David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
ORLANDO, Fla. - The last time the Mets considered signing an elite shortstop was 2011, and it was their homegrown free agent, Jose Reyes. We use the term "considered'' loosely, however, because Sandy Alderson never made an offer and Reyes jumped to Miami for a six-year, $106-million deal.
The Marlins were anxious to rebrand their product for a new stadium that winter, and basically bid against themselves. We all know how that turned out. But it's worth bringing up now because the Mets are back in the market for a shortstop -- along with a number of other positions -- and this time have money to spend.
The problem is that so do a lot of other teams, and as the Mets roll in here for this week's GM meetings, their primary goal will be to see how the market dictates how their resources are allocated the next few months.
Alderson is scheduled to arrive either late Monday or early Tuesday, and when he does, the Mets expect to sit down with Scott Boras to get a sense of what the agent is thinking for two of his more coveted clients, shortstop Stephen Drew and outfielder Shin-Soo Choo.
There's a good chance the Mets won't like what they hear. With nearly $40 million coming off the books for 2014, they have plenty of payroll flexibility. But Alderson also has a lengthy shopping list that could go in a number of directions.
Conservative estimates have Drew perhaps landing a three-year deal in the $36-million range, but Boras scoffed at those numbers recently. And if that's low, the Mets will seek other options, such as Jhonny Peralta, or maybe make a trade.
Ruben Tejada has fallen so far so fast that giving him another shot at shortstop seems virtually out of the question. But if the Mets do choose to spend money on Peralta -- sorry, we're already skeptical about Drew -- could Tejada bolster their up-the-middle defense with a move back to second base?
Again, this is just an example of how fluid the Mets' situation is. What would that mean for Daniel Murphy? There's plenty of unresolved issues, and not even the front office, six weeks after the Mets' season ended, has the exact blueprint for 2014.
"We're going to get players,'' assistant GM John Ricco said. "It's just a matter of which ones.''
We're still very early in the process. The only comparables that teams have to go on are the two doozies handed out by the Giants to Hunter Pence (five years, $90 million) and Tim Lincecum (two years, $35 million). You can bet Boras will go to school on that Pence deal in the Choo discussions, and there's a handful of free-agent pitchers who will benefit from that Lincecum deal, even without back-to-back Cy Young Awards on their resumes.
With each team getting an extra $50 million in TV revenue, a bull market is expected. That's not great timing for the Mets.
Sure, they don't have luxury-tax worries like the Yankees, but in Alderson's mind, he can't afford to sign players merely for the sake of spending money.
It wasn't too long ago that Alderson, at his first winter meetings as Mets GM, held court and basically mocked the Nationals for giving Jayson Werth a seven-year, $126-million deal. Three days later, the Red Sox signed Carl Crawford for seven years and $142 million.
Alderson won't have to worry about making a Crawford-size mistake. He opened the vault -- with the Wilpons' blessing -- for David Wright, but giving out another contract anywhere near that seems very unlikely, if not impossible. Alderson isn't wired that way, so it's going to require some deft maneuvering on his staff's part to improve the Mets in this cash-rich environment.
At this moment, they're confident it can get done. But they stress that this offseason won't be about potentially grabbing one marquee name to boost ticket sales. If they significantly improve the team, based on the groundwork that will begin this week, the rest should follow. But right now, they still need to determine who, and most importantly, for how much.