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Only question for Mets is at top of lineup

Only question for Mets is at top of lineup

Only question for Mets is at top of lineup
NEW YORK -- With so much uncertainty swirling around the Mets these days, it's easy to forget that much of the roster heading into next season is actually quite static. Barring injury, the Mets have no vacancies in their starting rotation, a rarity in today's game. They have one or two bullpen jobs up for grabs at most. And their lineup, too, is mostly written in ink.

Daniel Murphy and Justin Turner, along with perhaps Ronny Cedeno and Jordany Valdespin, will ostensibly compete for the starting second-base position. But it's clear that in reality, the job belongs to Murphy so long as he displays any sort of defensive aptitude in the spring.

The only question that remains, then, is the batting order -- if it's even a question at all.

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Nearly all the uncertainty on manager Terry Collins' lineup card comes up top. The Mets traded for Andres Torres in December under expectations that he would lead off, and it's a two-fold argument for Torres: He is the fastest member of the starting lineup, and he possesses by far the most leadoff experience (981 career at-bats hitting first, compared to 28 for every other member of the starting lineup combined).

Torres wants the opportunity, too.

"I know some fans maybe say, 'Oh, this guy didn't have a good season,'" he said shortly after his trade from San Francisco. "But I'm going to go forward and I'm going to work hard to do what I know I'm capable of doing."

The risk is that if Torres produces an on-base percentage similar to his .312 clip during last summer's injury-riddled campaign, he will be a detriment to the lineup. But since Torres is the team's unquestioned Opening Day center fielder anyway, the Mets will likely bat him leadoff in the hopes that he can produce something closer to the .343 mark he had in both 2009 and '10.

The alternative to Torres is Murphy, less of a classic leadoff man but the better sabermetric choice given his .362 on-base percentage last season. Then again, Murphy posted a .313 on-base percentage in his only full big league season back in 2009, and he possesses a fraction of Torres' speed.

More importantly, Collins said at the Winter Meetings in December that while the idea of batting Murphy first intrigues him, in an ideal world, he would prefer to slot the infielder's gap power lower in the lineup. So expect Torres to bat first and Murphy second, with the slight potential for Murphy to bump up a spot.

From there, the lineup card unfolds in a straightforward manner. David Wright third. Ike Davis fourth. Jason Bay fifth. Lucas Duda sixth. Josh Thole and Ruben Tejada seventh and eighth, or perhaps eighth and seventh.

If nothing else, it is a balanced lineup. The Mets appeared to lose much of their balance when they lost three switch-hitters (Pagan, Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes) to trades and free agency. But their Opening Day lineup nonetheless projects to have four left-handers (Murphy, Davis, Duda and Thole) and three right-handers (Wright, Bay and Tejada), along with the switch-hitting Torres, whose career splits are roughly equal from both sides of the plate.

Against tough lefties, the Mets can sub in Turner for Murphy, Mike Nickeas for Thole or Scott Hairston for Duda. Against right-handers, the starting eight should not vary much.

So with that in place, all the Mets have to do is produce. Simple, right? And yet questions remain as to whether Torres can bounce back from a poor season, whether Wright and Davis can move on from injury-ravaged seasons, whether Bay can recover from all that has vexed him over the past two years. Uncertainty surrounds so many of the young players who flesh out the lineup, as well.

Right now, the Mets are simply looking past that uncertainty to the potential that lies beneath.

"Don't forget -- Ike Davis was on pace to be an All-Star [before his injury]," Murphy said earlier this week. "David Wright is a year removed from that back injury, and we still have a former All-Star in left field. For me, I see nothing but upside. Maybe I am ever the optimist."

Maybe. At the very least, with less than three weeks until the start of Spring Training, Murphy -- like the rest of the starting lineup -- has a decent idea of where he stands.

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.

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