NEW YORK -- For the first time since Sandy Alderson took over as general manager following the 2010 season, the Mets are making some legitimate Hot Stove noise. After signing outfielder Chris Young to a $7.25 million contract, the club landed Curtis Granderson on Friday with a four-year, $60 million deal that should become official next week.
That does not mean the Mets are about to abandon all financial caution in their pursuit to improve. But it does mean they plan to be far more active this winter than they were in each of Alderson's first three offseasons as GM, with their eyes still set on at least one starting pitcher, a veteran reliever and perhaps even a shortstop.
Even with the outfield situation now set, expect plenty more action from the Mets next week in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., where Alderson and his front office will descend upon the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort with a detailed agenda. From trades to free agency, here are the Mets' strengths, weaknesses and strategies heading into the Winter Meetings:
Shortstop: When Jhonny Peralta signed a four-year, $52 million contract with the Cardinals last month, it was a reality check for the Mets, who had hoped to upgrade from Ruben Tejada on the cheap. Instead, the Mets are now far more likely to proceed with Tejada at shortstop -- unless free agent Stephen Drew's price falls precipitously or a tempting trade offer comes their way. For the Mets, upgrading the position is more of a luxury than a need.
Rotation: There is still a sizeable hole where Matt Harvey's right arm used to be, and the Mets plan to fill it at some point this winter. Though the market for starting pitchers has developed somewhat slower than the one for position players, early deals for Ricky Nolasco (four years, $49 million from the Twins) and Phil Hughes (three years, $24 million, also from the Twins) and Jason Vargas (four years, $32 million from the Royals) have set an expensive precedent. Expect the Mets to look hard at older free agents -- such as Bronson Arroyo and Bartolo Colon -- who should come cheaper, given their age.
Bullpen: Satisfied with their young core of Bobby Parnell, Vic Black, Jeurys Familia and Gonzalez Germen, the Mets do not plan to completely overhaul their bullpen for the third straight winter. They do, however, hope to add a veteran arm into the mix, ideally to replace the quality innings that LaTroy Hawkins gave them in 2013. The list of candidates is long, and it would not be surprising to see the Mets wait until January to fill this need.
Who they can trade if necessary
First basemen Ike Davis or Lucas Duda: The Mets have two left-handed-hitting first basemen and only one starting spot, all but ensuring they will deal one of them for a starting pitcher. At first glance, Davis seems more likely to go -- based upon the 32-homer season on his resume. The Mets will likely deal whichever player fetches a stronger return.
Second baseman Daniel Murphy: Though Murphy has been a model of consistency over the past two seasons, he is no longer cheap (Murphy is projected to earn around $5 million in his second year of arbitration eligibility) nor irreplaceable. If the Mets trade him, they could shift Eric Young Jr. to his natural position at second, giving the lineup a different dimension.
Starting pitcher Rafael Montero: The Mets could deal any number of pitching prospects, considering the depth in their system. But they have made it known that Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard are completely off-limits. The most intriguing candidate after those two is Montero, whose dominant Minor League numbers mask the popular perception that his long-term home may be in the bullpen.
The Mets' top 10 prospects, per MLB.com, are Syndergaard, catcher Travis d'Arnaud, Montero, infielder Wilmer Flores, outfielders Brandon Nimmo and Cesar Puello, first baseman Dominic Smith, shortstop Gavin Cecchini, second baseman Dilson Herrera and catcher Kevin Plawecki.
Though the organization has been pitching-heavy for years, Draft head Paul DePodesta spent the past three years stockpiling up-the-middle position players. The future of the farm system hinges upon that group, which includes former first-round picks Nimmo, Smith and Cecchini.
Rule 5 Draft
Granderson's acquisition means the Mets will have four open 40-man roster spots heading into the Winter Meetings, making it conceivable they could stash a Rule 5 pick on their roster. Alderson has not drafted and kept a Rule 5 selection since breaking camp with both second baseman Brad Emaus and reliever Pedro Beato in 2011.
Big contracts they might unload
Given their rotation questions, the Mets are no longer likely to trade Jon Niese and his team-friendly $25.5 million contract, which runs through 2018. The only other player on the roster sporting a long-term deal is third baseman David Wright, who has a full no-trade clause.
With that in mind, the biggest salaries the Mets might unload are those of Murphy and Davis (something north of $3 million).
Alderson said explicitly last month that he expects his payroll to exceed the $87 million the Mets spent in 2013, which -- even with Granderson and Young in the fold -- leaves quite a bit of money available for the Mets to spend on the needs listed above. Expect a significant chunk of it to go toward a starting pitcher, with the rest earmarked for bullpen and bench help. The Mets will also reserve some funds in case a shortstop falls into their lap, though they aren't likely to climb much higher than the low-$90 million range.