Mets' spring adding up to a negative

JUPITER, Fla. -- The last time the New York Mets were relevant, at least with respect to baseball, Johan Santana was tossing a three-hit shutout on short rest against the Marlins in Game No. 161 of the 2008 season to keep his team in postseason contention. He was coming off a then-career-high 125-pitch performance four days earlier. He also was pitching with torn meniscus cartilage in his left knee that required offseason surgery.

Santana's body has betrayed him since arriving with the Mets. The season after the meniscus tear he had to get his left elbow cleaned out. The following year came shoulder surgery, which required two offseasons to rehab.

Yet one thing you cannot question about Santana is his competitiveness.

And that's exactly what the Mets did when they groused -- albeit with no names attached -- about Santana arriving at this year's camp with his arm not in pitching shape.

The Mets would be far better served looking in the mirror.

Manager Terry Collins has done an admirable job trying to put lipstick on a pig with his job fate hanging the balance, but there are alarming early signs this is going to be an abysmal year for the Mets -- far worse than even the fans who understand the Mets are biding time for prospects Zack Wheeler and Travis d'Arnaud to complete their development realize.

With respect to Santana, in whom the Mets have $31 million invested this season, including a 2014 buyout, how can they act shocked or even disappointed at the shape in which he arrived? Isn't it the organization's responsibility to have a specific offseason program?

Far more nauseating than the Santana issue is the case of Frank Francisco.

General manager Sandy Alderson said Francisco had extenuating family circumstances that interrupted his rehab from a December elbow cleanout. But even if the trainer had to move in with Francisco during the winter, someone from the organization should have been on top of him, ensuring the rehab program was followed and that the Mets' $6.5 million investment in Francisco was maximized.

Now, as it stands, Francisco likely is ticketed to open the season on the disabled list.

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Word is, Collins was aghast when newly signed starting pitcher Shaun Marcum, after tossing two innings in the Grapefruit League opener Feb. 23, declared his shoulder was not strong enough and that he needed two weeks of long-tossing and bullpen work without game action. Marcum said he only needed four starts to get ready for the season, but who is running things here?

And that leads to just how bad 2013 could be.

I have yet to find a scout who will declare the Mets appreciably better than the Marlins, who underwent their latest fire sale.

The Mets' outfield, yucks aside, is absolutely alarming. One scout wondered how many homers collectively they would hit this season, and that's with the fragile Lucas Duda as the left fielder. Kirk Nieuwenhuis might be playing himself off the roster as Collin Cowgill's platoon mate in center field. And Marlon Byrd and Mike Baxter should be the right-field tandem.

In the bullpen, everyone gets more responsibility with Frank Francisco unavailable. Bobby Parnell becomes the closer, with Brandon Lyon, LaTroy Hawkins and Scott Atchison the primary setup men.
Meanwhile, if Santana is not available to start the season, and with R.A. Dickey outta here, Jeremy Hefner may well be the first placeholder. If Marcum, with his injury history, ends up having some issue too, you're either rushing Wheeler or putting Collin McHugh in the rotation.

And we haven't even addressed the bench. Or, as Alderson might say if he hadn't already used it to describe the outfield, "What bench?"

Brandon Hicks might be on the 40-man roster, but his fielding has been so alarmingly poor, it's hard to fathom he doesn't get unseated for the backup shortstop role by Omar Quintanilla.

The truth is the Mets have legit prospects in Wheeler and d'Arnaud, plus right-hander Noah Syndergaard from the Dickey trade in Class A. And a rotation of young studs, if it materializes, will take you a long way.

But even if Harvey and Wheeler end up as No. 1 or No. 2 starters and d'Arnaud regularly hits 20 homers, those players plus David Wright and Jonathon Niese will not put the Mets in the class of the Washington Nationals or Atlanta Braves come 2014, when Collins might not be around anyway.