Is Wednesday's 2011 finale Jose Reyes' final game in a New York Mets uniform? That answer will go a long way toward determining the complexion of the 2012 Mets -- in terms of dollars available for other signings and in terms of the positions other players are assigned.
For instance, if Reyes departs, Ruben Tejada is the shortstop and Daniel Murphy is the second baseman next season, with Justin Turner potentially available for utility work. If Reyes remains, Tejada and Murphy very well may share second base -- with Tejada getting five starts a week and Murphy the other two while otherwise being available for pinch-hitting duty.
"I think it's probably been a year of two halves -- an extraordinary first half and a good, but checkered second half given the injuries and so forth," GM Sandy Alderson said Tuesday, regarding Reyes' season. "But look, he's leading the batting race right now. And so, on balance, I think you have to say it was an outstanding year for Jose. He has played well for us, has been an important part of whatever level of success we've had and is definitely someone we're going to try to retain going into next year. But we'll see how that progresses."
The other issues besides -- and impacted by -- Reyes:
PELF AND PAGAN: Right-hander Mike Pelfrey and center fielder Angel Pagan both remain under the team's control through the 2013 season, but only Pelfrey may be back with the Mets. Both are eligible for arbitration and would command near-automatic raises. The Mets appear willing to bite the bullet on a raise for Pelfrey from his $3.925 million salary in 2011, but Pagan -- who earned $3.5 million -- looks like a goner, either via trade or getting cut loose if it comes to it. The Mets likely will be shopping for a center fielder from outside the organization.
ROTATION: Chris Capuano (11-12, 4.55 ERA) is a free agent, and the Mets would like to bring him back, although it would cost more than the $1.5 million base salary the organization committed this year. Capuano finished at $3.925 million with performance bonuses for his durability. Capuano's 2012 role is not yet clearly defined. Essentially, if Johan Santana is healthy, Capuano would be vying with Dillon Gee for a rotation spot, with the loser headed to the bullpen, where Capuano would serve as a capable left-hander as well as long man if he's the odd man out. R.A. Dickey is signed for 2012, Jon Niese isn't yet even arbitration eligible and Pelfrey should be back.
DUDE: Lucas Duda is penciled in as the right fielder, with Jason Bay in left unless the Mets can find a bad matching contract that can be swapped. As mentioned, Pagan is likely out. The center fielder needs to be an external signing because Jason Pridie is not the everyday answer and the prospects are not ready. Triple-A center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis had season-ending shoulder surgery this season, while Fernando Martinez's mobility has been greatly reduced by assorted injuries.
CATCHING ON: If Reyes remains and money is tight, the Mets do have a cheap combo available behind the plate for 2012. Josh Thole, who again will make close to the major league minimum, should be back. And arbitration-eligible Ronny Paulino would earn only marginally more than his current $1.35 million. However, the organization has been displeased with Paulino's disregard for game plans and his second-half lethargy. A team insider strongly suggested Mike Nickeas and Thole could be the 2012 tandem, especially if Reyes returns and the money isn't available to spend on a catcher from outside. Team officials just hope to get Nickeas slightly more productive at the plate.
CLOSER CALL: Tuesday's blown save notwithstanding, Bobby Parnell rebounded slightly late in the season with the development of a knuckle-curve, making him a potentially valuable member of the 2012 bullpen. But the Mets are committed to going outside the organization for a closer. The belief is that the downward trend in the cost of closers since Francisco Rodriguez signed with the Mets three offseasons ago, plus the glut of closers entering the market, will land the Mets a capable closer at a reasonable cost.
Tim Byrdak already has signed an extension with the Mets for next season, giving the team at least one capable left-hander. The expectation is the Mets will attempt to sign a second southpaw too, even with the potential for Capuano to re-sign and be a part of the bullpen. Despite Daniel Herrera's initial success upon joining the Mets, the belief is that his screwball becomes less effective with familiarity, which is why the NL Central has particularly enjoyed success against the former Cincinnati Reds/Milwaukee Brewers lefty.
DON'T BLAME BERNIE: The Mets' owners still have uncertainty stemming from the unresolved lawsuit involving convicted swindler Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme. Alderson maintains, however, that the payroll is being set irrespective of the outcome of Madoff trustee Irving Picard's March court date -- in which hundreds of millions of dollars could be at stake for the Wilpons. Instead, the GM insisted, decreased revenues will be what leads to a payroll decline for the Mets, potentially to the $100 million to $110 million range.
MEANINGFUL GAMES? The longer-term answer is for a renewed emphasis on player development to funnel a pipeline of pitching to Citi Field. That begins with a quartet of right-handers: 2010 first-round pick Matt Harvey, Jeurys Familia, Jenrry Mejia and Zack Wheeler, who was acquired in the Carlos Beltran trade.