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.
Harvey, Mets officially come to terms on site of rehab
VIERA, Fla. -- The Mets and right-hander Matt Harvey have officially come to an agreement regarding the location of his Tommy John rehab, according to general manager Sandy Alderson.
The Mets will permit Harvey -- thanks to a clause in the Collective Bargaining Agreement preventing the club from keeping him in Florida for more than 20 days -- to rehab at Citi Field when the team is at home, giving him access to his teammates, his apartment and all the luxuries that New York has to offer.
When the team is on the road, Harvey will fly to Port St. Lucie, Fla., to rehab at the team's Spring Training facility.
That arrangement will continue through June, at which point Harvey will rehab in Florida "more or less full-time" as he ramps up his workouts, according to Alderson.
In effect, the deal is a compromise. Harvey gets to spend much of his summer in New York, as he wished, and the rehab staff in Florida gets to work with him on a regular basis.
"I think he's happy with that arrangement," said Alderson. "We're happy with that arrangement. We think it will work well, so we're going to go ahead on that basis."
Harvey hopes to return to active duty by September, though Opening Day 2015 remains a more realistic expectation.
Mets' roster picture coming into focus
VIERA, Fla. -- With 31 players left in camp, Mets officials have begun informing players of their roster status. Though the team will not make many of its decisions final until this weekend, several items have become clear:
• Both Ike Davis and Lucas Duda are heavy favorites to make the Opening Day roster. Though the Mets have not chosen one over the other as the starter, Davis holds the edge in both Grapefruit League statistics and historic performance, and also appeared to be the favorite heading into Spring Training. Whoever loses the competition should see heavy at-bats as a designated hitter in Anaheim from April 11-13.
• Juan Lagares has continually impressed officials with his outfield defense, which may be enough to earn him an extended trial in center field to start the season. But even if he plays most days in April over Eric Young Jr., he will not have unlimited rope.
"I think everybody would probably agree he's our best outfielder, he's our best center fielder," general manager Sandy Alderson said. "But he's going to have to hit a little bit, too. If he were to start on Opening Day, we would have to see over a period of time -- how long, how short, I don't know -- if he could carry the offensive side of the game as well. If that's not the case, typically a guy like that would be better off playing somewhere else, but that's premature."
If Lagares starts in center field on Opening Day, Curtis Granderson and Chris Young will flank him in left and right, respectively.
• Vic Black took the first step toward rebounding from a tough spring with 1 1/3 scoreless innings on Tuesday against the Nationals. Black, who entered the game with a 6.75 ERA, stranded an inherited runner in the third inning before pitching around a walk and a hit in the fourth. He will have one, maybe two more appearances to prove he belongs in the Opening Day bullpen after a strong run late last season.
"Performances matter," Alderson said. "I think last year was a small sample. This year is an almost equal sample, so I think we have to take everything into account. We're not ignoring Spring Training performance."
• Zack Wheeler confirmed that he is scheduled to pitch the third game of the season, against the Nationals, resulting in an opening-series rotation of Dillon Gee, Bartolo Colon and Wheeler.
• Talk about awkward. Former (and future) Mets reliever Kyle Farnsworth boarded a Viera-bound bus on Tuesday, only to realize that he was not technically a member of the team. Farnsworth, whom the Mets released last week with the intention of re-signing him to a Minor League deal, was scheduled to pitch in the game against the Nationals. Instead he threw a bullpen session on the side. The Mets expect him to officially rejoin the roster later this week.