VIERA, Fla. -- The price of flexibility is $100,000.
That's what the Mets paid veteran right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka on Tuesday to satisfy a contractual clause, thereby preserving their right to send him to the Minors.
Officially, that means the fifth-starter competition between Matsuzaka and Jenrry Mejia is still in flux, with each scheduled to start once this weekend in Montreal. Unofficially, it creates a scenario in which both could appear early in April for the Mets.
"The competition is still open," general manager Sandy Alderson said. "It doesn't mean the competition is going to be determined exclusively on those two [Montreal] outings."
From a business standpoint, it would have made sense for the Mets to make Matsuzaka their fifth starter regardless of his spring performance. Mejia will be up against an innings limit this summer, so starting him at Triple-A Las Vegas would allow the team to ease him into the season with shorter, more spaced-out outings. It would also prevent him from becoming a higher-salaried Super 2 player next winter.
But optioning Mejia to the Minors would also prevent the Mets from being able to recall him for 10 days, eliminating their hedge in the event that the soreness in Jon Niese's left elbow lingers. The Mets tentatively have Niese scheduled for an April 6 return from the disabled list, but they cannot be sure he will make that start until he passes a series of tests over the next week.
One solution would be asking relievers Carlos Torres or John Lannan to make an emergency start on April 6 if necessary, but the $100,000 purchase on Tuesday opened another option that does not involve shuffling the bullpen.
By stashing Matsuzaka in the Minors, the Mets can theoretically start Mejia on April 4, then -- assuming Niese is healthy -- option him to Triple-A Las Vegas and add Matsuzaka to the rotation if they desire. Or, if Niese's injury lingers, they can replace him with Matsuzaka on April 6 and proceed indefinitely with both Mejia and Matsuzaka in the rotation.
Matsuzaka, who is on a non-guaranteed Minor League deal, can demand his release if he is not on the big league roster by May 30. He and Mejia are both pitching well this spring, posting ERAs of 3.86 and 2.89, respectively.