Right now, the Mets still believe -- at least publicly -- that Francisco will be ready for Opening Day. So right now, Francisco is the closer.
Of course, that can change between now and April, and Francisco's health is not the only pertinent fact relating to his job. But given his already-tenuous status, it would behoove Francisco to rehab as quickly as he can from surgery to remove a bone chip from his throwing elbow. If he is not healthy by mid-March, the Mets will need to start considering alternative closer options whether they have an obvious candidate or not.
Then again, an alternate closer could steal the job even if Francisco is healthy. General manager Sandy Alderson hasn't exactly been committal when asked about the situation in recent weeks, and Francisco did nothing last season to warrant immunity in the role. Wilson is one of several relievers with closing experience left on the market; if the Mets sign one of them, there's a non-zero chance that Francisco could lose his job before he throws another pitch.
What the Mets won't do is sign an established closer to an expensive deal with the outright intention of replacing Francisco -- they don't see that as a priority. Nor will they name Bobby Parnell the exclusive closer if both men are healthy, after Parnell's struggles in the role last season.
But they do not seem overly committed to Francisco, whose fate depends so much upon his health. Right now, the job belongs to him. But the longer he is unable to pitch, the more likely someone else steps into the job, potentially replacing the incumbent for good.
Who will be the Mets' Opening Day starter?
-- Jim B., New York
If I had to guess, I'd imagine the Mets will give Johan Santana the honor, assuming he is fully healthy. But if the Mets still feel they need to limit Santana in some way, they could look elsewhere. In that case, Jon Niese would be the obvious candidate. Of the four starting pitchers currently in place, Niese posted the best 2012 season by far.
I know that Zack Wheeler is untouchable for the most part. But if you were the Mets, wouldn't you have to entertain the idea of trading Wheeler and a couple of other prospects for Giancarlo Stanton?
-- Daniel B., Charlotte, N.C.
If I were the Mets, I would certainly consider trading Wheeler for Stanton -- or anyone even close to that echelon of player, for that matter. While Wheeler is a fantastic-looking pitching prospect -- ranked No. 1 by MLB.com in the Mets' organization -- he is still just a prospect. He has not proven anything at the game's highest level, and he is vulnerable to the same types of injuries that derail even the most promising pitchers on an annual basis.
That said, I understand why Alderson has made Wheeler untouchable. The right-hander has risen so rapidly as a prospect that he now carries a certain "mystique," as one team insider described it last year, making him ultra-valuable for a team in transition. His name alone gives fans something to latch onto, something to look forward to. Same goes for Matt Harvey and, now, catcher Travis d'Arnaud.
Unlike Stanton or any other non-rookie, Wheeler also still has six full years under team control. That's a factor. The Mets are certainly staking a big chunk of their future on Wheeler, hoping he turns out to be the ace that everyone envisions. They understand the risk involved and are willing to take it.
I cannot believe what clubs are paying setup men. The Mets are no longer interested in re-signing Jon Rauch and Ramon Ramirez, along with everyone else apparently. At this point, why not just go with the kids? There is not much left out there to pick from.
-- George H., Florence, Ky.
You're right that the bullpen options left on the open market are not that impressive. Almost all of the league's remaining free agents are well into their 30s, coming off injury or both.
So for the most part, the Mets do plan to go with "the kids" -- some combination of Josh Edgin, Robert Carson, Greg Burke, Jenrry Mejia, Jeurys Familia, Darin Gorski, Elvin Ramirez and Collin McHugh. But they are looking to acquire at least one veteran to complement that group, and expect to do so within the coming weeks.
With the Minor League signing of Omar Quintanilla, will the Mets still look for a backup infielder to spell Ruben Tejada and possibly David Wright when they need a break? How about options such as Felipe Lopez or Cesar Izturis for one year, or will the Mets go internally for their backup infielder?
-- Jeremy C., Scotia, N.Y.
The Mets are done shopping for infield help this winter. Quintanilla will battle with Brandon Hicks and Justin Turner for one of two backup infield jobs this spring.
It sickens me that Gil Hodges remains out of the Hall Of Fame. Besides an award-winning career, I think his accomplishments outside his playing career should also be considered. He led the Mets to their first World Series championship in only their eighth year. Was Hodges the first to use the five-man pitching rotation?
-- Alexander S., Mt. Vernon, N.Y.
Hodges is generally credited with popularizing the five-man rotation, a unique carrot to go along with his fine playing and managing careers. Just not fine enough, the Baseball Writers' Association of America decided decades ago, and the Veterans Committee concurred.
Though it's a long shot, Hodges still does have a chance, however. He was one of 10 men on the inaugural Veterans Committee Golden Era ballot in 2011, and may appear again when the committee reconvenes in 2014. Given that he received nine out of a possible 16 votes last time, his chances of election seem greater now than they have in years.
Tim Teufel has spent the past decade quietly dedicating himself to instructing/coaching in the Mets' system. He seems to be well-liked and, more importantly, respected by players and staff alike. Do you think we'll ever see him as the replacement to Terry Collins? Where do you think his future lies?
-- Howard H., Albany, N.Y.
You're right that Teufel is well-liked, both by the organization and its players. Wright in particular improved his defense visibly under Teufel's tutelage last season, while Daniel Murphy held his own at second base.
I don't know what Teufel's long-term aspirations are -- he was originally believed to be a managerial candidate when Collins was hired two years ago but did not wind up interviewing. If Teufel is interested in becoming a manager, I have to believe the Mets would consider him the next time they are looking. In addition to Teufel's skills and growing resume, the Mets do like to keep former players in the fold whenever possible.
Being from Omaha, I am very happy with the Mets moving their Triple-A team to Las Vegas. I have a chance to see them play again. I thought I heard the contract wasn't much more than two or three years, though. Is that correct? If it is, what are the chances that they stay in the Pacific Coast League?
-- Ted H., Omaha, Neb.
The Mets signed a two-year player development contract with Las Vegas, and I wouldn't expect their time in Nevada to last much longer than that. Being on the other side of the country presents the Mets with all sorts of logistical problems, from making quick callups to organizing scouting trips.
In other words, enjoy the PCL presence while you can -- I would expect the Mets to eye a return to the International League as soon as their contract is up after the 2014 season. The last time the Mets were in the PCL, affiliating with New Orleans in 2007, they departed after just two seasons.