While the media focuses on the controversy of Jerry Manuel’s first few proclamations this spring, I think the substance of his comments is a harbinger of good things to come in 2009.

Much has been made recently of Jerry Manuel and his “controversial” announcements to the media.  First, Manuel told the press that Jose Reyes may drop down in the order so that Luis Castillo could bat leadoff.  And then everyone went crazy when Manuel announced that Daniel Murphy was going to be a full-time player and that if anybody in the outfield was going to platoon, it was going to be Ryan Church.

There are two things with these decisions by Manuel that have shocked people.  One, everyone seems surprised that the manager would declare these things to the media without first telling his players in person.  And second, people are surprised that a manager on the hot seat would make decisions to rock the boat before a single Spring Training game was played.

The masses are really focusing on the wrong things here.

Now, I much prefer the calm, steady hand of a Walter Alston than the seemingly-maniacal style of Billy Martin in my manager.  I just see Manuel’s moves being much more in the style of the former than the latter.

Why is it such a big deal that Manuel did not tell his players first about these decisions?  None of these things are written in stone.  If Castillo flops in Spring Training, there is virtually no chance that he will hit leadoff.  And if Reyes drops in the order, it will not be very far – most likely to the second slot.  Is that really anything for anyone to get up in arms about?

And why is making Daniel Murphy a full-time player a big issue?  People say that he only has 131 at-bats in the majors and that is too small of a sample to make a decision like this.  I would be okay with that reasoning if people didn’t want to make the decision instead on 60 Spring Training at-bats.

Murphy has gotten significantly better as he has moved up the ladder, which is a pretty rare thing for a ballplayer.  Many people do not trust him because he was not a heralded prospect.  If Fernando Martinez had done what Murphy did last year, people would be upset that he didn’t get any Rookie of the Year support.

Manuel should be praised for putting his best option in the lineup full-time and not wait for the youngster to “prove” himself in Spring Training or April.

Manuel put notice on Church that he has to produce or risk falling into a platoon.  This is a wacky move by Manuel?  I don’t get it.  Church has never had more than 470 at-bats in a season, is coming off a year with two concussions and he hit .219/.305/.307 in his final 128 plate appearances last year.  The manager is supposed to guarantee this guy a full-time job?

It is one thing if a manager complains to the media about a player before talking to him first.  A player should never have to find out for the first time that the manager is upset with him by reading it in print.  But Manuel’s two big announcements don’t fall into this category.  Instead, these are potential moves with the design of putting the best team on the field.

I am unsure if people are more upset with moving Reyes out of the leadoff spot or moving Castillo to the top of the order.  My guess is the latter.  Many people are furious with Castillo and his contract and anything regarding him is met with derision.  I understand that.  But I also understand that he is on the roster and opens the season as the team’s starting second baseman.  And it is up to Manuel to find the best way to utilize his skills.

Castillo’s main offensive skill is getting on base.  Even during last year’s miserable season, Castillo had an OBP 110 points higher than his average.  And despite being overweight and recovering from knee surgery, Castillo was successful on 17 of his 19 steal attempts.

Perhaps Manuel feels the best way to get the most out of Castillo is to show support for him and put him in the best position to succeed.  If Castillo bats leadoff in 150 games and has his average season of a .367 OBP, he should top 100 runs scored (he had 91 runs scored in 135 games in 2007 batting second or lower for more than a third of the year).

Putting Castillo at the top of the order is not the move that I would make – I think he should bat eighth – but it is a clearly defensible move on Manuel’s part.  And Reyes’ game does not have to change in any significant way by batting second.  And if it gets him to stop swinging at the first pitch and popping up, it will be a good thing.

I have said it before, but Murphy needs to be out their every day.  If Church hits like he did in April and May, he will be the full-time right fielder.  And there should still be enough at-bats for Fernando Tatis as the primary righty off the bench and as the backup for Murphy, Church, Wright and Delgado.

There is nothing wacky or controversial about either Manuel’s decisions or his delivery of them.  Mets fans should feel good that their manager is actively looking for solutions to get the most out of his talent.  If others want to focus on imagined controversies, that is their prerogative.

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