Mets have big plans, but are they players or posers?

General Manager Sandy Alderson talks to reporters during

General Manager Sandy Alderson talks to reporters during spring training at Digital Domain stadium in Port St. Lucie. (Feb. 19, 2011) (Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa)

The real haggling has yet to begin for baseball's best free agents.

So for now, after two years of conditioning their fans to endure bitter financial austerity, it's easy for the Mets to insist they'll push for top-end talent. Talk, after all, is cheap.

However, at this week's general manager meetings in Orlando, teams expect to emerge with a clearer idea of the prices they must pay for upgrades. It is the start of a process that eventually will separate the players from the posers.

For now, the Mets appear to occupy a space somewhere between the two extremes.

A year ago, with his hands bound by severe payroll constraints, general manager Sandy Alderson spent only $5 million on two free agents who didn't even make it to the All-Star break.

This season, with more than $40 million in expiring contracts off the books, the Mets have many more options than they did last offseason.

Still, clear limitations exist.

In the last week, the Mets have been linked to players such as outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. One team official even insisted that only one player -- potential $200-million man Robinson Cano -- is out of the Mets' reach.

"Everybody else," the official said, "they may be asking for 'X,' but who knows what they're going to get?"

Yet with so many positions that must be addressed by the Mets -- there are needs in the outfield, at shortstop and in the starting rotation -- throwing big money at one player might thwart efforts to make improvements elsewhere.

Such a scenario almost certainly would rule out signing a player such as Choo, who could command more than $100 million on the open market.

"We'll have as many balls in the air as we can," said another team insider, who noted that the Mets still are so early in their offseason process that they have yet to focus in on any targets. They already have contacted a "pretty good percentage" of the available free agents in hopes of getting on their radar screens while also preparing for sudden shifts in the market. Alderson is slated to arrive at the meetings on Tuesday and already is scheduled to sit down with several agents.

Aside from assessing price tags, the Mets have placed a priority on using the GM meetings to begin sorting through potential trade scenarios. According to one team insider, they believe that the trade market presents possible answers at each of their positions of need.

The Dodgers, according to FoxSports.com, have made it known that they might trade outfielders Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. Several shortstops also could land on the trade market, including the Indians' Asdrubal Cabrera and the Rangers' Elvis Andrus.

The Mets also hope to gain a clearer picture of their own potential trade assets. Earlier this month, chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon said there already has been some interest in their group of first basemen, headed by Lucas Duda and Ike Davis. The Mets also have a stockpile of pitching prospects who could figure as pieces in any deal.

From the beginning, the Mets have indicated that they might use their financial flexibility to take on salary in a trade, especially if it leads to an impact bat that they covet. Such a move might jump-start what is widely viewed as an important offseason for the Mets, who have long targeted 2014 as a year of major transition.

"We have a lot of things to talk about," the official said. "There's a lot of flexibility and we're open to a lot of different scenarios."

Of course, until the Mets actually begin spending some cash, their grand plans remain subject to skepticism.

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