Three relievers -- not part of the Major League Mets in 2006, including rookie Joe Smith -- are already on the roster which will open the season Sunday night in St. Louis. A fourth -- identity still to be determined -- is all but certain, and a fifth could be added, though not likely.
That much can been said because Smith, the sub-sidearm rookie, and veteran Aaron Sele were added to the roster Thursday, and general manager Omar Minaya indicated that at least one and perhaps two among Ambiorix Burgos, Chan Ho Park and Jon Adkins will be added Friday. Veteran Scott Schoeneweis already was on the roster.
Chances are only one, Burgos, will be added, leaving a roster space for Lastings Milledge.
All that came to light after Milledge proved to be physically sound by taking batting practice and participating in the Mets' 13-2 victory against the Dodgers in Vero Beach. His bruised right hand -- he had been struck by a pitch Sunday -- had healed enough that he took full batting practice and contributed a sharp single to the Mets' 16-hit splurge against a half-dozen pitchers the Dodgers left behind when they departed for the West Coast.
"He's all right," manager Willie Randolph said after Milledge hit a batting practice home run, almost dismissing the injury with his tone.
The manager hasn't shown his hand with Milledge. But people familiar with his thinking have said he wants the nearly 22-year-old second-year outfielder on the roster.
Milledge would serve as an extra outfielder, but with Shawn Green not hitting and the other reserve outfielders -- Endy Chavez and David Newhan -- left-handed batters, he also would afford Randolph a right-handed-hitting outfield option. Moreover, his presence would allow Randolph to replace Green and Moises Alou for defensive purposes, and still have an outfield bat on the bench.
Milledge, who is batting .357 with six extra-base hits in 56 at-bats in exhibition games, acknowledged his hand stung at times Thursday, but he didn't appear to favor it or react to it. His quick recovery put the club in position to cut the other outfield candidate in camp, Ben Johnson, who had an uneven spring. Johnson also bats right-handed, so if the Mets believe they want a right-handed-hitting outfield reserve and think Milledge needs to continue his development in the Minor Leagues, Johnson eventually could be in Queens.
Milledge's status as a probable Opening Night player is a result of his skills -- no longer obscured -- and his seven-week effort to improve his image. Milledge arrived at came one day early, said all the right things, learned to handle the outside pitch more effectively and interacted more readily with teammates and staff. Players who found his behavior unacceptable last summer now speak of him in a purely positive light. And as Green's struggles continue, teammates believe Milledge may be a necessary piece, even after the Mets have made the planned adjustment and added Mike Pelfrey to the roster to serve as the No. 5 starter.
Because they have three off-days in the first 10 days of the season, they have no need for a fifth starter until April 16. The assumption is that the luxury of a sixth outfielder will be eliminated because of that need.
Just as the off-days negate the need for a fifth starter for two weeks, they also reduce the need for an eight-man bullpen and thereby reduce the chances the club will add more than one reliever Friday.
Burgos, the hardest thrower still in camp, is the most likely of the three to be added. Adkins, who has no options remaining and has pitched least effectively among the three, is the least likely to be added.
Park is a difficult call for the Mets, not because the club expects him to flourish in his current role as a reliever, but because he is an experienced starter. The Mets need only to look to last season, when they used 13 starters, to recall the advantages of pitching depth. But Sele's presence addresses that issue. And by summer, the club might be inclined to recall Philip Humber.
Moreover, the specter of Pedro Martinez remains, though his return is bound to come later, and it hardly is guaranteed.
In addition to optioning Johnson and infielder Anderson Hernandez to their Triple-A New Orleans affiliate, the Mets also reassigned veteran catchers Sandy Alomar Jr. and Mike DeFelice, first baseman Mike Carp, infielder Ruben Gotay and reliever Lina Urdaneta to the Minor League camp and outrighted Jorge Sosa to the New Orleans roster. The club also said it intended to assign Martinez, Duaner Sanchez, Juan Padilla and Dave Williams to the disabled list before Opening Night. Minaya said Sanchez is leaning toward having surgery to repair the hairline fracture in his shoulder.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.