"Things are going to go slow, which I think is typical of most if not all free agents," Alderson said. "That's not just because players are attracted to other clubs, but because they're not really sure what the market is."
Though the Mets are in the middle of a five-day exclusive negotiating period with Reyes, they do not expect to make him an offer before it expires. Offering Reyes a contract would not be productive, the team feels, until other teams set what Alderson called a "less-defined market" for a unique free agent.
Alderson does not expect Reyes to approach the Mets with a bottom-line figure of what it would take for the shortstop to forego free agency and return to New York. Though the Mets have constructed an internal budget for how much they are willing to spend on Reyes, they have little idea if another team will blow that away with a far superior offer.
So they will wait. Though the Mets have made it clear that retaining Reyes is a priority, there is a limit to how much they are willing to spend.
"We all have to recognize that certain players are more important to the fan base than others," Alderson said.
Setting a market for Reyes may be uncommonly difficult considering the lack of precedent -- no shortstop with his unique skill set and injury history has hit the open market in recent years. Carl Crawford, who signed a seven-year, $142 million deal with the Red Sox last winter, perhaps comes closest. But Crawford was an outfielder without any significant injury history.
For now, the Mets will simply proceed with their other offseason priorities -- bullpen help and rotation depth -- and deal with Reyes later. Even if the shortstop does not re-sign with New York, the club still plans for its final 2012 payroll to fall in the $100-$110 million range.
"We're not going punt 2012 if Jose doesn't re-sign," Alderson said.