MLB Winter Meetings 2012: New York Mets preview

Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Baseball's offseason kicks into high gear with the winter meetings, which begin Monday and last through Thursday.

The New York Mets have already made headlines -- in the right way, finally -- by extending the face of their franchise, David Wright, for eight seasons, a contract that will most likely let him retire in New York. They figure to also be active in Nashville, Tenn., over the next few days as well because they're willing to trade a Cy Young winner and have holes up and down the roster. Even though general manager Sandy Alderson won't be able to ink any marquee free agents -- the Mets are still not operating like a major-market team -- the Amazins are intriguing because of how creative the GM will have to get. There's already been a report that the Mets will be willing to backload contracts as a way to minimize the salary now and take on more later, when the Mets' only commitments are Wright and Jon Niese post-2014.

Areas of need

Outfield: The Mets' outfielders, collectively, had the league's second-worst OPS last season (.236/.308/.384). Andres Torres wasn't tendered a contract, leaving New York, as of now at least, with a starting outfield of Lucas Duda in left field, Kirk Nieuwenhuis in center field and Mike Baxter in right field. That's not exactly major league-quality, and Alderson knows it, even quipping, "What outfield?" when speaking to reporters in early November. In a perfect world, it'd be totally remade. The Mets may have to make due with adding two players there and running with Duda in left. At the very least, the GM adds platoon-types or guys who have been in part-time roles but want to prove themselves with the everyday job. At the most, the Mets "splurge" on guys like Ryan Ludwick, Cody Ross and/or Shane Victorino.

Catcher: The other black hole on the roster is at catcher, where the collection sported an MLB-worst OPS last season (.218/.281/.286). Josh Thole is still in town, but he's regressed over the past three seasons (1.6 WAR to replacement-level 0.1 last year). He's also not very good against lefties, so the ideal add at catcher would be a right-hander. The Mets may have to think outside the box here with a trade because the free-agent catching options aren't especially strong.

Bullpen: This is not a priority area at the winter meetings; Alderson will likely gauge the reliever market and snag a few guys later on in the offseason, but he has other more pressing needs to worry about. That's not to say the bullpen doesn't need work, though. The Mets had the second-worst ERA (4.65) in the majors last season. Frank Francisco is still in town, while Jon Rauch and Ramon Ramirez are out. New York does have a few interesting arms who could work in the bullpen.

Players who could be on the block

R.A. Dickey: The Mets were reportedly "stunned" to learn 40-year-old Andy Pettitte received a $12 million deal from the Yankees, so they upped their two-year offer to Dickey. Until Dickey signs on the dotted line, the front office has every reason to find a trade partner. There are reportedly six or seven teams that will meet with Alderson in Nashville about Dickey. It's hard to believe a trick-pitch 38-year-old could net enough value, but Dickey is coming off a Cy Young year and teams are desperate for pitching. There's big-time risk here: Dickey wants to be in New York, he's willing to sign below market value and New York's rotation would take a significant hit. That's why Alderson is paid to make those decisions and not the fans.

Jon Niese: There is some thought that Niese could actually command more in the trade market: He's only 26, more proven, a lefty and signed to a very team-friendly deal (he signed a five-year, $25.5 million pact he last April.) The contract aspect is what will make him so valuable on the market: Niese has settled in as a solid No. 3 starter and he's controlled for most of his prime seasons. He finished last year with a 3.40 ERA, 7.33 K/9 and 190 innings pitched. Starting pitching is an area of strength, so there's more of a reason (or comfort level) to move one of these two arms.

Lucas Duda: I'm kind of forcing the third option here, but truthfully it's hard to pick one because I don't think Ike Davis will be moved with the need for power and I'm not sure there's much trade value in anyone else. Duda is also recovering from wrist surgery, which makes him even harder to move. Fact is, Duda is an outfielder in name only; he's a designated hitter and the Mets would love to spin him to improve their outfield defense. He does have some pop, finishing with 15 home runs, but he also had a .239/.329/.389 line last year, one that saw him get sent to the minors. Daniel Murphy could also fall into this conversation as a way to improve by acquiring a more capable defender at second base.

Trade that could work: Niese for Dexter Fowler

The Mets need a center fielder. The Rockies need pitching. It seems like this could at least be the framework for a deal. Fowler is arbitration-eligible for the second time in his career (he made $2.35 million last year) and Niese is a cost-controlled lefty. The Mets may balk at Fowler's splits away from Coors Field -- .295/.395/.487 at home to .248/.331/.367 -- but Fowler is coming off his best season: .300/.389/.474 with 13 home runs, 12 steals and 72 runs, worth 2.9 wins, and he's 26 and talented. Not saying this will happen, but it's worth mentioning in this hot stove season.

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