General Manager Sandy Alderson talks to reporters during spring training...

General Manager Sandy Alderson talks to reporters during spring training at Digital Domain stadium in Port St. Lucie. (Feb. 19, 2011) Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

The Mets struck quickly to sign Michael Cuddyer. But they may have to play the waiting game to address their next offseason priority: upgrading at shortstop.

While other teams around the league also will be in search of shortstops, the Mets appear well positioned to make a move if they're willing to part with some of their young arms.

General manager Sandy Alderson on Wednesday expressed a reluctance to trade from his stockpile, although he did not rule out the notion.

"If we have to,'' he said, "we have to.''

Alderson described the shortstop market as "limited.''

"It may take us a while to really figure out what's available and what's not, and what fits and what doesn't,'' said Alderson, even as he acknowledged that the market has yet to take shape and that it's early to even gauge asking prices.

He left open the possibility that the Mets will stand pat, even if it means beginning the season with 23-year-old Wilmer Flores, whose offensive potential is obscured by concerns about his range.

"I know there are fans out there that don't want to hear it,'' Alderson said. "But if we had to go into the season with Flores as our shortstop, I'm certainly not in a panic mode at that point.''

Even if the Mets stuck with Flores, Alderson called the lineup "pretty solid from top to bottom,'' with the addition of Cuddyer in the middle of the order.

Still, the Mets intend to explore their possibilities. Although they seem cool on the free-agent market, the Mets could find answers in the trade market, with the Cubs, Mariners, Diamondbacks and White Sox as potential partners.

Offense around baseball has tailed off, making bats more difficult to acquire. That scarcity will be a barrier for the Mets and any other team looking to bolster their lineups through a trade.

Yet a market still exists for young and inexpensive high-end pitching, especially given the risk associated with signing free-agent pitchers to large contracts.

Speculation has persisted around the Cubs and Mets, who might match up well for a deal. The Cubs are rich with young shortstops, led by Starlin Castro, and the Mets boast young arms such as Zack Wheeler.

Although the Cubs have been rumored to become a big player in free agency, team president Theo Epstein reiterated his aversion to megadeals for pitchers because of the spotty track record of such contracts.

That belief could steer the Cubs toward the trade market. Of course, it remains to be seen whether the Cubs are actually willing to deal some of their young bats. As is often the case early in the offseason, nobody seems anxious to move.

"We're not rushing out to move those guys for pitching,'' Epstein said, "even though we admit that we would like to acquire impact pitching over the next year or two.''

Alderson suggested that the trade market could develop at a slower than usual pace because of the large amount of front-office turnover around the game.

But for now, the Mets may have to wait for an intriguing winter that could unfold slowly as the market begins to take shape.

"I think we have more than enough to make a deal,'' Alderson said, "if that's what we choose to do.''


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