By the end of last week's winter meetings, the conversation around the Mets switched from the players they failed to get this year to the players they might lose after next season because of the dizzying free-agent market.
After seeing Jayson Werth and Carl Crawford sign seven-year contracts worth $126 million and $142 million, respectively, general manager Sandy Alderson actually sounded relieved that he was not involved in that bidding process.
"Were we in that market and not able to sign players after competing for them, there might be a level of frustration," Alderson said. "But given what we expected coming in and where we are and where we expect to be going into spring training - given the level of our payroll currently - there's not real frustration on my part. But it also underscores the desirability of being in the market every year, which I think is our ultimate goal."
In other words, the Mets were content to take a pass this year and wait for roughly $60 million to come off the books at the end of the 2011 season. With another nine weeks before pitchers and catchers report, Alderson still has the opportunity to add to a payroll that is hovering around $130 million, but it won't be increased significantly.
During the meetings, Alderson made modest investments in reliever D.J. Carrasco (two years, $2.5 million) and catcher Ronny Paulino (one year, $1.3 million) and also signed pitcher Boof Bonser to a minor-league contract. They represented targeted needs for the Mets, with Alderson saying he still has money for additional improvements. Figure those to be Chris Young (one year, $4 million?) and a lefthander for the bullpen, maybe Hideki Okajima (one year, $2 million?).
The Mets also picked up two players in the Rule 5 draft - infielder Brad Emaus and righthander Pedro Beato - who have legitimate shots at sticking on the roster. Emaus, who plays second and third, could fit in a utility role and Beato should have a shot with a wide-open bullpen.
"It's a matter of trying to get some things done while setting the foundation for other things," Alderson said. "By and large, I'm happy with where we are. I'm particularly happy with the way the group here has come together and the approach that we've taken to a lot of these things, the analysis, the discussion. I'm very pleased with that."
Alderson's philosophy suggests he won't be signing off on seven-year contracts, or even six-year deals, anytime soon. He began the winter meetings by taking shots at the Nationals for Werth's market-changing whopper. Four days later, on his way out the door, Alderson was a little more accepting of where baseball might be headed after the Red Sox reached agreement with Crawford.
Alderson could face that same scenario next October when Jose Reyes' $11-million option expires and the shortstop becomes a free agent. A person familiar with the situation indicated that there will be no negotiations during the season, leaving Alderson with much bigger - and costlier - decisions awaiting him next year at this time.
"The big-revenue teams make deals like that and then take themselves out of the market either for the remainder of the current year or for future years," Alderson said of the seven-year trend. "We'll see where it's going."