Right fielder Jeff Francoeur: "We need three or four different pieces to make this team a playoff team, and I think that's what they're doing. It's not necessarily the one big guy for $100 million that you've got to get, but get three or four nice pieces that are going to make this team good."
Shortstop Jose Reyes: "When we have everyone back on the field and healthy, we can be a strong contender."
It was Tuesday morning, or the morning after for those who follow the Mets. The Yankees had made their moves days earlier, but the Phillies were reported Monday night to have acquired one pitcher the Mets publicly coveted, and the Red Sox had removed the other from the shelves of the free-agent market. The three clubs geographically closest to Citi Field had fortified themselves and the Mets ... well, they had made strides toward signing the recently unheralded Kelvim Escobar.
Some Mets -- Francoeur, Reyes, Bobby Parnell, Jon Niese and Angel Pagan -- had come to the Citi for the club's annual holiday party, starring Francoeur as a two-pillow Santa. Francouer could grasp small items with his surgically repaired right thumb; Niese could walk without pain in the right leg that he seriously damaged in the summer; Pagan could move without interference from any of the multitude of maladies that have interrupted his career; and, most important, Reyes could run -- if he had to, he said -- without pain in his revitalized right leg.
"If I could ask for anything," Francoeur said, his white beard lowered to the height of this neck, "I'd ask that we're all healthy. We do need some pieces, but there's a lot of talent here."
Francoeur wanted more pitching. All of them -- even Parnell -- expected another reliever or two would be in camp come February, and everyone with exception of would-be left fielder Pagan, would welcome a new left fielder with power, a good glove and speed to tame Citi's vast expanse. No specifics were mentioned -- except for Francoeur, who would love to have his buddy Mark DeRosa on the roster -- as if players were prohibited from public fantasizing.
"No doubt about it," Reyes said. "If we start out with the same players we started with last year, and we don't get hurt, we will be good. You can always get better, but we're good now if we don't get hurt."
Minaya spoke in a similar vein, but he acknowledged that the club had hoped to import John Lackey and still hopes to add Jason Bay to its 2010 lineup. Minaya said he had spoken with Lackey's agent last week before he left the Winter Meetings, and he said then that he had extended an offer to Bay and free-agent catcher Bengie Molina. A general manager content with his roster doesn't seek multimillion dollar additions to his payroll.
But Minaya is being realistic in action if not words. "There is still some pitching out there," he said, acknowledging that the most attractive pitchers are off the market. "If our pitchers stay healthy and pitch to their capabailties, we'll be OK."
Health is what the Mets covet most -- even more than Bay. Normal seasons by Reyes, Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Johan Santana would almost negate the need for a high-profile power bat in left field. If the Mets were to bring in some of the non-tender talent set free Saturday night -- Matt Capps, Mike MacDougal, Chien-Ming Wang, Jonny Gomes or Ryan Garko -- their reserve strength might be markedly upgraded. Yes, the wall-to-wall injuries seriously damaged the Mets' chances last season. But the weak set of understudies and poor fundamental play is what turned the season into an utter collapse. That's why Francoeur favors the addition of smaller pieces -- and some starting pitching.
Francoeur will begin swinging a bat Jan. 1 and join Howard Johnson, the batting coach, for some private tutoring by mid-January. Reyes, working out for three hours most days, returns Sunday to the Dominican Republic. He will start to hit there, then move on Jan. 5 to his home on Long Island for more rehab before reporting early to Port St. Lucie, Fla. Niese needs more time, but doctors have told him he'll be ready for Spring Training. Parnell, a burnout victim in September, said he has the itch again. And Pagan knows left field is not his, not now and perhaps not at all. "But I want to get going," he said.
The Mets are monitoring Carlos Delgado's audition in Puerto Rico and other clubs' pursuit of Wang and the other non-tenders. They would love to hear from Bay, whether or not he is essential to the cause. "We need our players to be healthy, first of all," Minaya said. "And we want to add where we need it. We want to be in a position so that when we get to Opening Day, we'll be much better than we were when the season ended. We're working toward that now."