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03/19/10 7:00 PM ET

Inbox: Who is Opening Day shortstop?

Beat reporter Marty Noble answers fans' questions

I've heard Ruben Tejada could be the Opening Day shortstop, but I don't get it. Alex Cora would be a great fill-in for a few weeks, and he adds grit to the team. My biggest issue is with Tejada's defense. I believe the Mets can get through a short-term absence of Jose Reyes, but not with Tejada at short. Any thoughts on the direction manager Jerry Manuel is leaning toward or what would you do?
-- Dan G., North Haven, Conn.

Manuel has said Cora will be the primary shortstop when the season begins. Tejada seemingly will be Cora's understudy. But there were indications on Friday that the choice of Cora's backup may be affected by how long the Mets believe Reyes will be unavailable.

Tejada is the most likely if Reyes' absence is protracted. If the club anticipates Reyes to return in the first or second week of April, Russ Adams, the 29-year-old former Blue Jays infielder, could open the season on the big league bench. Adams is a left-handed batter -- that would be a plus -- and has some pop. He has hit 17 home runs in 884 big league at-bats. Adams has had a fine spring -- .467 average, one triple, one home run and two walks in 15 plate appearances.

He's got a chance.

The club -- understandably -- is not sharing the results of Reyes' thyroid testing, so if improvement occurs, the public won't be likely to know how long his absence will last. Patience.

I've grown to love the outfield assist, in large part because of watching Carlos Beltran throw out baserunners who had a clear advantage on the play. So Jeff Francoeur's arm was a delight to watch last season every time he unfurled it. That said, I was surprised to see Jason Bay's name on the list of outfield assist leaders. Do the Mets have three potential Gold Glove-caliber outfielders? I haven't seen enough of him to notice his fielding.
-- Derek C., Lewisville, N.C.

If you read the story that mentioned Bay's assists, then you must have read what I wrote about Alfonso Soriano's assists. He is second to Francoeur in career assists since the Mets outfielder broke in with the Braves in 2005, 70-58. Most of Soriano's assists, from what I can see, have come from opponents testing his arm strength, his accuracy and his attentiveness. In many cases, a high assist total for a left fielder is indicative of just that, because if an outfielder has an above-average arm, he's not playing left.

Exceptions to that rule of thumb were Dave Winfield -- when he played left -- Reggie Jackson, who played right for the Yankees, Kevin McReynolds, when he was the Mets' left fielder, and Darryl Strawberry, the Mets' right fielder. But as terrific a left fielder as Barry Bonds was until he moved to the Giants, the assists he amassed were, to some degree, a function of his unremarkable arm.

I can't say any of that applies to Bay. But I don't see his arm as anything close to Francoeur's or Beltran's. Bay has said, "I'm not a Gold Glover, but I don't think I'm a liability."

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With Fernando Martinez not living up to expectations last season, he had a lot to prove this spring. How does he fit into the Mets' future plans, with Francoeur, Beltran and Bay in the outfield?
-- Joe M., Monroe, Conn.

What are the Mets going to do with Martinez? It seems that he'll be locked out of the outfield by Bay, Beltran and Francoeur -- at least until Beltran's contract is up. He's really raking in Spring Training. Is he trade bait?
-- Mike M., New York

I'd say Martinez is less likely trade bait now than he has been since the Johan Santana trade in February 2008. He has begun to hit breaking balls and pull pitches more readily than he had before -- both indications of on-field maturity. It is a tad curious that months after he was recalled to play -- when Beltran and Angel Pagan were down last summer -- and now that he seems more baseball mature, he is all but certain to begin the season in the Minor Leagues. And by the way, when Martinez is ready to play in the big leagues, he is likely to be better suited to be a corner outfielder.

If the Mets are so high on Jenrry Mejia, do you think they will do what other clubs have done with phenoms, start him in the Minor Leagues to keep him from accruing big league service time and thereby delaying his eligibility for free agency and salary arbitration?
-- Matt S., Fairfield, Conn.

Matt, you are thinking like a general manager. If the Mets decide he is big league ready, that's the first issue they have to address. There's nothing illegal or unethical about that plan. And in his case -- especially if the Mets intend to use him in the bullpen -- the club would be wise to let him acclimate himself to the new assignment by pitching at Triple-A Buffalo for a few weeks. It would accomplish two objectives with one move.

Even though Rod Barajas is the starting catcher, I'm sure Henry Blanco will get a decent share of playing time. How do you see that working? What are Barajas and Blanco's strengths/weaknesses relative to each other offensively and defensively?
-- Mike D., East Brunswick, N.J.

Blanco, 38, has played in more than 100 games just twice in his career and not since 2004. Barajas, 34, has started 200 games over the past two seasons. So there's the first indication of how this tandem is likely to be used. Offensively, Barajas clearly is superior to Blanco because of his power. Neither one is likely to hit for average.

From what I can gather, Blanco is a superior receiver and Barajas a superior thrower. But neither is a slouch in either area. That's the superficial appraisal.

What is the future for Chris Carter, who has excelled at Triple-A and performed so well in limited duty this spring?
-- Alex C., Virginia Beach, Va.

Carter is most likely to begin the 2010 season as a Buffalo outfielder, along with Martinez. He has been productive this spring, and the Mets do need left-handed power -- so long as Beltran and Reyes and their switch-hit bats are unavailable. But Carter appears to have no position. Scouts from other clubs like his bat, are a tad wary of his intensity -- others love it -- and think his defense is lacking. He doesn't seem to be equipped for regular duty as a pinch-hitter. Assessing only his offensive skills, he is somewhere between the power of Mike Jacobs and the "put-the-ball-in-play" skills of Frank Catalanotto. And he has less experience than both.

Martinez, Ike Davis and Mejia seem to be big league ready, considering how they've performed this spring. Why isn't GM Omar Minaya giving the new guard a shot in an attempt to save his job?
-- Dan D., New Brunswick, N.J.

I'm not sure why you think the performance of mostly untested players would necessarily reinforce a GM's job security. I repeatedly use the following phrasing from Bobby Valentine, because it is to the point and makes a point. In the case of young position players, they should, in Valentine's words, "show that they have left Triple-A behind" before being challenged by the big leagues. Martinez has 176 at-bats at Triple-A; Davis has none.

Mejia's case is different. Pitchers come more quickly than position players.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.