Mike Pelfrey‘s name popped up in the trade rumor mill even before spring training began. After a couple of horrendous outings for the Mets, the question wasn’t so much about Pelfrey as trade bait. It was more about whether Mets manager Terry Collins would fish or cut bait.

Pelfrey started in horrendous fashion. The 28-year-old right-hander gave up 20 runs in his first four spring starts. Still, he remained optimistic.

“Every spring training I’ve had, I don’t know if I’ve had a good one,” Pelfrey said after being tagged for eight runs by the Houston Astros. “So it doesn’t necessarily concern me that much, but at the end of the day, I threw 80 pitches. I feel good.”

But the front office didn’t. Collins went to Pelfrey with a warning: The brass is not impressed. There was talk that he would be released before Opening Day if he didn’t step up.

Pelfrey responded. His final two starts of the spring were outstanding. On Tuesday, he struck out five New York Yankees in four innings and gave up just one run.

So Pelfrey will travel north with the team. But were two good outings enough to secure his future?

Unlikely. Of all the Mets starters, Pelfrey remains the most expendable.

Pelfrey had his chance to emerge as a mainstay of the Mets pitching staff last year while Johan Santana sat out the season recovering from surgery. Instead, he posted a disappointing 7-13 record with a 4.74 ERA.

Now, Santana is back, and Jonathon Niese is on the verge of signing a five-year contract. R.A. Dickey is a workhorse; he led the team in innings pitched last year and often lasts late into games, saving the Mets from dipping into a suspect group of middle relievers. Dillon Gee still needs seasoning, but the Mets seem committed to him for the future.

Whether Pelfrey or Gee will be the fifth starter hasn’t been announced. Either way, Pelfrey remains the most likely Mets pitcher to end up on the trade block.

Pelfrey, though inconsistent, could prove a useful fifth starter on a team making a run for the pennant. There’s no financial downside in unloading him; only $1 million of his $5.58 million contract is guaranteed.

Even if Pelfrey starts throwing like a batting practice pitcher again, he retains value as part of a package. Toss him in with David Wright, and the Mets could lure a promising young player.

Don’t look for a superstar, though. The Mets are still too financially strapped to take on a big contract. Almost any trade would have to be of equal value or less than the combined contracts of Pelfrey and Wright, or Pelfrey and any other player who could push a better team to a title.

Prediction: Pelfrey will be gone by midsummer. The mystery is, who will go with him?

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