Minaya narrows focus to pitching

Minaya narrows focus to pitching

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Mets general manager Omar Minaya set up shop at the Winter Meetings on Monday, putting together what he called a "wish list" of talent and looking to add arms.

Having filled the remaining position-player holes to satisfaction before this week's festivities at Disney's Swan and Dolphin Resort, pitching is the interest most on the Mets' agenda.

"I always believe in pitching," Minaya said. "I always feel with pitching, you never have enough. You never stop exploring."

Minaya said he has no clear preference between adding a starter or a reliever, although he said the Mets are planning to reach out for a meet-and-greet regarding left-hander Barry Zito, setting up a session with agent Scott Boras to discuss one of the top free-agent pitchers on the market.

That meeting would happen this week, Minaya said, although he declined to state when. But having dealt with Boras in the past, Minaya has a pretty good idea of how it might go -- and little concern, he said, regarding the interest in Zito from other clubs, such as the Texas Rangers.

"We'll meet with him, sit down with him, and Scott will tell us how great his player is," Minaya said. "That's his job. I have a lot of respect for Scott. He is good at what he does. He's well prepared and can pull out some stats on you."

Zito has ties to Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson, who worked with the southpaw during his 2002 Cy Young Award campaign with the Oakland Athletics. Minaya said the team would not hesitate to use Peterson's presence as a chip in the meetings to further their interest.

"We will utilize anybody, if we want a player, who can help us in acquiring that player," Minaya said.

Minaya said the city, and the Mets' recent success, could also help in their pursuit of Zito and other free agents. Gone are the days when Shea Stadium was an unpopular place to play; Minaya pointed to outfielder Moises Alou's eagerness as an indication of that fact.

"We've seen it already with Moises," Minaya said. "Two years ago at this time, we couldn't get utility infielders to come to New York. Moises showed a great example of guys who are choosing us. I checked with [other] clubs and Moises had [offers] well over two years, easy, and he chose to play with us. Guys are willing to come to New York."

The Mets have also been pondering acquiring pitching via trade, though Minaya said transactions could be held up until more premier free agents are settled in new locales.

"Certain teams are waiting to see what happens in the market," Minaya said. "Once those teams are out of the market, I think they feel they can extract more. That could be a strategy."

Minaya said that there weren't a lot of starting pitchers currently available, though the Chicago White Sox have been repeatedly whispered as a potential trade partner.

Minaya is friendly with Chicago general manager Ken Williams; the executive passed by during Minaya's session with reporters on Monday, shouting, "Omar Minaya press conference! I'm going to go listen in over there. Big things."

In any potential deal for pitching, one of the Mets' main trade pieces would likely be Lastings Milledge, who batted .241 in 56 games as a 21-year-old rookie in 2006. The young outfielder has remained a coveted item in discussions, but he could be available with all three outfield positions appearing filled and both Endy Chavez and Ben Johnson -- acquired from the San Diego Padres in November -- in reserve.

The Washington Nationals are among the teams that have asked about Milledge, according to a source, but the Mets turned down an offer involving left-hander Michael Hinckley.

Minaya said that in the event he was to deal for pitching, he would ideally seek trades for players under contract beyond 2007.

"If I'm going to trade some of my young guys, I need to be able to get guys I'm going to control," Minaya said. "I don't think we're going to be trading our better young players for one year [of a pitcher]."

Before heading back up to the club suite for another round of discussions with executives, Minaya recalled his previous two Winter Meetings at the helm of the Mets.

After a flurry of activity at the 2004 meetings in Anaheim -- including major steps toward wooing Pedro Martinez -- and a relatively quieter session last year in Dallas, Minaya said he couldn't tell if the Mets would be able to pull off a big splash at Disney's massive complex.

"It's too early," Minaya said.

In other news: Minaya noted that the market for free-agent relievers appears "pricy," and that discussions with the representatives for right-hander Guillermo Mota -- who will miss the season's first 50 games because of a suspension -- are ongoing. The Mets also are continuing to move forward on a contract extension for manager Willie Randolph.

Bryan Hoch is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.