Source says Mets might get creative with backloaded contracts

Jonathon Niese delivers a pitch in the second

Jonathon Niese delivers a pitch in the second inning of a game against Atlanta Braves in Atlanta. (Sept. 28, 2012) (Credit: AP)

The Mets have been looking forward to 2014, when hefty contracts will come off the books, finally allowing them to lift what has become a virtual moratorium on multiyear free-agent deals. Even with a tight payroll, though, they have immediate holes to fill on the roster, so they might not wait.

The Mets will be more willing to get creative with backloaded contracts, according to a person with knowledge of the team's thinking, in order to entice free agents with more money and multiyear offers. Those tactics could come into play at this week's winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn.

"You can borrow some from the future," said a person with knowledge of the situation, who called finding an outfielder the team's priority.

As the offseason began, agent Scott Boras chided the Mets for shopping "in the freezer section" of the free-agent market, scouring for bargains and inexpensive one-year deals.

But the Mets' only major payroll obligations in 2014 are the contracts of David Wright and Jonathon Niese. Taken together, the team is on the hook for only about $25 million in salaries. According to the source, the Mets see themselves as "close enough" to a clean slate payroll-wise to consider adding future obligations.

Backloading contracts would allow the Mets to work around their current payroll constraints while still offering multiyear deals.

They still won't splurge on a major deal. But the Mets hope their willingness to structure backloaded deals will translate into a wider pool of potential fits. Those types of deals could put players such as Scott Hairston back in play for the Mets.

The Mets may have plenty of reasons to consider leaning on that future surplus to make life easier in the present.

In the outfield, only leftfielder Lucas Duda appears to be an everyday option, and he faces health questions after injuring his wrist while moving furniture during the offseason. The Mets, the source said, might even accumulate a mix of platoon players in a piecemeal attempt to fill the vacancies.

Catcher remains an area of need, but the free-agent market is thin and prices have risen accordingly. The Mets also must fill out their bullpen.

With so many needs, they also have been eyeing potential trades.

As expected, the source said, the Mets regard promising young pitchers Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler as their only untouchables in trade talks.

Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey remains in negotiations with the Mets, and according to a source, it's possible that a deal will get done early this week. If an agreement can't be reached, Dickey would attract plenty of suitors on the trade market.

Niese, first baseman Ike Davis and reliever Bobby Parnell also could make for pieces in a trade package.

Meanwhile, rival talent evaluators have raved about the quality of the Mets' pitching in the lower levels of the minor leagues, another potential reservoir for the Mets to tap.

As is the case with most teams, the Mets began various early trade conversations at last month's general managers' meetings, with the expectation that some of them might heat up during the winter meetings. Most talks don't lead to trades, though according to the source, "there's been a lot of groundwork."

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