SAN DIEGO - Dillon Gee has emerged as the most likely pitcher to be traded by the Mets, according to a source who said three to five teams have expressed interest in acquiring the veteran righthander.
It's unclear which clubs have pushed most aggressively for Gee, who went 7-8 with a 4.00 ERA in 22 starts last season.
General manager Sandy Alderson has made it known that the pitching-rich Mets hope to move one of their arms by spring training, potentially to help fill needs in other areas.
With the Mets seemingly intent on keeping their younger arms, Gee, lefthander Jon Niese and righthander Bartolo Colon have been at the center of trade rumblings. The Mets hope the winter meetings might accelerate their plan to move at least one of the three pitchers.
Gee, 28, is viewed as a starter best suited for the back of the rotation. He's projected to make a modest $5 million in his second year of arbitration and is under team control for two more years.
"We are open to making deals," Alderson said, speaking generally on the first day of the meetings.
They have plenty of pitching depth, with top prospect Noah Syndergaard on the horizon, Jacob deGrom and Zack Wheeler emerging as solid starters and ace Matt Harvey returning after rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
Moving a starting pitcher has become an eventuality for the Mets, who likely will need to clear some salary to address their needs for an upgrade at shortstop, an experienced lefthanded reliever and a righthanded hitter for the bench.
The signing of Michael Cuddyer this offseason pushed the Mets' payroll to a little more than $100 million. Alderson said on Monday that it likely will remain in that range or even decrease, adding: "I don't expect it to go up too much, if at all."
Trading a starting pitcher would create enough financial flexibility for the Mets to address their needs while remaining in the $100-million range.
While interest in Gee has picked up, there's no guarantee that he will be traded this week during the meetings. That's because with top-tier free agents Jon Lester, Max Scherzer and James Shields still on the board, the pitching market remains frozen. Once those names clear, the Mets should be in better position to complete a deal.
Throughout the offseason, the Mets have fielded calls about Niese and Colon, both of whom would create more financial flexibility than would Gee if a trade were made.
Niese, 28, has a team-friendly contract that will pay him $7 million next season and $9 million in 2016. He also has a $10-million club option for 2017 and an $11-million club option in 2018.
Though Niese has battled injuries, some rival executives consider him a strong value as a mid-rotation starter. But trading Niese would leave the Mets without a lefthander in the rotation.
Colon, 41, will make $11 million in the final season of a two-year contract. With the pitching market still unclear, the Mets aren't in a hurry to absorb a portion of what's owed to Colon in order to facilitate a trade.
"We're not anxious to trade Bartolo," Alderson said.
Instead, it appears that the Mets have channeled their efforts into trading Gee, last season's Opening Day starter.
A 21st-round draft pick by the Mets in 2007, Gee is 40-34 with a 3.91 ERA in parts of five seasons. He had his best year in 2013, when he went 12-11 with a 3.62 ERA in a career-best 199 innings.