LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Perhaps the Mets have less to spend on upgrading their team than was previously thought.
General manager Sandy Alderson signaled a change in tone on Sunday, expressing hesitance about jumping into the relief market just yet although acquiring bullpen help might be the team’s top priority. Just a few weeks after slamming unproven Dominic Smith for his lack of production and poor conditioning, he also indicated that the rookie could be the answer at first base.
“We’re still very high on Dominic — some of my comments earlier in the offseason notwithstanding,” Alderson said. “So I’d be surprised if we did anything that absolutely precluded him from having an opportunity in spring training.”
Both shifts would cost the Mets less money, perhaps a sign that they’re working with even less than the widely projected budget of roughly $30 million to supplement the roster after a 92-loss campaign.
Alderson has said the Mets likely will spend less than the roughly $155 million on the books last Opening Day. But neither Fred nor Jeff Wilpon has publicly explained the reason for the cut.
Alderson’s apparent rollback of the Mets’ already-modest offseason ambitions comes with the Yankees set to officially announce the acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins. That trade was facilitated by the Yankees’ willingness to absorb $265 million of the $295 million still owed to the slugger.
The Mets? They didn’t bother to even window shop.
“With Brandon Nimmo in rightfield, we just didn’t feel that we had a need there,” Alderson joked.
Indeed, given a payroll that is on track to hover at or below the league average, the Mets appeared out of position to even entertain acquiring the reigning National League MVP from a franchise that took less than market value in a desperate attempt to dump salary.
Alderson insisted that Stanton’s relocation to New York will not create pressure for the Mets to act.
“We have to approach it the way we think is best, what’s best for the organization, what’s best for the team short term, long term,” he said. “We want to be as good as we can possibly be. We think we can be competitive. But I don’t think this adds any additional dimension to that.”
If anything, the Mets might wait until later in the offseason to make their moves. Consider their hunt for relief pitching.
In recent weeks, sources said the Mets had weighed jumping out early in the market, a tactic that would allow them to acquire their top targets. That group includes Bryan Shaw and Addison Reed. Alderson indicated less of an aversion to the type of multiyear deals required to sign relievers of that caliber. But with relievers beginning to come off the market, he made a point of saying the Mets might not be ready to move, a sign that they have been scared off by prices.
“We’re not going to chase players,” he said. “There are a lot of guys out there, and a lot of teams looking for relief pitching. We think there’s some values out there. And to the extent that the market gets overheated, I wouldn’t think that we’ll jump into the inferno. But we do want to improve our bullpen.”
Shaw’s situation might prove to be a useful barometer for the Mets’ thinking. He has been linked to the Mets all offseason, and one rival executive expressed a belief that the former Indians righty has multiple three-year deals already in hand.
Publicly, as he did at last month’s GM meetings, Alderson gave indications that he wouldn’t rule out a three-year contract for a reliever. Yet Shaw remains unsigned even though the Mets value his durability and connections to new manager Mickey Callaway.
Perhaps, as one team official indicated, it’s more a reflection of Shaw’s belief that he can land a four-year deal or a preference to sign with a team that trains in Arizona. But the Mets’ shift in tone also raises the possibility that the hang-up indeed is financial.
Notes & quotes: David Wright remains in California and will have a follow-up exam in early January, Alderson said. Wright is recovering from his latest surgery, a procedure for his shoulder . . . While the Mets will explore trading for a second baseman such as the Pirates’ Josh Harrison, Alderson acknowledged a clear hurdle: “Our farm system right now is not brimming with prospects.”