PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The New York Mets' rotation was one of the most solid, and consistent, aspects of the 2011 squad. Aside from Chris Young succumbing to a torn anterior capsule after four starts and Dillon Gee stepping in, the rotation largely remained intact for much of the year. Sub Johan Santana for Chris Capuano, who signed a two-year, $10 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Mets return with a comparable look this season.
The bullpen, on the other hand, has been entirely revamped. GM Sandy Alderson spread his available dollars among Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch, while also acquiring Ramon Ramirez from the San Francisco Giants. The new arms underwhelmed during spring training, but the slate is now wiped clean.
Here's a look at the rotation:
1. JOHAN SANTANA, LHP
Santana on Thursday afternoon will throw his first pitch in a major league game since Sept. 2, 2010 -- 12 days before surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his left shoulder. It will be his fourth Opening Day start with the Mets, and sixth overall. The Mets will be conservative with Santana, with at least six of his first seven starts coming on extra rest, and with his pitch count capped at 90-95 pitches during the first month, if not longer. Santana's fastball velocity now may reside in the 88-89 mph range, although it's certainly possible that it will creep higher with the adrenaline associated with a regular-season game. Even with the lower fastball zip, though, Santana has demonstrated an ability to throw an effective slider and changeup.
Scout's view: "I'm guardedly optimistic. Because of the past history of guys that have had shoulder surgeries, they tend to get weaker as the season goes on, and they have to take time off."
2. R.A. DICKEY, RHP
He climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. He published a memoir. He is featured in a documentary about knuckleballers that is due to be screened at the Tribeca Film Festival later this month. Now, Dickey will attempt to continue what has been a stellar Mets career. The lone knuckleballer remaining at the major league level with Tim Wakefield's retirement, Dickey finished last season with 12 straight quality starts. In September, Dickey had a 1.82 ERA.
Scout's view: "The knuckleball is the best in the game. [And only, now.] The different velocities he can throw it and he's such a competitor, that helps too."
3. JON NIESE, LHP
The Mets are poised to commit to Niese for the long term. Major league sources indicate the sides are closing in on a deal that should be comparable to the five-year, $28.5 million deal fellow southpaw Derek Holland signed with the Texas Rangers earlier in spring training. Holland's contract included two team option years, as should Niese's deal. If fully exercised, Niese's deal would give up three years of free agency. One hurdle Niese must now overcome to rise to the next level: avoiding the DL. He finished last season sidelined with a strained muscle on his right side, which limited him to 157 1/3 innings. He logged only 173 2/3 innings the previous season.
Scout's view: "He should be starting to get into that stretch where he gets better every year."
4. MIKE PELFREY, RHP
Pelfrey's future with the organization is heavily reliant upon his early season performance. The Mets decided to tender the arbitration-eligible Pelfrey a contract in December, and the sides agreed to a $5.6875 million deal. The Mets value his ability to eat innings if nothing else. Pelfrey has averaged 195 2/3 innings a season since 2009. In fact, since 2000, only one Mets pitcher has logged more 180-plus-inning seasons than Pelfrey's four. That's Tom Glavine, who had five straight. Still, Mets officials need to see performance, too. Pelfrey has tried to hone his sinker to keep the baseball in the ballpark. He allowed a career-high 21 homers last season. He surrendered 12 the previous year.
Scout's view: "I'm just very disappointed in his development -- his lack of consistency. You can't count on him."
5. DILLON GEE, RHP
Gee opened 2011 at Triple-A Buffalo, then made his season debut with the Mets in Atlanta on April 17, when he limited the Braves to one run in 5 2/3 innings and notched the win. He ultimately raced to a 7-0 record before losing to Oakland. The seven straight wins tied for fourth best in franchise history to start a season, trailing only Terry Leach (10-0, 1987), Pat Mahomes (8-0, 1999) and Dwight Gooden (8-0, 1988). Gee ran out of gas late. In his final 10 starts, he had a 5.91 ERA.
Scout's view: "He's probably one of the best No. 5 starters in the National League, and a guy who people would want."
Here's a look at the bullpen:
FRANK FRANCISCO, RHP, Closer
Signed to a two-year, $12 million deal after Bobby Parnell did not thrive in the closer's role at the end of last season, the 32-year-old Francisco went 1-4 with a 3.55 ERA and 17 saves in 21 chances in 2011 with the Toronto Blue Jays. Francisco dealt with a cranky left knee throughout camp, and his velocity was down for most of Grapefruit League play. He received a cortisone shot Sunday, threw off a bullpen mound Tuesday and pronounced himself ready for the season despite some residual inflammation.
Scout's view: "At this point, the concern with him is the velocity. He's an arm-strength guy that relies on the fastball, split finger. The majority of the spring he's been 89 to 91 mph. The positive: As we were going through the spring, the velocity was steadily going in a positive direction, which is a good sign."
JON RAUCH, RHP
Also joining the Mets from Toronto, Rauch signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal as a free agent. Rauch has made the second-most relief appearances in the majors since 2006 at 434, one shy of Chad Qualls' total. Rauch, 33, went 5-4 with a 4.85 ERA and had 11 saves last season before undergoing season-ending surgery Sept. 19 to repair torn cartilage in his right knee. Rauch was signed to serve as Francisco's primary setup man.
Scout's view: "Rauch, Ramirez, they're both more finesse guys -- kitchen-sink-type guys. They're going to mix up all their pitches. They started off rough, and I think they've steadily gotten a little better as spring went on. They're veterans. And scouts have to be really careful not to put too much stock into what you see in March. It's obvious they haven't been themselves and they haven't been that good. I think you're still going to see productive relievers."
RAMON RAMIREZ, RHP
Acquired with outfielder Andres Torres from the San Francisco Giants for Angel Pagan during spring training, Ramirez probably gets the seventh inning with the Mets holding a lead. He went 3-3 with a 2.62 ERA last season in 66 relief appearances with the Giants and averaged 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings. He limited righty batters to a .203 average.
Scout's view: "He pitches off his secondary [stuff] almost more than he pitches off his fastball. It's sliders and changeups in fastball counts. It's fastballs in offspeed counts. He just expands the plate and speeds the hitters up and slows them down. You speed the hitter up by throwing the fastball, and he's got to try to get to the ball quick. And then you throw him the offspeed and he's out front of that. He's constantly changing the speed of the hitters."
TIM BYRDAK, LHP
Byrdak, the lefty specialist, nearly was not ready for Opening Day. He underwent surgery to repair torn meniscus cartilage in his left knee March 13, and only first appeared in minor league games last weekend. The Mets had Daniel Herrera on standby as an alternative. Byrdak signed a $1 million extension for this season last Sept. 18. Lefty batters hit .222 and struck out 36 times in 99 at-bats against him last season.
Scout's view: "I think Byrdak will be fine. I saw him at two different points last year. Before the All-Star break he was not very good. Well, before July. I saw him after June and I thought he was fine. He's good for that type of role -- a left-on-left type of guy. He's not the type of guy who can be overexposed too much to right-hand hitters. But he's going to get a fair amount of lefties out. Is he the best lefty in the league? No way. But he can get some lefties out."
BOBBY PARNELL, RHP
Parnell's Opening Day bullpen spot was fully secure at the start of camp, since the right-hander has a minor league option remaining and could be sent to Triple-A Buffalo without being exposed to waivers. Parnell's subsequent performances demonstrated his worthiness to be included. He tossed 12 1/3 scoreless Grapefruit League innings while concentrating on a sinker rather than an eye-popping four-seam fastball. Parnell also is using the knuckle curve he learned from Jason Isringhausen late last season.
Scout's view: "It's a little hard to get too excited about it because I think in order to be a dominant type of guy, he's still going to have to show the ability to dial it up when he has to. All good pitchers have that second gear, when they need to get to 97, 98 mph, like he's capable of. I still think he's going to have to be able to do that. Yeah, he is getting good movement. And, yeah, he is 'pitching' more than he ever has in the past. But, I mean, we're still not talking about plus-plus movement or plus command. It's not like he's going out there striking a bunch of guys out. He's throwing strikes. He's working down in the zone. I think he has made some tweaks to his delivery. He started doing full windup not too long ago where he's actually taking the glove over his head now. So I think he has done some things to try to create some deception."
MANNY ACOSTA, RHP
Acosta, who was beaten out by Blaine Boyer for the final bullpen spot a year ago, quietly had a solid season after joining the Mets on June 3. In parts of two seasons with the Mets, he has produced a 1.82 ERA against division opponents. Acosta originally was acquired by the past regime. He was claimed off waivers from the Braves on March 30, 2010.
Scout's view: "So far this spring, statistics aside, he's had the best stuff of anybody. He has looked like he's competing for a job instead of having a position locked up. He came out the first day of spring and the velocity was good. He was low-to-mid 90s. Every time he goes out there, it's like it's Game 7 of the World Series for him. He competes. Recently he's been getting banged around a little bit, but I think it's been pretty encouraging with him this spring."
MIGUEL BATISTA, RHP
Batista, 41, will serve as the Mets' long man and spot starter. He went 2-0 with a 2.64 ERA in nine appearances (four starts) with the club during the second half, after beginning last season with the Cardinals and posting a 4.60 ERA. He was released by St. Louis on June 22. Batista earned his 100th career win Sept. 1 against the Marlins. Terry Collins believes Batista will serve as a mentor to younger pitchers.
Scout's view: "You know what you're going to get with Batista. Last year was actually one of the best years he's ever had. I thought he threw fine this spring. It's the cut fastball. He tries to live off the barrel of the hitters. He can run the two-seam fastball every once in a while, but for him it's just commanding his cutter. And I've seen him good and bad this spring, but for the most part I've seen him good. You look at the bottom line: What's he have -- a 4-something ERA? It's not great, but the Mets know exactly what they're going to get from Batista. They're going to get the 4.50 ERA. He's 41 years old. He's not going to get any better. But I don't think he's turned that corner to where he's going to fall off the face of the earth yet."