LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Shortly after his arrival for the winter meetings, Sandy Alderson described the Mets as "interested onlookers" in the market for big-money free agents, so he could watch with amusement as the Nationals signed Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126-million contract.
The deal sent shock waves throughout baseball and created an immediate buzz in the lobby of the hotel headquarters here. But Alderson, who clearly packed his best one-liners, had a unique take, given the bloated payroll he has inherited with the Mets.
"It makes some of our contracts look pretty good," Alderson said before adding, "That's a long time and a lot of money. I thought they were trying to reduce the deficit in Washington."
By comparison, Carlos Beltran, considered a five-tool centerfielder, is entering the final season of the seven-year, $119-million contract he signed in 2005. Even Jason Bay, a power-hitting leftfielder similar to Werth, received only $66 million over four years just last December.
The Mets were not interested in Werth, and still have plenty of their own salary issues, so it didn't really matter to Alderson where the market could be headed as a result. If the Mets had any designs on Carl Crawford, maybe the GM would have been less cavalier in his assessment. But Alderson doesn't anticipate making a big splash of his own this week, and continues to temper any unreasonable hopes as other teams open their wallets.
"I don't think you should expect us to come back with a high-profile trophy," Alderson said. "I think I've been pretty consistent on that."
Still, the Mets will be busy on a somewhat less spectacular level, and Alderson already had meetings scheduled with agents for last night. With teams still arriving Monday, Alderson planned to begin his conversations with other clubs then, and that's when some unexpected deals could emerge.
Alderson refused to get into specifics about any of his own players, but it's hardly a secret he'd like to move Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo, as impossible as that may be. But other intriguing possibilities include the likes of Beltran and even Jose Reyes, two players who are more likely to be moved at midseason - if at all.
"There might be interest in some of our players, but we don't really know if that's Plan B or Plan C for a particular club," Alderson said. "So I think at this point, until we delve into it a little further, it would be hard to characterize anyone's interest in our players. Right now, everybody is looking for options."
In the Mets' case, it's more of the low-cost, short-term variety, which is why free-agent reclamation projects such as Chris Young and Jeff Francis have been targeted. Alderson also needs help in the bullpen and a backup catcher, so he needs to be frugal with limited resources.
"In some ways, this is the worst possible time to be looking at free agents," Alderson said. "I think that the beginning of the winter meetings is always a little frenetic, and so, while we want to be actively involved, I think one also has to be a little bit cautious about an overheated market that typically develops early at the winter meetings."