LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Mets general manager Sandy Alderson wants to talk about payroll as much as Allen Iverson wants to talk about practice. But the orange-and-blue elephant in the Mets’ winter meetings war room made its presence known.
Sticker shock played a role on Tuesday when the Mets missed out on relievers Bryan Shaw and Tommy Hunter, a pair of targets they had coveted on what has become a supercharged market for relievers.
Shaw had been linked to the Mets all offseason, partly because of his Indians ties with new manager Mickey Callaway. But the durable righthander reportedly signed a three-year deal worth $27 million with the Rockies.
According to sources, the Mets also offered a three-year deal. Though the proposal was in the ballpark, it ultimately was less than the Rockies’ reported offer. Also, some team officials sensed in the days leading up to the meetings that Shaw had personal preferences that came into play, such as a desire to play for a team that trained in Arizona rather than Florida. Shaw, 30, had a 3.52 ERA in 79 appearances for the Indians.
Hunter, who enjoyed a revival by posting a 2.61 ERA in 61 games for the Rays, also had emerged as a top target for the Mets, and perhaps the most desirable alternative for Shaw. But according to reports, Hunter, 31, agreed to a two-year deal with thee Phillies. The terms weren’t immediately clear. But one rival executive believes Hunter’s market had pushed his price tag up to the $9 million-$10 million range annually.
In both cases, other teams were more financially aggressive than the Mets, even though they have long identified bullpen help as their most pressing priority this offseason. But even Alderson sensed the storm clouds brewing.
At one point, the Mets had considered jumping out in the market. It’s a tactic that would be more costly for the Mets but would allow them to come away with one of the relievers they coveted. But as the winter meetings approached, there was a shift in tone.
On Sunday, Alderson said, “To the extent that the market gets overheated, I wouldn’t think that we’ll jump into the inferno.” On Tuesday, even before the run on relievers, Alderson swatted aside questions about payroll that will come down from the roughly $155 million from 2017 Opening Day.
Now, of the relievers believed to be the Mets’ primary targets, only Addison Reed remains. A source told Newsday the Mets still are pursuing a reunion. The club also has been linked to others such as righthanded sidearmer Steve Cishek. But he’s a tier below where the Mets originally had been aiming earlier in the offseason. The Mets’ bullpen options may be beginning to tighten at a time when they hoped to bolster a unit anchored by AJ Ramos and Jeurys Familia.
The Mets have taken a progressive approach to their pitchers. They have looked at limiting most of their starters’ workload by shielding them from facing a lineup more than twice, a plan that would require a deeper bullpen. Also, Callaway signaled his intent to be open-minded about how he deploys his bullpen, even if that may mean not committing to a set closer.
“We are going to pitch guys when it makes sense,” said Callaway, taking a page from mentor Terry Francona by showing a willingness to eschew rigid bullpen roles.
But it’s a plan that requires depth, and that’s where the Mets hoped Shaw or Hunter might fit in. Now, they must look elsewhere.