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Collins returning is only certainty for Mets

NEW YORK -- Praise be to Sandy Alderson, the man in charge of making us forget Oliver Perez, Manny Acosta and Taylor Buchholz. To the surprise of no one who has used vision or hearing in the past 10 days, Alderson has retained Terry Collins, the man in charge of making lemonade out of lemons. The Mets eliminated one of their many uncertainties Monday as quickly as possible after the closing of another season of oops, ouch and uh-oh. Collins returns next season for a fourth summer in the Citi. He is contracted for a fifth, and a sixth is at least contractually possible.

It may take that long for the tops of the Mets' caps to rise above C-level. They still may need another 162 games to become what they hoped they would be this year: a .500 team; and another season after that to become what they think they will be in 2014: a team with legit aspirations for a place in the postseason. Their hopes will have to hustle to catch up with reality.

Despite several encouraging developments in the 2013 season, the Mets are essentially where they were a year ago. Not that they ran in place while producing their second straight 74-88 record and their fourth consecutive losing record, but some of their successes were the results of contributions made by players not likely to be with the team next season.

Where would the Mets have been without John Buck in April and without Marlon Byrd until the day he and Buck became Bucs? And, of course, what degree of the 2013 renaissance would have occurred without Matt Harvey? He changed so much until his elbow betrayed him.

Accept the three absences in 2014 -- two are all but given and one is at least probable -- and what's left is uncertainties in the bullpen, behind the plate, two infield positions and the corner-outfield positions. How can the Alderson administration predict, expect, assume or even hope for a modest eight-victory improvement if its unsure about it's closer, catcher, shortstop, first baseman, left-handed power and left- and right-field assignments. And those areas of who-knows-what don't touch on Harvey's return, the most critical uncertainty of all.

Collins indicated Monday that his shortstop will be Ruben Tejada, so long as the former incumbent, who turns 24 next month, arrives in Spring Training in a timely fashion, well-conditioned and ready to perform. The club expected at least that much in February 2012 following the departure of Jose Reyes, but Tejada hardly accommodated despite being given the assignment. Perhaps that was because he was given the assignment.

Because of injury, the club knows far less about Travis d'Arnaud at this juncture than it had hoped. It is certain only that he begins next season as the catcher and that he wasn't overwhelmed by his first exposure to the big leagues. It's a start.

The readiness to perform of Bobby Parnell by Opening Day is no more established than that of Harvey. And we know nothing about the corner-outfield positions. A bopper in right might allow Eric Young to play left, lead off and provide speed that would be missing otherwise.

That leaves first base, and though it isn't an up-the-middle position, it is as critical a personnel decision as any because it affects the defense and the offense. Ike Davis did additional damage to his value with a second straight invisible first half, diminished defense and an absent final month. Lucas Duda, more adept than Davis in hitting left-handed pitching, remains a less appealing player than Davis, because he is slightly less agile at first and he never has produced at the big league level in ways comparable to what Davis did in the second half of 2012.

Davis' eligibility for salary arbitration, diminished defense and woeful first half work against him. But his ceiling is higher, and he does make a difference in the clubhouse. He's one of the guys. Duda is quiet and not engaging. At his point, Davis probably is more of a risk than Duda. But the reward with Davis probably would be greater, and there's an intriguing sense in the clubhouse that the better the team performs, the more Davis will produce. You'd think it would be the other way around.

Duda's ability to spray his hits, home runs included, to all fields falls in line with Collins' preference to have his hitters be less long-ball conscious, particularly at Citi Field. He wants them to use the vastness of the Citi lawn to help improve their home record (33-48). But Duda has changed his approach since his big league debut, and he now swings as if power numbers are more beneficial.

Less emphasis on power probably would reduce the strikeout totals of the Mets' hitters. They tied with the Braves for the most strikeouts in the league, 1,384. But the Braves hit 181 home runs, the Mets 130.

The decision at first base -- and the Mets can't carry Davis and Duda again -- is critical because the presence of genuine left-handed power in the middle of the batting order might prompt opponents to use more left-handed starters that, in turn, will help David Wright's right-handed bat. Remember how well Wright produced with either of the Carlos Brothers -- Beltran or Delgado -- near him in the order.

* * *

Alderson's staff moved to Port St. Lucie, Fla., on Monday to conduct meetings that will produce plans of action to follow in the coming weeks. Multiple scenarios will result. If the club decides to pursue an outfielder with power and succeeds, it may look differently at the first-base situation. If it can acquire a better defensive second baseman than Daniel Murphy, it might make acquisition of a left-handed-hitting outfielder essential and the quickness of the first baseman less of an issue. If it lands a shortstop with greater range than Tejada, Murphy's shortcoming at second might become less objectionable. And if, by the grace of Dr. James Andrews and other powers, Harvey's elbow heals, then the outlook becomes decidedly brighter, Collins becomes a much better manager.

And Opening Day is March 31.

Marty Noble is a reporter for

New York Mets