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12/04/08 1:00 PM EST

Closer tops Mets' offseason wish list

Several candidates on club's radar to replace injured lefty Wagner

Club needs:

CLOSER -- With Billy Wagner sidelined for most -- if not all -- of next season, the Mets are in the process of searching for his successor. Their top two targets, Francisco Rodriguez and Brian Fuentes, are both available through the free-agent market. But if asking prices become too high for those two, the Mets could trade for a closer. Jose Valverde, Huston Street and J.J. Putz's names have all recently floated around the market.

STARTING PITCHER -- Operating under the assumption that Pedro Martinez will not return to the Mets, the club must acquire at least one starter to join rookie Jonathon Niese at the back end of the rotation. New York will aim high in this area, as well, with Derek Lowe, A.J. Burnett and the club's own free agent, Oliver Perez, all potential options.

LEFT FIELDER -- This is not their top priority, and if the Mets can acquire a top-flight starter and closer this winter, they would be plenty happy entering the season with a platoon of Fernando Tatis and Daniel Murphy in left field. But New York will at least take a peek at the market in an attempt to find an everyday starter -- perhaps free agent Raul Ibanez.

Who they can or need to trade:

RHP Aaron Heilman -- Heilman publicly stated last month that he wants to become a starter, either for the Mets or for someone else. And although manager Jerry Manuel and pitching coach Dan Warthen have supported Heilman's bid to join the rotation, the Mets still might trade him. They've already reportedly offered him up to the Rockies.

LHP Scott Schoeneweis -- Perhaps the Mets player most often mentioned in trade rumors over the past two years, Schoeneweis has one year remaining on his contract, making him less of a gamble than before. If the Mets have designs on overhauling their bullpen, dumping Schoeneweis would be a fair place to start. But seller beware: contrary to popular belief, Schoeneweis was actually one of the team's more consistent pitchers in midsummer.

2B Luis Castillo -- Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon acknowledged Monday that he's still banking on "addition by subtraction," referring to the possibility that the Mets might find a match for Castillo, who still has three years and $18 million left on his contract. Yet, lacking a replacement at second base -- they still like Murphy as an outfielder -- and knowing that they would likely have to eat a fair chunk of Castillo's salary, a deal seems unlikely.

Top prospects:

OF Fernando Martinez -- Injuries and uneven production may have hurt his stock over the past two years, but at 20 years old, Martinez's ceiling remains high. General manager Omar Minaya is usually the first to admit that no one within his system is untouchable, but considering the Mets' uncertain outfield future, Martinez might be close.

LHP Jonathon Niese -- Assuming the Mets don't acquire two starting pitchers this winter, it's a good bet that Niese will have every opportunity to win the fifth starter's role out of camp. He made two forgettable starts and one sensational one in September, and with his big curveball and left-handed delivery, Niese could yet become a valuable member of the rotation.

RHP Eddie Kunz -- The Mets' top pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, Kunz entered the system as a possible future closer -- and the fact that Wagner's injury is now forcing the Mets to acquire a more established closer doesn't mean Kunz can't play an immediate role. Already with four Major League appearances to his credit, Kunz and fellow right-hander Bobby Parnell should battle for bullpen spots this spring.

Big contracts they might unload:

Early in the offseason, it seemed possible that after exercising Carlos Delgado's $12 million contract option, the Mets might try to flip him to another team. Yet Minaya has since squashed that theory on multiple occasions, making Castillo's contract the only large one the Mets are liable to unload.


OF Ryan Church, RHP John Maine, LHP Pedro Feliciano, RHP Duaner Sanchez and Heilman.

Payroll summation:

The Mets operated at roughly $137 million last season, and although they lost a few big contracts in Perez, Martinez and Orlando Hernandez, they'll give some of that back in raises to Jose Reyes, David Wright and Johan Santana. Wilpon said recently that he couldn't predict a payroll so early in the offseason, but look for the Mets to push up around $150 million. They have no hard limit.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.