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Next on Mets' shopping list: starting pitching

Mets' Endy Chavez racing to first base but

Mets' Endy Chavez racing to first base but was thrown out by the Cardinals' pitcher Joel Pineiro in the bottom of the third inning. (July 26, 2008) Credit: J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Having addressed their biggest offensive need by coming to an agreement with Jason Bay, next up for the Mets this offseason is the hole in their rotation.

Filling it may not be as easy.

After Johan Santana the rotation is rife with uncertainty as another quality starter is needed for the Mets to be contenders come September.

The problem: The cream of a thin free-agent pitching crop, John Lackey, signed with the Red Sox, and two of the next-level free agents, Randy Wolf (Brewers) and Rich Harden (Rangers), are off the board.

The best unsigned free-agent starter is Joel Piñeiro, whom the Mets like very much but not at the four-year, $40-million contract he desires. Jon Garland and Doug Davis are possibilities, though the Mets are likely to wait a bit to see how the prices develop for them.

Ben Sheets could draw some interest but his health is a concern - he missed all of 2009 after flexor tendon surgery - as is his reported asking price of about $12 million a season. The Yankees briefly looked at Sheets, who reportedly will start throwing for teams in the coming weeks, but were turned off by the cost and, more significant, weren't convinced of his health. The Yankees, of course, filled their rotation hole by trading for Javier Vazquez.

The Mets could explore the trade route for someone such as the Reds' Bronson Arroyo or the Cubs' Carlos Zambrano, though there are conflicting reports on whether Zambrano would waive his no-trade clause.

The Mets, in coming to terms with Bay, placated their fans who were desperate for a big offseason move, but the work is far from over.

Matsui wants to play field. Hideki Matsui, who signed a one-year, $6-million contract with the Angels on Dec. 16, said during a news conference Wednesday in Japan that one of his spring training goals was to show Angels manager Mike Scioscia he can play in the outfield. "I'd like to prove I can play defense at spring training," said the 35-year-old Matsui, whose bad knees kept him from playing the field last season with the Yankees. "It will be difficult to play defense every day like in the past, but I'd like to reach the point where I'm able to play defense once every few games."

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