NEW YORK -- Over the past six weeks, the Mets hired a hitting coach, moved in their fences and extended the contract of general manager Sandy Alderson, checking three boxes off their offseason to-do list.
But the most pressing issues still remain for a Mets club on the precipice of playoff contention. Matt Harvey will return from injury next season, Zack Wheeler and Jacob deGrom will be at full strength, David Wright will be healthy, and so on and so forth. But if the Mets truly want to become competitors, they know they need more. They know they need a bat.
When free agency officially opens next week, the Mets will put the gears of their search process in motion. Their status as 2015 playoff contenders could depend on what they find.
The Mets have just one free agent, right-handed pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, who could return to Japan if no team offers him a big league rotation job. In any case, the Mets have no interest in giving Matsuzaka that opportunity, considering the state of their own bloated pitching staff. He will play elsewhere in 2015.
No need is more pressing than corner outfield, where the Mets must find a legitimate bat to play alongside Curtis Granderson and Juan Lagares. Few answers exist on the open market, but even fewer within the organization.
Outside of that hunt, the Mets figure to remain mostly idle, unless they need to trade from an area of strength to fill their outfield hole. New York's rotation is overloaded, with six big league pitchers for five spots. The Mets' bullpen is chock full of young arms. Shortstop remains a question, but the Mets seem curious enough about Wilmer Flores to default the everyday job to him. That leaves corner outfield as the overwhelming priority.
Already, Michael Cuddyer's name has surfaced frequently in rumors. Fresh off an injury-shortened season at age 35, Wright's buddy would come cheaper than higher-profile free agents Nelson Cruz and Melky Cabrera, making him a classic Alderson target. Of even more intrigue is Cuban defector Yasmany Tomas, a 23-year-old who would force the Mets to drift outside their financial comfort zone. But spending for Tomas could give the Mets the long-term middle-of-the-order bat that they crave.
The problem is with so few impact hitters on the open market, the Mets will have competition for anyone's services -- and if a bidding war unfolds, that's bad news for Alderson. Even if the Mets' payroll increases back above nine figures for the first time in four years, their arbitration-eligible players will eat up much of the difference, leaving a relatively small pile of change for outside expenditures.
Seemingly every winter, Daniel Murphy's name floats about in trade rumors. But the window for trading Murphy may be all but closed, now that he is a year away from free agency and due another healthy arbitration raise. If the Mets do trade their starting second baseman, it would be more as a salary dump.
The Mets have plenty of young pitching assets in Wheeler, deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero, but Alderson has long hesitated to dip into that surplus. More likely, he will trade away Bartolo Colon or Dillon Gee in a smaller deal, keeping New York's rotation core intact.
Don't expect the Mets to do much. But do expect them to acquire a new corner outfielder, thereby filling their greatest area of need.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.