With Moises Alou unavailable and Carlos Delgado a question mark, what do you think of trading Ruben Gotay and a Minor League prospect, such as Robert Parnell, to the Orioles for outfielder Jay Payton and first baseman Kevin Millar? The Orioles are in a rebuilding mode and could use both of those younger players.
-- Josh P., Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

I'm not sure the Orioles have an interest or need for the Mets players you mention, but my sense of it is that Millar would address several needs -- a right-handed hitter with first base skills and somebody who might enliven the clubhouse. I like the idea of Payton returning, but I'm not sure he would flourish once Alou returns and plays with some regularity. Payton is accustomed to getting at least 400 at-bats. Moreover, the club now is saying it probably will not trade for a player to keep left field warm for Alou.

How long will the Mets go with Delgado if his health and production are issues? I would think they may be committed to him for the season because there doesn't seem to be an alternative. He hasn't looked very good so far, and while I understand that he is behind schedule, I also know that he is in decline, regardless of injury. Are the Mets looking for a viable option that could take playing time away from Delgado? And do you think they will stick with him for the majority of the season? Realistically, I suspect the Mets' record will bear out how the club handles the Delgado situation.
-- Robert N., Archibald, Pa.

You're right, there are few alternatives at the moment. Damion Easley is one, but he may be needed in the outfield and on the left side of the infield. The injury to Jose Valentin has created a problem. The clubhouse is quite impressed with the swing of Olmedo Saenz, but his defense would compromise the entire infield. I'm sure the Mets are trying to import a right-handed-hitting player with some first base experience.

I sense the Mets will give Delgado every opportunity. Their financial commitment to him can't be discounted. He is owed $20 million -- $16 million in salary and $4 million in buyout -- at this point, and it's not that he has become inept. He could match his production of last season, but it's when that production comes that is the question. There are enough weak-sister pitching staffs in the league that an experienced hitter can produce numbers. And those games must be won. Whether Delgado can be the hitter to beat John Smoltz's slider or Jake Peavy's fastball in a critical instance is another question.

If for some reason Pedro Martinez or Orlando Hernandez could not start the season, would Aaron Heilman be given the chance to join the starting rotation? Or have his chances of being a starting pitcher become naught?
-- John E., Topeka, Kan.

They remain naught -- or less -- if for no other reason than the remaining time before Opening Day is too brief to "stretch out" Heilman when he hasn't been a starter since early in 2005. Moreover, he is too valuable as a reliever, particularly with Duaner Sanchez's readiness an issue.

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Question:

What are your opinions/observations on players who are trying to bounce back from either injury or a down year or both -- most notably Delgado, Valentin, Easley, Sanchez, Carlos Beltran, Luis Castillo and Endy Chavez? I can't catch many Spring Training games, so I have to rely on what other people report and box scores. I'm curious to know what you've noticed, because some players have looked good and others bad on the stat sheet, but that doesn't always tell the full story.
-- Mike L., Boston

Beltran, Castillo, Easley and Chavez seem to be a tad tentative because they still "feel" their injuries and repairs. But once the games count, I suspect all that will be gone and they'll play at full-bore, regardless of their residual pains.

Valentin was progressing and winning a place on the roster until he developed the pain in his neck (pinched nerve). Now, his readiness for Opening Day is questionable. Sanchez's resilience, stamina and arm strength remain somewhat compromised. I don't think the club has a real sense of his Opening Day readiness, but if I had to guess, he would be left behind.

Delgado looms as the greatest uncertainty and not because of his health. The hip impingement may be an issue, but he discounts it. The greater issue is his ability to get around on inner-half fastballs. That can not be discounted.

I have no questions about Beltran, Castillo, Easley and Chavez, but the other three are unknowns at this point. And the performance of Sanchez and Delgado is critical to the team.

In addition to the first-base situation and some question marks with the pitching, shouldn't the Mets also be concerned about finding a solid utility middle infielder? Castillo doesn't seem to be the long-term solution, and Valentin is not likely to make any sort of impact this season. Why doesn't Gotay's name get mentioned more when talking about prospects? He had a solid 2007 filling in for Valentin. Do the Mets not see him as a quality second baseman later in his career?
-- Brian O., Garden City, N.Y.

Castillo had better be a "long-term solution." The Mets just signed him to a four-year contract. And if and when Valentin recovers from his neck problem, he will have some impact, but none beyond this season. The club doesn't have high regard for Gotay's defense, and his absence because of his ankle sprain hasn't helped his candidacy.

At this point, Anderson Hernandez seems likely to be the middle-infield reserve, despite his weak hitting. The club wants defense, especially up the middle, and Hernandez provides that. The unavailability of Valentin, should it persist, may change the whole equation of the bench, though.

This is a purely-trying-to-understand-statistics question. Why is it when a pitcher pitches two-thirds of an inning he is credited with .2 innings pitched rather than .67? It seems a little unfair to me, so I am hoping you have an enlightened answer. I love reading your column and look forward to your response.
-- Daniel Z., Horseheads, N.Y.

My preference would be 2/3, but I'm pretty sure the use of decimal began because .1 or .2 requires less space than 2/3 or .67. When the cost of newsprint skyrocketed, newspapers looked for ways to squeeze information. Of course, box scores were one of the first victims. They were set in a narrower measure -- some are so compressed they appeared elongated and required magnification -- so that an extra column would fit on a page.

When I started in the business, a broadsheet newspaper -- as opposed to a tabloid -- would run eight columns of agate box scores. They could be read easily. Since then, the width of most newspapers has been reduced, and despite that, some papers have squeezed nine columns of box scores onto a page. So that character gained by using .2 instead of 2/3 or .67 became important.

The use of the decimal on the Internet, I believe, grew out of the change in newspapers and the sense that box score readers came to recognize .2 as two-thirds, not two-tenths.

I hope .2 never appears in text. We still have room for "5 2/3" or "two-thirds of an inning."