Mets Eyeing Free Agency; Are Considered One of the Least Improved This Winter

By Matt Musico

Going into the winter, Sandy Alderson said the Mets didn’t have a whole lot to spend in free agency, and squashed any dreams fans had of them making a big splash for a player like Josh Hamilton or Michael Bourn. Now that some more financial flexibility has been created through the release and deferment of money of Jason Bay coupled with David Wright restructing his salary for 2013, New York has some money to spend on free agents, but will be doing it wisely in their areas of need.

With the added payroll flexibility, New York has the opportunity to give out one multi-year deal, and Alderson wants to dish out that kind of contract to a free agent outfielder. Scott Hairston remains linked to the Mets, but insists he’ll only come back if it’s for a two-year deal. Rumors say he could be looking for $10 million, which is a substantial upgrade to the $1.1 he made last year, and similar to the deal Jonny Gomes received from the Red Sox. The Amazins have also been linked to Cody Ross for quite some time now (who just met with the Rangers this week), and they are seriously interested in signing Grady Sizemore.

Oct. 3, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; New York Mets left fielder Scott Hairston (12) at bat against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. The Mets won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Now, it’s obvious this potential multi-year deal will go to either Ross or Hairston and not Sizemore, but it remains to be seen how this all plays out. I don’t think Hairston will get two years from the Mets, unless they want him to have a more expanded role on the field instead of being a platoon player/fourth outfielder. Ross is the one out of these two who is more of an everyday player, and his asking price has been around three years and $25 million, which could be changing since Ryan Ludwick re-signed with the Reds for two-years and $15 million.

Out of all these options, I would rather have neither and acquire Josh Willingham if he’s available on the open market. He’s an elite power hitter with a reasonable contract (two-years/$14 million remaining) and I would rather see the Mets spend that multi-year deal on him than either Hairston or Ross. I doubt Ross will repeat the year he had in Boston (.267/.326/.481 with 22 homers and 81 RBI) playing half his games at Citi Field. As for Hairston, if Willingham could be had, there’s no room to bring him back too. Yes, he’s familiar with the clubhouse and mission of the team, but Collin Cowgill could take his place as fourth outfielder, and if he plays into a starting job, someone else could step into that role.

As for finding a starting pitcher to fill R.A. Dickey‘s void, the Mets are considering numerous free agents, as well as some trade possibilities. Yesterday morning, MLB Trade Rumors reported New York has interest in Shaun Marcum, Carl Pavano, Chris Young, and Francisco Liriano (before he signed with the Pirates for two-years and $14 million). In the trade market, the Dodgers are shopping Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang, and either could be solid back end of the rotation-type starter. LA is rumored to be interested in reliever Bobby Parnell, but I doubt Sandy would give him up in a trade for a fourth or fifth starter, especially after we heard he’s virtually untouchable this winter. I mean, he should be; he was one of the few consistent pitchers in that thing we called a bullpen last season.

On the flip side, the Mets are the only team this winter who haven’t signed an external free agent to a Major League contract. That fact, and a host of other things have landed New York on ESPN’s 5 least improved MLB teams this 0ff-season. Having the Mets make this list is not fun, but it’s not as if fans can’t see the direction in which Sandy Alderson wants to go moving forward towards 2013 and beyond. This list was made by ESPN because they knew it would draw attention to the site and they had nothing better to write about at the midway point of the hot stove season. Our our Danny Abriano gave us his take on it yesterday.