Meetings laid groundwork for future

Meetings laid groundwork for future moves

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After spending much of the week holed up in his suite at the Dolphin Hotel, Mets general manager Omar Minaya is ready for a getaway.

Minaya left the Winter Meetings immediately following the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday, holding an itinerary for a scouting trip in the Dominican Republic.

Having been consumed with his search for pitching during the team's stay in Florida, Minaya can now briefly turn some of his attention toward the exploits of touted prospects like Francisco Pena and Fernando Martinez.

"We're going to go see some of the young players," Minaya said. "I'm excited about seeing the kids. We're getting very good reports on some of the kids we've signed."

Though the Mets completed only one trade during the Winter Meetings, acquiring reliever Ambiorix Burgos from the Kansas City Royals for starter Brian Bannister, Minaya said his time was spent productively.

Not only did the Mets add a high-velocity talent to their middle-inning mix in Burgos, but the general manager said his face-to-face meetings with executives could pay dividends in the weeks to come.

"We were able to flush out some things [and] get a better idea where we are as far as signing pitching," Minaya said. "At the same time, we were able to make a trade for a young pitcher who I hope we're going to get production from for years to come."

Minaya said his trip to the Dominican Republic would include examining potential sites for a new training complex that is in the planning stages. He also hoped to exchange pleasantries with Mets players Moises Alou and Jose Reyes, though a visit with Pedro Martinez is not on the agenda.

The travels, which end on Tuesday, are not expected to hinder Minaya's progress in pursuing free agents or trades.

"As long as there's a cell phone, there will be dialogue," Minaya said.

That should include free-agent left-hander Barry Zito. Agent Scott Boras sat down with the Mets this week for a preliminary meeting and exchanged a thick dossier touting the southpaw's statistics and talents, though a date for another go-round has not been finalized.

"There hasn't been anything planned right now," Minaya said. "Whenever these negotiations are, if we get to the point where we continue to have dialogue, there's a possibility that can happen. But nothing has been set up."

Zito already paid a visit to the Texas Rangers this winter, taking a walk around Ameriquest Field in Arlington and greeting team executives. Minaya has been known to favor face-to-face, jet-setting meetings with free agents -- most recently, he slipped away from New York to express interest in Alou.

"At some point in time, I like looking them in the eye," Minaya said.

Zito and Boras could wind up at Shea Stadium at some point to talk semantics. Or the Mets could add to their frequent flyer miles by visiting Zito in Southern California.

"There hasn't been anything planned right now," Minaya said. "Whenever these negotiations are, if we get to the point where we continue to have dialogue, there's a possibility that can happen. But nothing has been set up."

Deals done: The Mets announced the first trade of the Winter Meetings on Wednesday, dealing pitcher Brian Bannister to the Kansas City Royals for reliever Ambiorix Burgos. The trade materialized in the course of a few hours on Tuesday, according to Minaya, with Royals general manager Dayton Moore shopping the hard-throwing 22-year-old. Minaya said Kansas City originally asked for another player but agreed on Bannister, a 25-year-old righty who left Spring Training as New York's fifth starter in 2006.

And late Thursday night, the Mets announced today that they had signed right-handed reliever Guillermo Mota to a two-year, $5 million contract.

Mota will be suspended for the first 50 games of the 2007 season after violating Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.

Rule 5 activity: The Mets lost Jesus Flores, considered by some to be the organization's top catching prospect, to the Washington Nationals in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday. Flores, 21, batted .266 with 21 home runs, 32 doubles and 70 RBI in 120 games for Class A St. Lucie of the Florida State League in 2006.

In the Minor League phase, New York selected left-hander Ricardo Morales from the Nationals' Double-A roster and lost right-hander Moises Robles to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Goals accomplished: The Mets wanted to use the Winter Meetings to gauge their place on the pitching market, and the sessions were instrumental for that purpose.

Some avenues closed through the course of trade discussion -- teams are interested in outfielder Lastings Milledge, for example, but will not deal key pieces for Milledge alone -- but Minaya said he learned of some new options that he had not been aware of before flying down to Disney World.

Having met with several clubs during the meetings, the Mets also greeted agents with whom they may soon be exchanging detailed dialogue. Adding to their bullpen with Burgos and dealing Bannister -- a pitcher who was likely to start the year in Triple-A -- may be looked back at as simply a bonus to the meetings.

Also, Mets manager Willie Randolph rounded out his coaching staff by adding Howard Johnson to handle the duties of coaching first base, the outfield and baserunning. Sandy Alomar has been shifted to third-base coach, filling a vacancy left when Manny Acta accepted the Washington Nationals' managerial opening.

Finally, with Julio Lugo moving to the Boston Red Sox, the Mets appear to have settled on Jose Valentin as their starting second baseman for 2007. Minaya said he also does not expect to add to the bench.

Unfinished business: The Mets still want to add another pitcher, and they will continue to find out what value a player of Milledge's caliber can bring back. Teams continue to ask about the availability of pitching prospects Mike Pelfrey and Philip Humber, whom the Mets would rather keep.

GM's bottom line: "A lot of things that happened here [at the Winter Meetings], I think you're going to see [the results] in the next two weeks. [There will be] a wave of moves. In my experiences, it's a domino effect once guys start getting off the board. All the back-and-forth goes out the window and people say, 'Hey, let's get a deal done.' The agents don't want to get shut out, and the teams don't want to get shut out." -- Minaya

Bryan Hoch is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.