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Calling all free agents, you have Mets' ear

Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Ben Sheets pitches to

Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Ben Sheets pitches to the Washington Nationals in the first inning. (August 9, 2008) Credit: AP

The Yankees have been so deliberate this offseason that their own free agent, Johnny Damon - whom the Yankees want back - expressed frustration Tuesday that he hasn't heard yet from Brian Cashman.

Consider the Mets, then, to be the anti-Yankees. If you're a free agent and you haven't heard from the Mets, you might want to make sure your cell-phone service (or that of your agent) hasn't been canceled.

With needs for a slugging outfielder, a first baseman, a catcher and a starting pitcher, "We're keeping all of our avenues open," a team official said Tuesday.

Hence the expressions of interest in first basemen such as Russell Branyan and Nick Johnson, not to mention the Mets' own free agent Carlos Delgado. And in starting pitchers such as Joel Piñeiro, Jason Marquis and Randy Wolf, in addition to Ben Sheets, who missed all of the 2009 season rehabilitating from right elbow surgery and therefore won't be able to demand a great amount of money.

The Mets are making sure to stay in the loop on the "big three" free agents of this market, outfielders Jason Bay and Matt Holliday and starting pitcher John Lackey, as well as the versatile and speedy Chone Figgins, who spent 2009 as the Angels' third baseman.

Yet they're not planning to blow competing bidders out of the water, as they did five years ago in landing Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran. Instead, they're looking to last year's pursuit of Francisco Rodriguez as a model of patiently letting a market come to them.

"We'll have figures set for each guy," a second Mets official said earlier this month. "If the figures work out, great. If not, then we won't get him." For instance, the official said, the Mets hoped to sign free agent Derek Lowe last winter, but didn't elevate their proposal when the Braves committed four years and $60 million to Lowe.

They'll also stay in touch with the Blue Jays regarding trade discussions for Roy Halladay, although they seem even more of an underdog in that derby than when they stunned the baseball world by acquiring Johan Santana.

If they spend heavily in one area - say, outfield - then they'll spend less in another area. The Mets are extremely unlikely to land two expensive, high-impact free agents. Their most clear, realistic target appears to be catcher Bengie Molina, who intrigues the Mets considerably even though, as a Type A free agent, he'd cost the Mets their second-round draft pick.

Coaching staff official. The Mets announced the coaching staff under Jerry Manuel for 2010. The newcomers are bench coach Dave Jauss, who spent the last two seasons performing the same job for Baltimore, and third-base coach Chip Hale, who worked as Arizona's third-base coach the prior three campaigns.

Howard Johnson, Randy Niemann and Dan Warthen will return as hitting coach, bullpen coach and pitching coach, respectively, with Razor Shines moving from third base to first base.

Terry Collins, the former Astros and Angels manager, has joined the Mets as their minor-league field coordinator.

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