NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — With a crowded outfield and a payroll that must be pared down, teams around baseball are well aware of the Mets’ desire to make a move, most likely a trade of Jay Bruce.
But the Mets are holding firm on receiving a player that could fill a need, rather than settling for a negligible return such as a fringe prospect in order to simply dump Bruce’s $13 million salary.
“It does put you in a different situation, and it affects other clubs’ expectations and it affects our expectations,” general manager Sandy Alderson said on Wednesday, when he spoke generally about the Mets’ situation. “But it only takes interest by two or three teams in a player to overcome all of that. That’s why we don’t jump at the first opportunity.”
Rival clubs have offered trades for Bruce that would fall under the category of salary dump, according to an industry source, though the Mets have relayed to teams they have no interest in such a move.
In the meantime, the Mets find themselves in somewhat of a holding pattern, waiting for the market to reveal itself while trying to avoid spending on other needs such as relief arms before clearing some salary.
“Payroll is an issue but so is playing time, and right now we’re not configured well to allocate the playing time,” Alderson said, one day before the winter meetings break. “There’s some things we need to do to smooth that out.”
The re-signing of Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $110-million deal pushed the Mets’ payroll to roughly $153 million and created a glut in the outfield.
The Mets have been operating under the belief that payroll will ultimately wind up in the $140-million range, where it was at the start of last season. That means moving Bruce or Curtis Granderson and his $15 million salary, though the Mets prefer to keep the latter.
While Alderson said it is possible for the Mets to spend elsewhere, he wants to avoid spending until salary space is cleared.
“It’s like buying a new house before selling your old one,” Alderson said. “Sometimes you get stuck in the transition. It’s not a good place to be.”
Payroll considerations could also complicate the Mets’ exploration of the trade market for relief pitching, which is a pressing need. The White Sox have established that they are in sell mode, and a source said the Mets have not ruled out exploring a trade for reliever David Robertson.
But the former Yankees closer is due $25 million over the next two seasons, a clear stumbling block with the Mets trying to cut down payroll.
That would begin with trading Bruce, a pursuit that has been complicated by a slow-developing market around baseball during the winter meetings. Though a move was not imminent on Wednesday night, sources said the Mets made some progress in talks regarding the lefthanded-hitting Bruce, who hit 33 homers last season but struggled after his trade to the Mets.
The Blue Jays and Orioles have been linked to Bruce, and mlb.com reported on Wednesday that Mets officials met with the Rangers. For now, the Mets’ focus remains on finding better offers, though they are not expected to buy down Bruce’s salary or part with a prospect in order to facilitate a deal.
Notes & quotes: A rival club recently made an aggressive offer for outfielder Michael Conforto, though an industry source said that the Mets refused to listen, reinforcing the club’s hesitance to deal the 23-year-old former first rounder . . . The Mets do not intend to make a selection in the big league phase of Thursday’s Rule 5 draft. The Mets’ 40-man roster is full and Alderson does not expect to clear a roster spot.