ORLANDO, Fla. — General manager Sandy Alderson on Monday laid out a rough plan to return the Mets to contention despite a payroll that is expected to fall from $155 million.
“As usual, we’ll try to be creative,” Alderson said on the first day of the general managers’ meetings. “At the same time, we definitely want to be competitive and feel like we can be competitive.”
Pitching remains the key to a turnaround after a 70-92 season. The plan includes significantly beefing up the bullpen, shortening outings for most of their starters and revamping the way the pitching staff is prepared from the winter all the way into the regular season.
It entails hiring a new head trainer, adding two staffers to the training staff and bringing in a specialist in charge of using technology to monitor workloads with the use of biometrics.
“If the pitching doesn’t come around, it doesn’t come around,” Alderson said. “The strategy to compete is really predicated on the pitching. That’s the strength of our team. If we end up with the same problems with the pitching this year that we had last year, it ain’t going to happen. We’re not going to be competitive.”
The Mets also have holes to address in the field.
Alderson said he will be in the hunt for a middle-of-the-order hitter capable of playing rightfield and first base. Versatility is key because Michael Conforto might not be healed from shoulder surgery by Opening Day. Prospect Dominic Smith is not guaranteed a spot at first base because of his September struggles and his ongoing battle to control his weight.
“Dominic’s going to have to be careful about his conditioning, certainly in the next few years, if not throughout his career,” Alderson said.
An upgrade at second base also ranks among Alderson’s priorities, with sources indicating that the Mets will scour the trade market. Options such as the Reds’ Scooter Gennett appear to make the most sense; higher-profile choices such as the Marlins’ Dee Gordon might prove too expensive.
The focus, however, clearly is on pitching. Though the Mets likely will not target a veteran starter, Alderson indicated that he will pursue bullpen help.
While the Mets won’t pursue top-of-the-market players such as Wade Davis, a source said arms in the tier below likely will be in play. That group includes Brandon Morrow, Mike Minor and Bryan Shaw.
All three would require the type of multiyear deals that Alderson typically has avoided with relievers, but it’s among some of the shifts that he seems more open to making. That includes potentially playing Juan Lagares in centerfield full-time, even though almost all of his value will come from defense.
Bolstering the bullpen takes on added importance with the Mets gearing up to shield most of their starters from facing a lineup more than twice in a game, as first reported by Newsday.
“The teams that have the discipline to do that are getting better results out of those starting pitchers,” Alderson said. “They have the discipline to do it and they have the bullpen capacity.”
Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler were expected to give the Mets a star-studded rotation last season, but only deGrom avoided injury.
The Mets must rebound from a season in which they finished with a 5.01 ERA, the second worst in the National League.
“That’s something we have to focus on, and it’s not a matter of crossing your fingers,” Alderson said. “It’s ‘OK, what can we do in the offseason, early in spring training, early in the season? What can we do to give ourselves the best possible shot at quality pitching through the entire season?’ ”
Notes & quotes: Tom Slater has been hired as assistant hitting coach . . . Frank Viola and Glenn Abbott will be switching roles within the organization, with Viola slated to be pitching coach at Double-A Binghamton and Abbott headed to the same role with Triple-A Las Vegas.