NEW YORK -- With two and a half weeks before pitchers and catchers officially report to Spring Training, there's a reasonable chance the Mets are done handing out big league contracts.
In a telephone interview Tuesday evening, general manager Sandy Alderson reiterated that his team is "unlikely" to sign Stephen Drew, despite the shortstop's perceived lack of suitors on the free-agent market. Alderson also said that in the wake of reliever Grant Balfour choosing the Rays over the Mets, he is considering limiting the team's bullpen additions to Minor League deals.
Given all that, it is conceivable the Mets will finish this winter having added only three players on guaranteed contracts -- outfielders Curtis Granderson and Chris Young, and starting pitcher Bartolo Colon.
"At some point, the available options diminish," Alderson said in explanation of his approach. "It's not a change in strategy so much as it's a recognition, a reality."
All winter long, Alderson has downplayed his club's interest in Drew despite near-constant speculation to the contrary. Such rumors made sense; not only have the Mets been publicly critical of incumbent shortstop Ruben Tejada, but Drew's list of obvious suitors -- the Red Sox, the Mets, maybe the Yankees -- was small enough that a bidding war seemed unlikely to erupt. Once Red Sox GM Ben Cherington publicly downplayed his own team's interest in re-signing Drew, rumors connecting him to Queens gained new traction.
But while Alderson recently checked in again with Drew's agent, Scott Boras, he described the talks as "sporadic."
"We haven't ruled it out, but I think doing anything is unlikely," Alderson said. "I think that Stephen will always have other opportunities. We continue to monitor his situation. We're looking at other free agents that are still available, and [we're] trying to judge their status and how they might fit with us. I know there's been a lot of speculation about Drew and the Mets, but at this point, that's what it remains -- speculation."
Similarly, the Mets are not close to adding any veteran help to the bullpen. Confirming that he extended a more lucrative offer to Balfour than the two-year, $12 million deal the right-hander ultimately accepted from the Rays, Alderson offered a tepid evaluation of the market's remaining options. Among those veterans still available: Fernando Rodney, Mitchell Boggs, Kevin Gregg and Michael Gonzalez.
Rather than sign one to a big league contract, Alderson indicated that he may rely more extensively on Vic Black, Jeurys Familia and the organization's other young relievers, and round out the Spring Training competition by signing a veteran or two to non-guaranteed Minor League deals.
"We've got a lot of good young arms that we like -- they just don't have much experience," Alderson said. "Acquiring someone with some experience would give us some comfort going into Spring Training, but we don't want to preclude some of our younger pitchers from getting a solid opportunity either. So if there's somebody there that we like, we'll pursue them. Otherwise, one of the ways we've approached starting pitching, for example, is to bring in a couple of guys on Minor League contracts [John Lannan and Daisuke Matsuzaka], and have them compete with some of our own internal candidates. We may do the same thing with the bullpen."
If that is the case, the Mets' largest free-agent spending spree in nearly a decade will be complete, leaving their payroll at roughly $86 million. Granderson, Young and Colon are slated to make a combined $29.25 million next season, and $87.25 million over the lives of their contracts. While that falls well short of what the Yankees, Mariners and others spent this winter, it represents the Mets' most significant free-agent expenditure since they signed Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez prior to the 2005 season.
Many of the Mets' largest splurges since that time have involved taking on salary via trade (Carlos Delgado, for example), extending the contracts of players already under team control (David Wright), or both (Johan Santana). The Mets also handed out $21.1 million in arbitration settlements this winter, and they paid significant raises to Wright and Jon Niese.