Pitching atop Mets' offseason list
Free agency here, Minaya looks to upgrade rotation, bullen
NEW YORK -- After two weeks of window shopping, the Mets now are in position to upgrade their beleaguered bullpen and reinforce the rotation. No longer prohibited from negotiating with all free agents -- the embargo ended at midnight ET on Thursday -- they now can put their money where their mound is and launch their pursuit of Derek Lowe, Brian Fuentes or whomever they believe can pitch reliably in either role.
The free-agent filling period ended at midnight with 175 players having filed. Among them are 11 who played for Mets in 2008 and others who, the club believes, could make the 2009 season more rewarding. The most notable and/or attractive, in the Mets' view, are Lowe, the innings-eater veteran starter who could relieve some of the strain on the bullpen, and Fuentes, who could fill the void created by Billy Wagner's elbow injury.
Other possibilities exist, particularly if general manager Omar Minaya chooses to renovate the bullpen completely -- that is unlikely -- or if he accommodates the long-standing desire of veteran second baseman Orlando Hudson to play in Queens. The latter scenario is quite unlikely unless the Mets find a taker for quasi-incumbent second baseman Luis Castillo and the financial obligation attached to his unproductive 2008 performance.
Minaya often has said his primary objective is to repair the pitching and that he believes the offense, with Fernando Tatis re-signed and Ryan Church revitalized, will suffice without an offseason booster shot. So pursuing Hudson isn't something the Mets will do with a degree of urgency.
How quickly the Mets will move in pursuit of a pitcher is unclear. They usually opt to have other clubs establish the market and aren't sure how the economy outside the game will effect the revenues. Moreover, in courting Lowe and pursuing their own free agent, Oliver Perez, they will be dealing with agent Scott Boras. They move deliberately when Boras is involved.
The Mets signed Billy Wagner following the 2005 season for what they hoped would be four productive seasons. He had given them 2 1/2 when his left elbow betrayed him. The Mets don't see other large-market clubs among the Francisco Rodriguez suitors and believe that works in their favor. They can allow others to pursue him, confident that the Wilpon treasury can afford to make a more appealing offer when need be.
But if Rodriguez's agent Paul Kinzer doesn't slash his asking price, said to be $15 million annually for five years, the Mets are likely to pursue Fuentes rather than the single-season record holder for saves. All closers hold some interest for the Mets because of their need, but trading with the Rockies for recently-acquired Huston Street or the White Sox for Bobby Jenks or pursuing Kerry Wood or Trevor Hoffman to close is unlikely.
But if the Mets sign Fuentes or Rodriguez, they might look to Street to be a dynamic eighth-inning pitcher. That scenario wouldn't necessarily discount incumbent Aaron Heilman though. The Mets have concluded that other clubs expect Heilman, Scott Schoeneweis and perhaps other relievers tainted by last season to be made available in a trade at bargain prices. But the club hardly is inclined to give them away. Some changes, other than acquiring a closer, are coming. But Minaya will not clean house.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.