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12/22/10 11:20 AM EST

Inbox: How's starting staff shaping up for Mets?

Beat reporter Anthony DiComo fields questions from fans

Go on, give those boxes under the tree a shake. You won't find Cliff Lee under there, nor Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth. The Mets, in fact, have long since finished their holiday shopping, landing D.J. Carrasco, Ronny Paulino and Boof Bonser earlier this month.

That's not to say, however, that they won't do anything else. The Mets are still pursuing a starting pitcher and another reliever or two, acquisitions that should occur in January. And they're still hopeful that their lineup, which severely underperformed last season, can improve dramatically in 2011.

Beyond that, questions remain, which is where this week's Mets Inbox comes in. Enjoy, and have a safe and happy holiday.

What is the due date for Johan Santana, and shouldn't the Mets be looking for pitching with the money that they have?
-- Bob W., Port Charlotte, Fla.

No one -- not manager Terry Collins, not general manager Sandy Alderson, not even Santana himself -- knows for sure. All they know are the facts: Santana suffered a significant tear of his left anterior shoulder capsule, had surgery several months ago, and won't begin a throwing program before January. Until he does, it's impossible to gauge his return date with any accuracy. A good reference point is the All-Star break, and Alderson recently expressed his hope that Santana may return before then. But depending on the lefty's recovery, it could be significantly later, as well.

As for the second part of the question, yes, the Mets intend to spend nearly their entire limited budget on pitching. In Alderson's ideal world, they would add at least one high-upside starter and a lefty reliever for the bullpen. But the market will dictate both the quantity and quality of what they can acquire.

Are the Mets going to work on increasing the pitch counts of starting pitchers? I know the pitch count is something managers watch more than ever now, with many injuries occurring. But in the past we have had hot pitchers on the mound who have been taken out in the eighth inning for a closer to lose the game.
-- Dustin K., Merrick, N.Y.

Though the Mets aren't going to make increased pitch counts a focal point of their lessons this spring -- it's difficult to undo years' worth of conditioning in a few short months -- Collins has said on multiple occasions that he's happy to let his starters go deep into games if their mechanics remain sound. And Alderson does not sound opposed to it. On a live chat with MLB.com last week, the general manager said: "Probably more than anything else, pitch counts have invaded our mental approach to the game, to pitching, and I think that's unfortunate."

That said, Alderson went on to discuss the game's comprehensive evidence linking overworked young pitchers to breakdowns, citing also the fact that higher player salaries create the need for more caution.

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So yes, perhaps Mike Pelfrey and R.A. Dickey will throw a few more complete games this year. But don't expect the younger Jon Niese or Dillon Gee to do the same.

I would have liked to have seen the Mets throw a low base-salary, high incentive-laden contract at Brandon Webb. The guy didn't pitch at all last season, I know, but before his injury he was a Cy Young winner and a dominating pitcher who I think will benefit any team that takes that chance and lands him.

-- Christian Q., Garden City, N.Y.

Your thoughts on Webb are hardly unique, and that's precisely the problem. Plenty of teams are interested in Webb for all the reasons you mentioned -- he's a former Cy Young Award winner, he's young enough that he can still contribute for the foreseeable future, and his injury history makes him an excellent buy-low candidate. Just not quite low enough for the Mets. The Rangers -- flush with cash after losing out on Cliff Lee -- and Nationals, among others, have shown interest in Webb. And that sort of demand will drive his price far higher than the Mets are willing to stomach.

That said, Webb is representative of the type of free agent the Mets would like to acquire: a formerly successful pitcher coming off an injury or down season, and thus coming at a heavy discount. Though Chris Young remains that category's poster child, the Mets continue to explore any and all such options.

If the Mets are in a rebuilding stage, why don't they make a trade and rebuild around Justin Upton? He has an affordable contract. They could possibly give up Pagan and a few other prospects. Maybe the D-backs would be interested in Carlos Beltran. If the D-backs take him, that would open up some space for an affordable pitcher.
-- David Z., New Rochelle, N.Y.

Firstly, the best way to rebuild an organization is usually not to gut the farm system. But more importantly, the Mets simply don't have a strong enough system to land a player such as Upton in a trade. Why would the D-backs accept a deal centered around Pagan, who has a similar skill set but is six years older than Upton? And why, for that matter, would a last-place team have any interest in Beltran? It takes two to trade. The D-backs are not in business to make the Mets better.

When I read all about the Mets' second-base woes, I wonder about some of the guys in the Minors like Reese Havens and Jordany Valdespin. I have heard all about Havens since we drafted him a few years back. Valdespin is having a monster Winter League. Is he a flash in the pan or is he someone to follow?
-- Brian J., Whitestone, N.Y.

Though neither player is ready for Major League duty just yet, either one could earn a shot at second base in the near future -- particularly if Daniel Murphy and Ruben Tejada fail to distinguish themselves at the position this season. As you noted, Valdespin was thriving against top competition before his injury in the Arizona Fall League, and is now starting to receive at-bats in the Dominican Winter League. The Mets liked him enough to use a 40-man roster spot on him and thus protect him from this month's Rule 5 Draft, even though Valdespin's Minor League track record suggests he may not hit enough to stick in the Majors.

Havens, a favorite of Collins, is the more intriguing long-term prospect. A former first-round Draft pick, Havens battled through injuries this season, but thrived during a brief stint at Double-A Binghamton. He'll start next season back in the high Minors, and should move quickly as long as he can stay healthy. Unlike Valdespin and Tejada, Havens has the size to become a true power threat at any level.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.