Now that the GM meetings in Chicago are over, the Mets can start drawing up a blueprint for baseball's winter confab in Indianapolis next month, when a few of the expected megadeals are likely to get done. Remember, it was in Las Vegas last year when the Mets pounced on Francisco Rodriguez and also pulled off the 12-player, three-team trade that netted them J.J. Putz and was supposed to solidify their bullpen.
Anyway, moving on, the Mets already have sent signals that they intend to trade Luis Castillo. But the real negotiations won't start until next Friday, when free agents such as John Lackey, Matt Holliday and Jason Bay are allowed to talk dollar figures with teams other than their own. Here's how the Mets can solve some of their offseason questions in the weeks to come - and they need to strike fast, just as the Yankees did a year ago.
LOOK OUT FOR A NO. 1
The Mets' starting rotation, in its current configuration, has a No. 1 in Johan Santana followed by a bunch of threes and fours, much as they did last season after signing Oliver Perez to that ill-fated, three-year, $36-million contract. The best way to get back at the Phillies would be to either sign Lackey or somehow pull off a trade for Roy Halladay, the costlier of those two options in terms of both young players and cash. The Mets got lucky in the Santana deal by convincing the Twins to take a thin package of minor leaguers. It won't happen again with Toronto, meaning the Mets' best move is to hold on to the farm talent they do have and just cut Lackey a big check. Pairing Lackey with Santana gives the Mets a better 1-2 combination than the Phillies have after Cole Hamels' struggles in 2009, which would provide a much-needed ego boost.
ROLL THE DICE ON DELGADO
If the Mets are going to pay close to $100 million for Lackey, they'll have to cut corners elsewhere, and that could mean signing a relatively cheaper power source in Carlos Delgado. I know, I know, Delgado was unable to finish the season because of hip surgery and he'll turn 38 in June. But for those reasons, he'll be looking for a short, incentive-laden contract that could keep first base warm for prospect Ike Davis, who is expected to be another year away. Delgado intends to play winter ball in Puerto Rico, so the Mets can get a good read on his health, and think of this: He hit 38 homers with 115 RBIs in 2008 despite favoring that degenerative hip condition. Now that it's fixed, Delgado could find his power stroke again - at a fraction of the price of some other sluggers.
PLAY THE FIELD IN LEFT
With pitching the priority, it's unclear how much cash the Mets will have remaining to fill the other spots. But re-signing Delgado would let them take a more cautious approach in the market for Holliday and Bay, two sluggers aiming for more than $100 million this winter. If the price stays prohibitive, the Mets can take a pass, providing they get someone like Delgado to stick in the middle of the lineup. But with the Yankees likely to be disinterested in either player, and the Red Sox perhaps ready to play hardball with Bay, the prices could come down to a more palatable level - just as K-Rod slid back to the Mets last December. This changes, however, if Lackey and Halladay go elsewhere. Then the Mets must take a more aggressive approach.
HERE'S THE CATCH
Seems as if the Mets are in the market for a catcher every winter and it's usually a position that's difficult to fill through free agency. This year is no exception, with Bengie Molina at the top of a pretty unimpressive list. The easy play would be to throw money at Molina, whom Omar Minaya has coveted for a while now. But at 35, Molina is getting up there for a catcher, which is a scary prospect for anything longer than a two-year deal. On the plus side, he would bring experience to a catching crew that now consists of Omir Santos (28) and the surprising Josh Thole (23). Molina should also add some pop - he hit 20 homers in 132 games last season.
OH YEAH, THE CASTILLO THING
Oddly enough, the grossly overpaid second baseman was one of the few bright spots in the Mets' 92-loss season. Castillo is not even in the top five when it comes to this team's biggest issues. And yet, the Mets seemingly are in a rush to stick Castillo in any number of trades, which would enable them to overpay Chone Figgins or get a do-over with Orlando Hudson. Maybe unloading Castillo is a good first step toward placating a restless fan base, and if the Mets can save even a couple bucks on the $12 million they owe him over the next two years, it would be worth it. An added bonus - they won't have to watch constant replays of Castillo dropping that pop-up in the Bronx at visiting stadiums next year, either.