NEW YORK -- Stressing that the Mets are not far off from serious contention, general manager Sandy Alderson said Monday that he remains in talks with free-agent outfielder Michael Bourn, even if his roster is not likely to change between now and Spring Training.
"Realistically, the outfield situation is set -- with that possible exception," Alderson said at Citi Field, one week before the deadline for pitchers and catchers to report to Florida. "My expectation is we'll go into Spring Training with what we have, unless something were to transpire in the free-agent market."
Though there is still uncertainty over whether the Mets would need to forfeit a first-round Draft pick in order to sign Bourn, Alderson reiterated the club will not make any requests of the league until -- or unless -- it has a deal with Bourn in place.
That remains a long shot, given the two-time All-Star's desire for a five-year contract. But with each passing day, the possibility of compromise seems increasingly plausible.
If the two sides can agree to terms, Alderson believes the Mets would have a legitimate beef with MLB's Collective Bargaining Agreement, which protects teams from forfeiting the top 10 picks in the First-Year Player Draft as compensation for free-agent signings. The Mets would have been in line to select 10th this year had the Pirates inked their top pick last season, Mark Appel. Instead, the Pirates received the ninth pick as compensation and everyone below them bumped down a slot.
Alderson seeks not a revision of that rule, but a reinterpretation of it.
"If the rule was written for purposes of competitive balance, then it ought to relate to the teams with the 10 worst records," he said. "From my standpoint, the spirit of the rule -- yeah. It's the 10 worst records."
But because that is only one of several hurdles the Mets would have to clear to sign Bourn, a marriage between them and one of the game's elite center fielders seems unlikely. So Alderson and the Mets are prepared to enter Spring Training with what they have already in place -- lefties Lucas Duda in left field, Kirk Nieuwenhuis in center and Mike Baxter in right, with Collin Cowgill as a right-handed sub. Andrew Brown and Marlon Byrd will compete for the fifth outfielder's job, which also carries the promise of ample playing time.
"I'm excited to see what we have," Alderson said. "I'm excited to see what those outfielders can provide us. We're always looking to improve, but I expect we'll be better."
The GM said that other than reliever Brandon Lyon, who is close to signing a contract, the Mets do not expect to add any other pieces before Spring Training.
"I think we're pleased with how our rotation shapes up," Alderson said. "The bullpen can't be worse, and has room to be a lot better. The catching, the infielders [are] solid, [with] room for growth. I think we should be careful not to extrapolate too far just from the perceived state of our outfield."
What is important to note, Alderson continued, is that the Mets have the capability to improve that outfield alignment if they want. They could have traded for Justin Upton earlier this winter, but chose to retain top young pitchers Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler instead. They employ the type of prospects necessary to trade for a star. And they have the money and the opportunity to sign Bourn if they desire.
It's just a matter of weighing risk versus reward in what remains more than a one-season plan.
"The one thing I want to emphasize is we're not that far away," Alderson said. "We're getting to the point where we can be in the mix. If you look at the fundamental composition of our team, it wouldn't take more than a couple moves to change the whole perception of things. So I don't want anyone to believe that this is a long-term project that has no possible realization anytime soon. We're at the point where we can make significant improvement in a hurry, and we've been looking at ways that we can actually do that."