The New York Mets are less than a month away from spring training and clearly have a lot of holes left to fill on their 2013 roster. Their areas of need center around the outfield as well as depth for the starting rotation and bullpen. While the team has yet to sign a free agent to a major league contract, preferring to sign numerous veterans and young guns to minor league deals with spring training invites, there are still major league free agents out there that can help the big league squad. Let's break it down by category to see who can fill the Mets' needs for each position group:
The Outfield: The Mets opening day outfield, at this moment, would feature: Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mike Baxter, Andrew Brown, and Collin Cowgill. This group, to be frank, is a below average outfield for major league standards. The Mets opted not to toss big money at free agents such as Josh Hamilton and Nick Swisher, instead focusing on lower key moves to avoid tying up payroll dollars in marginal players such as Angel Pagan and Cody Ross. Even so, the market still has some names out there that can provide immediate upgrades to the Mets outfield.
The biggest name remaining is outfielder Michael Bourn, who has seen his market play out very slowly since he is represented by Scott Boras. Bourn provides some good speed and average from center field, and he could fill the leadoff hole for whichever team signs him. While there is a fit with the Mets on a one year deal, it appears unlikely for several reasons. One is the aforementioned Boras factor, as he will likely hold out with Bourn in the hopes of getting someone to overpay for the outfielder as spring training approaches. Another is the fact that he received a qualifying offer from the Braves in free agency, meaning that the Mets would have to surrender their first round draft pick (11th overall) if they signed Bourn. Since that option is not appealing for a franchise that is rebuilding, the chances of Bourn wearing blue and orange are slim to none.
Another notable option involves re-signing Scott Hairston. Hairston remains a free agent after seeing his requests for a two year deal fall on deaf ears in the market. The Mets are still interested in bringing Hairston back at the right price, but the Yankees and Cubs have also expressed interest in Hairston's services. Hairston is biding his time to see how the outfield situation shakes out for the Mets and is looking for a spot that will give him a good shot at playing time so he can boost his value for free agency after 2013. Other names who could make sense for the Mets include Grady Sizemore, a talented outfielder who has battled injuries the last few years in Cleveland, Delmon Young, and Austin Kearns. None of these players will be a difference maker, but they are upgrades over the options currently on the roster.
Starting Pitching: The Mets have a crater sized hole in their starting rotation following the trade of R.A. Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays. While the top four in the rotation (Jon Niese, Matt Harvey, Johan Santana, and Dillon Gee) appear solid, the Mets have a wide open race for the fifth spot. The club's internal options include swingman Jeremy Hefner and unproven youngsters Jenrry Mejia, Jeurys Familia, and Zack Wheeler.
Given the state of the internal options, the Mets are actively seeking a veteran starting pitcher to keep the fifth spot warm until Wheeler is ready to join the big league rotation. While the team could bring back Chris Young to fill that role, the Mets have a lot of options on the free agent market. The Mets have been linked to Carl Pavano, Joe Saunders, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Javier Vazquez, and Shaun Marcum. Of these options, Marcum has the highest upside but is coming off an injury plagued 2012 season. Matsuzaka is intriguing, but his injury history is a big risk for the Mets when they have two other starters (Santana and Gee) who finished the 2012 season on the disabled list. Pavano and Vazquez appear the two most likely candidates to sign in Flushing due to their experience pitching in New York as well as their ability to eat innings.
Bullpen: The Mets bullpen is very green at the moment, with not much experience but a lot of talented young arms. Frank Francisco remains the closer for now, and a collection of youngsters led by Bobby Parnell looks to fill in the gaps behind Francisco. Mets GM Sandy Alderson has observed former Giants closer Brian Wilson in a private workout, but Wilson appears to be progressing slowly in his rehab following Tommy John surgery. Jose Valverde remains on the free agent market as well, but a closer who lost his job in the postseason would not be a good fit for the Mets. The market is filled with a litany of retread right handers, including Chad Durbin, Francisco Rodriguez, Jose Contreras, LaTroy Hawkins, Matt Capps, and Kyle Farnsworth. The Mets have expressed interest in Farnsworth, but his market has picked up of late. The Mets could also re-sign one of their own free agent relievers, Jon Rauch or Ramon Ramirez, to fill in the bullpen. Rauch appears far more likely for a second act in Flushing than Ramirez, and the Mets are likely to sign at least one right handed reliever before spring training.
The left handers appear more stable for the Mets, as the team has a lot of options to fill out the pen. The Mets already have a trio of promising youngsters, headlined by Josh Edgin, who can contend for the lefty specialist role. Manager Terry Collins would like to have another left hander in the bullpen to avoid overusing Edgin, and the team has several veteran options. In addition to re-signing Tim Byrdak to a minor league deal, the Mets brought in veteran left hander Aaron Laffey and old friend Pedro Feliciano to compete for the LOOGY (Lefty One Out Only Guy) role.
While the Mets have a lot of work to do to get ready for the 2013 season, the good news is that there are a lot of options available on the free agent market to improve the club. As the calendar gets closer to February and many of these veterans are looking to secure jobs for the season, expect several names on this list to join the Mets on one year deals as Alderson looks to maintain as much payroll flexibility for 2014 as possible. The bad news, however, is that there are not any true difference makers still available in the free agent pool. Any chance for the Mets to significantly upgrade their roster outside of a trade is long gone.
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