NEW YORK -- The Mets have spent so much of this offseason waiting.
They have waited for Jose Reyes to shop his services around to their rivals. They have waited for the market for free-agent relievers to define itself. They have waited for Reyes and other factors to define their shrinking budget.
Now, with the Winter Meetings set to begin in Dallas on Monday, the Mets hope they can stop waiting and start acting. Talks with Reyes are expected to intensify next week, giving the Mets more perspective on what they will and will not be able to do this winter. Talks with others are sure to follow.
Certainly, there is plenty on general manager Sandy Alderson's wish list. By the time the Winter Meetings end, the Mets could make significant progress on acquiring a reliever (or two, or three), a starting pitcher and several bench pieces to fill out their roster. They could also begin seriously exploring the trade market with an eye toward acquiring cheap, young, controllable talent.
Mostly, though, all eyes will be on Reyes as the free-agent shortstop decides where to take his considerable talents. The Mets remain eager to pursue him -- but only to a point. Meaning the next newsflash on Reyes could reveal whether he will be a Met for life, or just another Met that was.
Either way, after months of waiting, the Mets should soon have some answers.
Relief pitching: The Mets would ideally like to acquire at least one, and preferably two, established relievers for the back end of their bullpen. The good news is that this appears to be a buyer's market, with former closers Brad Lidge, Matt Capps, Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch, Frank Francisco, Francisco Cordero, Ryan Madson and Francisco Rodriguez all still available. The bad news is that the Mets -- particularly if Reyes re-signs -- are on a strict budget, limiting how aggressive they can be.
Starting pitching: Though the Mets do have five established starters in place, they also possess precious little depth beyond that group. Rather than rush their top prospects to the big leagues, the Mets will look to sign at least one veteran starter to provide some insurance. All the better if they can acquire someone on a cheap one-year incentive-laden deal, as they did last year with Chris Capuano and Chris Young.
Bench: With Willie Harris, Scott Hairston, Nick Evans and Jason Pridie all gone, and Ronny Paulino a strong candidate to be non-tendered, the Mets have more than a few holes to fill before Spring Training. Specifically, they will need to sign at least two outfielders and possibly a catcher.
Who they can or need to trade
3B David Wright: The rumors are everywhere, but don't count on this one coming to fruition. Wright's contract includes a player option for 2013 that becomes void if he is traded, essentially making the third baseman a rental for any team looking to acquire him. Given that lack of equity, along with Wright's importance to the franchise and the fact that his value has never been lower, it seems exceedingly unlikely that the Mets will send him elsewhere.
OF Jason Bay: Like a deal for Wright, this one also seems tempting but unlikely. If Bay stays healthy, reverts to All-Star form and makes good on the back end of his contract, the Mets still may not have enough firepower to compete, giving them incentive to deal him. But Bay's sizeable contract -- he will likely make $49 million over the next three seasons -- and full no-trade clause could prove prohibitive.
INF Daniel Murphy: With a legitimate bat but no real defensive position entering his prime years, Murphy could be more of an asset coming off the bench for a contender than playing every day in New York. It's possible the Mets might look to sell high on Murphy this winter.
RHPs Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia; OFs Brandon Nimmo, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Cesar Puello; INF Wilmer Flores.
Harvey, Wheeler and Familia represent the organization's next great pitching hopes, with each on track to crack the big leagues as soon as this summer. Nimmo, a raw five-tool high school outfielder, was the organization's top pick last June and its most significant Draft gamble in years.
Big contracts they might unload
RHP Manny Acosta; CF Angel Pagan; C Ronny Paulino; RHP Mike Pelfrey.
Pagan, Paulino. (Though Alderson has hinted at Pagan's return, the outfielder must be considered a non-tender candidate until he is offered a contract.)
The Mets are aiming to spend somewhere between $100 million and $110 million this season, which would place them in the middle of Major League Baseball's payroll pack. Problem is, $61.4 million of that money is already committed to just six players (including $55 million to three of them), with another $10 million to $12 million or so budgeted for arbitration raises. And ideally, Alderson would like to keep the Opening Day payroll under $100 million, giving him the flexibility to add pieces midseason.
Mostly, everything here depends upon Reyes. If the shortstop re-signs at around $20 million per year, the Mets could have less than $10 million left to spend on relief help, starting pitching and a full bench. If Reyes goes elsewhere, Alderson will find himself in a much more flexible position.