Pursuit of Zobrist to ramp up at Meetings

Versatile veteran's decision will influence Mets' offseason course of action

Pursuit of Zobrist to ramp up at Meetings

NEW YORK -- For the Mets, the first five weeks of this offseason have involved plenty of talk with little to show for it. That's about to change when team executives descend upon Nashville, Tenn., next week for the 2015 Winter Meetings.

MLB.com and MLB Network will provide wall-to-wall coverage of the 2015 Winter Meetings from the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, with the Network launching 35 hours of live Winter Meetings coverage on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET. Fans can also catch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, as well as the announcement of the Hall of Fame Pre-Integration Era Committee inductees on Monday at 11 a.m. ET and the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday at 10 a.m. ET.

So much of what's to come for general manager Sandy Alderson and the Mets depends upon their ability to sign Ben Zobrist. That drama stands a good chance of reaching its conclusion in Nashville, where the versatile second baseman lives during the winter. Yet whether Zobrist leaves town with them or not, the Mets should board their plane back to New York with a far better idea about their offseason's direction.

Hot Stove Tracker

Things are about to start moving fast, in other words. With Zobrist and so much else still up for grabs, here's a look at what the Mets could have in store at the Winter Meetings:

Club needs
Second base: This stands alone atop New York's wish list, but it's not as simple as going out and acquiring, say, free agent Howie Kendrick. The Mets aren't interested in a second baseman without versatility, which is why Zobrist is so appealing to them. He could fill in for David Wright at third base and at both corner outfield positions, making him more valuable to the Mets than their own free agent, Daniel Murphy. Should Zobrist sign elsewhere, they could still pursue Murphy on the open market. More likely, they would turn toward prospect Dilson Herrera and hope he's ready to stick as the starter.

Center field: Specifically, the team craves a lefty-hitting outfielder capable of splitting time with Juan Lagares. Though they have been linked to switch-hitter Dexter Fowler, his cost, Draft-pick compensation and platoon splits all make him less desirable to the Mets. More likely targets include Denard Span, Gerardo Parra and Will Venable, all of whom would come far cheaper than Fowler.

Bullpen: This market may not develop for the Mets until after the holidays, though it seems inevitable that the club will acquire a lefty specialist at some point. That could wind up being Jerry Blevins, who briefly played for New York this season, with Tony Sipp and Antonio Bastardo as strong alternatives. Unlike last offseason, when the Mets never acquired a specialist, the market for lefties is rich this winter.

Improvement on Mets' agenda at Winter Meetings

DiComo looks to Winter Meetings

Who they can trade if necessary
RHP Zack Wheeler: This is a long shot -- repeat: a long shot -- but the Mets very nearly traded Wheeler once, and could look to do so again. They are wary of dealing away a starting pitcher of any caliber, let alone one with Wheeler's upside. But for a significant return, New York could consider it.

RHP Matt Harvey: The same applies here: while the Mets would entertain trading Harvey in the right deal, particularly after all this summer's will-he-or-won't-he-pitch drama, they would need an offer -- Xander Bogaerts, anyone? -- to blow them away. Realistically, don't expect any of the club's top starting pitchers to leave town this winter.

OF Lagares: Trading Lagares would free the Mets up to be more aggressive in their pursuit of a center fielder, though it would be a tough sell considering his down year both offensively and defensively. To deal Lagares or left-hander Jon Niese, both of whom signed ostensibly team-friendly contracts earlier in their careers, the Mets would likely need to eat a fair bit of money.

Top prospects
Per MLB.com, the Mets' Top 10 prospects are starting pitcher Steven Matz, outfielder Brandon Nimmo, shortstops Amed Rosario and Gavin Cecchini, first baseman Dominic Smith, pitcher Marcos Molina, shortstop Matt Reynolds, pitcher Gabriel Ynoa, shortstop Milton Ramos and outfielder Desmond Lindsay.

Mets Top 30 Prospects

Matz is a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate next summer after debuting in 2015. Of the rest, Reynolds, Nimmo and Cecchini are closest to the big leagues, with Reynolds in the mix for an Opening Day job.

Rule 5 Draft
The Mets picked up a valuable piece last year when they selected left-hander Sean Gilmartin in the Rule 5 Draft, converted him to a reliever, then watched him post a 2.67 ERA and stick in their bullpen all summer. This year, they may be more interested to see if some of their own unprotected players, including No. 12 prospect Wuilmer Becerra, get snapped up.

Big contracts they might unload
Lagares' $23 million deal and Niese's remaining $10 million guaranteed stand out as paperwork the Mets would be happy to unload. But New York would need to sell low on both, limiting its willingness to pursue anything in this area.

Payroll summary
Expected arbitration raises for Harvey, Lucas Duda, Jeurys Familia and others will push the Mets' payroll around $93 million before they add a single player. Alderson has said he expects a modest increase from the roughly $103 million the team spent last year, though most if not all of that could be used up on one player if the Mets sign Zobrist. How high their payroll goes will be a storyline to watch throughout this winter.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.