Mets could be interested in Cuban defector

39) Aroldis Chapman - Starting pitcher Age: 21

39) Aroldis Chapman - Starting pitcher
Age: 21
2009: Chapman is a Cuban pitcher who has been called one of the "three best pitchers in the world not in the majors." His fastball has apparently been clocked at 103 mph. He is expected to draw serious interest from several teams, including the Red Sox, who have courted him since he was 17.

(Credit: Getty Images)

Travel deals

MIAMI - Count the Mets among the handful of teams that are exploring a deal for Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman, the hard-throwing lefthander who was declared a free agent Friday by Major League Baseball.

A person familiar with the situation said Friday that the Mets will speak with Athletes Premier International, the agency representing Chapman, in an effort to gauge where the market is headed in the coming weeks. The Mets have scouted Chapman extensively in international competition, and there is plenty to like about a lefthander who has been clocked at 102 mph.

Chapman, 21, reportedly has indicated a preference to pitch in Southern California, and the Dodgers and Angels are expected to be involved in what should be a fierce bidding war that is likely to include the Yankees and Red Sox.

The Mets have been down this road before with Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2007, when their $39-million posting bid came in second to the Red Sox's stunning $51-million offer.

The Mets believed they had Matsuzaka, but even in failure, the team showed it was willing to take extraordinary measures for a player they strongly coveted. It's difficult to tell if that will be the case with Chapman, who is more of an unknown quantity than the veteran Matsuzaka was back then. He was a national treasure to Japan, one of the most dominant pitchers the country had ever produced. He already had pitched 204 games for the Seibu Lions over eight seasons, closing his career in Japan with a 108-60 record.

Unlike Dice-K, Chapman is an unfettered free agent, so there is no additional fee to secure his rights. But if Chapman is seeking a contract similar to the $51 million it took for the Red Sox to get Matsuzaka, the Mets are unlikely to be seriously involved in the negotiations.

The Mets have roughly $30 million coming off this year's $140-million payroll, and it is unclear how much more they are willing to spend for 2010. What is clear is that the Mets need another frontline starter to pair with Johan Santana, and the Angels' John Lackey is the only other free-agent pitcher who would fit that description.

Looking ahead, the Mets' rotation is looking shaky. They have three starters returning from season-ending surgery - Santana (bone chips), Oliver Perez (knee), Jonathon Niese (hamstring) - and another in John Maine who missed two months with shoulder issues.

Chapman could be a big gamble, maybe too big for general manager Omar Minaya, who has little margin for error. Minaya already is on notice after a rocky season in which the Mets' lack of organizational depth was exposed - as well as his own questionable behavior.

Notes & quotes: Jerry Manuel said before Friday's game that Carlos Delgado (oblique, back issues) officially has been shut down for the season, and it's looking that way for Jose Reyes, too. Reyes was supposed to test his recovering right leg Friday, but it was pushed to Saturday because of a family medical issue. Asked about Reyes' chance to return, Manuel said, "Very, very, very small."

As for the game, Cory Sullivan's two-run single off Florida closer Leo Nuñez with none out in the ninth lifted the Mets to a 6-5 win over the Marlins. Jeff Francoeur hit a three-run homer, his eighth in 68 games for the Mets. Francisco Rodriguez earned his 34th save.

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