CHICAGO - The Mets have so much to do this offseason. They just wish their list of options looked more attractive.

"Some years are better than others," Omar Minaya told reporters yesterday, as the Mets' general manager arrived for the GMs' meetings.

This would be one of the weaker years, but the free-agent market nevertheless features what Minaya considers the team's top need. Outfielders Jason Bay and Matt Holliday are both power-hitting outfielders, and as Minaya said, "I think we have to find a way to slug more."

Surprisingly, some Mets officials think Bay plays a better defensive leftfield than Holliday, the opposite of what most scouts and statistical analysts think. Yet the Mets aren't that concerned about defense when it comes to this spot. Holliday is the superior hitter to Bay, and as Newsday reported last month, Holliday regards the Mets as his second choice, after the Yankees (who don't appear inclined to sign Holliday).

The Mets also have needs at first base, catcher and starting pitching. The markets for first base and catcher are flooded, and Fox Sports reported Monday, on its Web site, that the Mets had held discussions with the Cubs about trading second baseman Luis Castillo for controversial outfielder Milton Bradley, then flipping Bradley to Toronto for first baseman Lyle Overbay. The Mets could then sign free agent Orlando Hudson to play second base.


Among the top available catchers on the market will be Toronto's Rod Barajas, San Francisco's Bengie Molina and Colorado's Yorvit Torrealba.

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The Angels' John Lackey tops the list of free-agent starting pitchers, which also features the Dodgers' Randy Wolf and Colorado's Jason Marquis.

"I think you always have to explore - and in the past, I've always explored, at least - the availability of the better players," Minaya said. "I think me going forward, if those guys are healthy, I still think we owe it to at least find out, if the better players are there, what is the possibility of acquiring these players?"

Notes & quotes: The meetings will kick off in earnest Tuesday. Monday featured a GMs' dinner . . . The Red Sox signed Tim Wakefield, 43, to a two-year, $5-million contract through 2011 and they exercised their $7.7-million team option on Victor Martinez. They turned down their $5-million team option on Jason Varitek, Boston's captain, who can still exercise his $3-million player option.