NEW YORK -- The plan all along, according to those in the know, was for the Mets to enter Spring Training stocked with not five, not six, but seven or eight starting pitchers. Injury risks, the team has discovered during each of the past two seasons, are too great to settle for less.

And now the team is moving closer to that goal. The Mets and Yankees are the lone remaining contenders for the services of Freddy Garcia, according to a report posted late Wednesday evening on FoxSports.com, and thus have moved rather close to acquiring a measure of rotation insurance.

Garcia, if acquired, could battle for the fifth starter's job out of Spring Training.

Even if he does sign, of course, there would be no guarantees. Garcia won just one game after a trade landed him in Philadelphia two winters ago, and won one additional game last season after going to Detroit on a Minor League contract. Once one of the most durable and consistent starters in the game, Garcia, now 32, underwent right shoulder surgery in 2007 and has pitched just 73 big league innings over the past two seasons.

His career ERA stands at 4.07; his career winning percentage is .605.

And despite Wednesday's report, the White Sox and Rangers have been recently linked to Garcia, who is said to be looking for a guaranteed contract that would allow him to be paid even if he doesn't make the team with which he signs.

Hot Stove

The Mets, at this point, would appear to need a starter more than the Yankees, who have already signed free agents CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett to top their rotation, and who boast a measure of depth with their Major League-ready youngsters. By comparison, the Mets whiffed on their attempts to acquire free-agent starter Derek Lowe, signing right-hander Tim Redding instead.

Redding currently slots fourth in the Mets' rotation behind Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey and John Maine, leaving rookie Jonathon Niese penciled into the fifth spot. In an ideal world, the Mets would like to have the 22-year-old Niese battle for that job in Spring Training, if not simply cede it to a veteran. Talent aside, Niese has but three big league starts to his credit.

Even if they acquire Garcia, of course, the Mets are almost certainly not done spending. The team is still pursuing its own free agent, Oliver Perez, to return to the middle of the rotation, has made inquiries to fellow free-agent left-hander Randy Wolf, and has shown increasing interest over the past few weeks in former Brewers right-hander Ben Sheets.

Still liable to sign more than one of those players, the Mets could enter Spring Training with as many as eight starting pitchers on their depth chart -- rookie Bobby Parnell also has an outside shot to win a job out of camp.