bit in the hole, but it’s more important that we are on time and under control, a little less lateral and back movements and a little more angle direct to the ball movements as an infield.’’

TRIVIA: Eight players started in right field for the Mets last season. Can you name them?

Saturday's answer: Jose Valentin started for the Mets at second base on Opening Day in 2007. Luis Castillo had the Game 1 nod at the position the next three seasons, followed by shortlived Rule 5 pick Brad Emaus in 2011.