Mets Free to Shuffle Batting Order

A little more than a week ago, Mets manager Jerry Manuel opined that the World Baseball Classic might interfere with his plan to move Jose Reyes out of the leadoff spot. After all, the mighty Dominican Republic would be playing deep into the tournament and there wouldn't be time to get Reyes used to hitting anywhere but the first spot in the first inning.

It seemed like a convenient out for Manuel, especially given his prediliection for making bold pronouncements before failing to follow through. Reyes is a veteran player whose offensive game isn't any better suited to the leadoff spot than any other hitter with a middling on-base percentage. It was still an out, though, and one that Manuel seemed prepared to use.

He can thank the Dutch for throwing a wrench into his plans. Reyes will be back in Port St. Lucie before too long and the Mets have plenty of time to implement their not as radical as it sounds lineup shuffle.

That puts Manuel on the spot. His reputation for having more bark than bite is well established, but screwing around with the team's star shortstop is a lot different than talking about using Eddie Kunz as a closer before barely using him at all. Manuel has to go through with it or risk incurring ill will from a key player. Reyes has said and done all the right things in regard to the move, which is a sound baseball decision, so failing to see it through will only serve to make it look like Reyes couldn't hack batting lower in the order.

Sure, you could blame it on Luis Castillo, but the Mets have made it clear that they're casting their lot with him at second base. It behooves them to use him at leadoff, then, since his offensive skills aren't worth all that much anywhere else in the lineup.

The other sensible alternative is to use Castillo as the ninth hitter, with the pitcher batting eighth. That allows you to use Reyes as a leadoff hitter the one time he'll actually be guaranteed to lead off, while maximizing the chance that he'll have runners on base later in the game. Simply moving Reyes back to leadoff, however, would mean another vote in the Manuel isn't a man of his word column which isn't the best column for a leader of men to have quite so full.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to and in addition to his duties for

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