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Acquiring power hitter will be costly for Mets

Marlon Byrd of the Pittsburgh Pirates scores a

Marlon Byrd of the Pittsburgh Pirates scores a run in the fifth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals during Game 2 of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium. (Oct. 4, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

ORLANDO, Fla. - If the Mets are going to power up, they had better ante up.

Whether payment takes the form of players in a trade, or if it's simply a matter of cash, the market has confirmed what industry executives anticipated. Acquiring power, a priority for the Mets this winter, might be more difficult than ever before.

The latest sign came at the general managers' meetings Tuesday, when former Mets outfielder Marlon Byrd agreed to a two-year deal worth $16 million, plus a vesting option for a third year with the Phillies.

A year ago, Byrd was marooned in the Mexican League, unsigned after a season marred by a 50-game suspension for a performance-enhancing drug. He signed a minor-league deal worth $700,000 with the Mets and hit a career-high 24 homers, including three with the Pirates in 30 games.

Byrd's career year couldn't have been better timed. With home run numbers down around the game, that has sent the price of power soaring. For teams such as the Mets, the market shift might be a curse.

General manager Sandy Alderson said he wasn't surprised by the contract, though the Mets showed no interest in showing that level of commitment with Byrd, 36.

"Had you asked me the question three or four months ago, I might have been surprised," Alderson said of Byrd's deal with the Phillies. "But not in light of what's happened since the end of the season. There haven't been that many signings, but this one is consistent with the others."

Those include the six-year, $68-million deal that the White Sox gave to Cuban defector Jose Daniel Abreu, a 26-year-old, power-hitting first baseman who has yet to see a pitch in the big leagues.

"That alone should tell you something," said one agent, who expects the trend to continue.

Only 11 players hit more than 30 home runs in 2013 -- roughly one-third of the number a decade ago. The dip in homers played a part in the decision to bet on Abreu's potential.

Said White Sox GM Rick Hahn: "Given the scarcity of power, given the scarcity of free agents in their 20s . . . in this market, it was clearly a risk we were comfortable taking."

The power pinch will impact the Mets' pursuit of Curtis Granderson, who is only one season removed from his second straight 40-homer season. Like most players with a hint of power on their resume, Granderson will benefit from a robust market.

Rival executives said Tuesday that even players with more significant flaws than the strikeout-prone Granderson might generate interest -- as long as they've proven they have some power.

In that way, the market might work in the Mets' favor, specifically in their attempts to resolve their glut at first base. Despite their shortcomings, rival executives expect Ike Davis and Lucas Duda will generate interest on the trade market.

Duda is projected to make roughly $2 million next season through arbitration, and Davis would make about $3.5 million. At 27 and 26, respectively, Duda and Davis are still young enough to have some upside.

More and more, it appears that a resolution at first base might not come until later in the offseason, when a scarcer market would make Davis and Duda more valuable.

Perhaps trading one will help the Mets address their offensive deficiencies at shortstop and in the outfield, which is a priority. But even Alderson admits that the market might limit the Mets to one free-agent signing in the outfield, not two.

Said Alderson: "I'd be surprised if that happens only because there's so much interest in corner outfielders among many clubs."

Meanwhile, the Mets appear to be keeping tabs on potential fallback alternatives. They expressed interest in free-agent outfielder Chris Young, according to a source. Young, 30, has four 20-homer seasons, although he hit only 12 last year in limited action with the A's.

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