New York Mets' free agency preview

Daniel Shirey

Free agency is typically a time when teams use money to patch up their biggest holes. The problem for the New York Mets, though, is that they have an assortment of areas to address, with a very limited budget to do so.

The Mets' payroll by year-end was about $90 million and a source told ESPN NY's Adam Rubin that general manager Sandy Alderson will have $10-15 million "max to spend -- if Sandy is lucky."

That means there will be no Zack Greinkes or Josh Hamiltons in Queens next year, so we can throw out any of those ideas immediately. With such a limited budget, it does make pinning down targets very difficult, but I'm going to try to include some names the Mets could have interested in below.

Because the Mets could really use upgrades at so many positions, the front office is going to have to prioritize how to allocate the available money. That's why Alderson hasn't been shy about saying he's going to have to be active in the trade market this winter, too. Whereas last winter was boring in terms of who was brought in and how many moves were made, I think we'll see much more movement this offseason -- just don't expect any big names.

Catcher

Josh Thole has basically been a replacement-level player throughout his career, so in a perfect world, the Mets would somehow find a legitimate starter here. Obviously, that's not going to be the case. Where Thole struggles the most is against lefties, thus New York has to bring in a right-handed option to at least platoon with him.

David Ross and Miguel Olivo are two players whom the NY Post says the Mets could go after. Ross is a plus defender and someone who can do just enough with the bat. The 35-year-old has found a niche in a part-time role during his career. Olivo has some pop, is OK defensively but is coming off two of his worst seasons (both played in Seattle). Kelly Shoppach is another guy with some pop but also has a career 36.4 percent strikeout rate. He didn't impress during his short stint, but I think he'd fit in fine as he'd be a cheap option, hit for a little power and spell Thole against lefties. It's likely A.J. Pierzynski and Russell Martin would be out of the Mets' price range, so this is an area Alderson could look to address via a trade.

Outfield

While their catchers collectively had the lowest OPS last year, their outfielders did them one better with the league's second-worst (.236/.308/.384). Jason Bay hit .155/.231/.294 while dealing with some injuries, but it's clear he's not in the starting picture anymore. Andres Torres is gone. Lucas Duda is the likely starter in right field, despite not being all that good with the glove and he's coming off a very poor season (239/.329/.389) that saw him get demoted to the minors. There are no minor league outfielders ready to step in and and Kirk Nieuwenhuis grew more overwhelmed the longer he was up in the big leagues. There's a slim chance the starting outfield could be brand new next year. This may be the area Alderson is the most creative in. Perhaps he adds an outfielder through the free agent market and also makes a deal?

With the Mets on such a limited budget and seemingly only willing to go for guys on short-term deals, they're left with the bottom of the barrel here. Despite all the negativity surrounding Melky Cabrera and his PED use (and how real his performance was), he might be had on the cheap -- though it's unclear how "cheap" -- as a way to re-build his stock and could be one of the more-decent options in the outfield. Cody Ross, Ryan Ludwick, Shane Victorino and Torii Hunter will be too expensive for the Mets' taste, though for the right place on a short deal, could be good options. Scott Hairston was a nice story last year but he could parlay that into a bigger contract this offseason. Jonny Gomes could be of interest, but he'd likely be exposed in a full-time role because he doesn't hit righties well. Reed Johnson could be relatively productive so long as he's not asked to play everyday. Fact of the matter is, the crop is weak under the Mets' situation.

Bullpen

This was the focus of the Mets' scaled-down resources last year. Sadly, the moves didn't help much because the bullpen finished with the second-worst ERA in the league at 4.65. There will be a bunch of new names in the relief corp next season, and I'd assume the Mets will go with one (or both) of their young lefties Josh Edgin or Robert Carson as their southpaw reliever, meaning it doesn't have to be a major priority this offseason.

That being said, the Alderson is unlikely to give any reliever more than a two-year deal and he won't be paying any big money. Again, this is an area that's nearly impossible to predict, but here are names that could be on Alderson's radar: Juan Cruz, Kyle Farnsworth, Jason Grilli, Kameron Loe, Mark Lowe, Joel Peralta and Chad Qualls.

Starting pitching

The Mets have a solid rotation on paper, but you can never have enough depth and there are still a number of question marks. Will Johan Santana be healthy enough to contribute -- and how many innings will he give when he does? How will Dillon Gee fare after his surgery to clear an artery in his pitching shoulder? How will Matt Harvey perform in a full season? Even with these questions, this is still the lowest-priority area of the offseason and any move the Mets entertain will be discussed in relation to not blocking top prospect Zack Wheeler once they feel he's ready, which could be very soon. Ideally, the Mets look at adding a veteran swingman.

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