Alderson shifts focus from Reyes to relief

Alderson shifts focus from Reyes to relief

Alderson shifts focus from Reyes to relief
MILWAUKEE -- Fred Wilpon arrived at the Pfister Hotel around midday on Wednesday, checked in, politely declined comment to a group of reporters and disappeared into an elevator alongside Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria.

In that confined space, the two could not have represented a sharper juxtaposition. Wilpon, the principal owner of the Mets, plans to sell minority stakes of his team and reduce player payroll by as much as 30 percent next season. Loria, in an effort to promote his new retractable-roof ballpark, plans to do the opposite.

Their interests collide regarding free-agent shortstop Jose Reyes, a lifelong Met whom the Marlins covet. Loria wants him. Wilpon wants him back. And a resolution may not come for some time.

Certainly, it will not come this week at the General Managers Meetings, as none of Reyes' representatives are present. And so the Mets must all but ignore their shortstop issue for now, focusing elsewhere to spend what little extra cash they have.

2011 awards takes a glance at each position entering the Hot Stove season.

SP: Plenty of mid-tier arms
RP: Closers flood market
1B: Pujols, Prince elite
2B: Thin but reliable
3B: Aramis the lone big bat
SS: Attention on Reyes
OF: Bargains available
DH: Ortiz the top target
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Hot Stove Tracker

Mostly, the Mets are centering on one area in particular: relief pitching. General manager Sandy Alderson met on Wednesday with the representatives for free-agent reliever Frank Francisco after speaking earlier this week with the agent for former closer Matt Capps. Similar meetings are sure to follow as the Mets look to seal up the back of their bullpen with an established current or former closer.

"In some respects, we're in a much better situation than we were last year," Alderson said of his relief corps. "Not a perfect situation. Not something we're happy with. But we're better off."

In particular, Alderson referred to the fact that his 40-man roster already contains two more left-handed pitchers, Tim Byrdak and Daniel Herrera, than it did at this time last year. But quality remains an issue for a group that, in Alderson's words, blew saves at a "spectacular rate" last season following the mid-July trade of Francisco Rodriguez.

"If you look at our 'pen from last year, we didn't have an abundance of real good arms," Alderson said. "[Bobby] Parnell, yeah. But there was nobody else out there."

Parnell, who routinely throws his fastball in excess of 100 mph, will almost certainly be back in some role of importance, though he appears to have played himself out of the closer conversation following a string of meltdowns late last season. Manny Acosta should also return alongside Byrdak and D.J. Carrasco.

But the rest of the Opening Day bullpen remains unclear. Herrera is a candidate to crack the roster, as are Pedro Beato, Josh Stinson and hard-throwing prospect Robert Carson. But the Mets would ideally like to add multiple arms from a free-agent pool that contains a glut of under-the-radar closers: Capps, Francisco, Brad Lidge and Joe Nathan, to name four.

Jason Isringhausen, who recorded his 300th career save in August before sustaining a season-ending back injury, is also an option to return.

"My view is, we need to add some quality to our bullpen," Alderson said. "We're not without candidates."

Even now, with all those pitchers still at large, the 2012 roster is taking shape. Infielder Nick Evans, outfielder Jason Pridie and reliever Taylor Buchholz all elected for free agency on Wednesday after the Mets outrighted them to Triple-A Buffalo, with Pridie already signing with Oakland. All indications are that non-tender candidates Angel Pagan and Mike Pelfrey will return. And so the team's most pressing roster questions continue to center around Reyes and the back end of the bullpen.

At least one of those issues, the Mets believe, will have an amicable conclusion.

"It doesn't mean we're happy or we're comfortable going into the season with what we have," Alderson said of his bullpen. "But I think we're in a little better position."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.