Zito sits atop Mets' wish list

Zito sits atop Mets' wish list

NEW YORK -- General manager Omar Minaya is keeping his Christmas wish list carefully guarded, but there is one name certainly close to the top -- free-agent left-hander Barry Zito.

While Minaya and the Mets remain in contact with Zito and his agent, Scott Boras, it may be a while until they find out if the class of the free-agent market will be under their tree this offseason.

"We said that we are going to look at free agents to try and improve our pitching," Minaya said at the Mets' holiday party at Shea Stadium on Wednesday. "[Zito] is one of the guys we are still considering. He's a proven winner, he's given innings. But we feel that our pitching staff, the way it is right now, is similar to the second half of last year, and in some way, might be better because [of the development of the younger pitchers]."

If past offseasons are a guide, Minaya will likely make a move around the holidays. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas is when Minaya has brought in such big names as Pedro Martinez, Billy Wagner and Carlos Delgado.

With Zito already talking with the Texas Rangers, Minaya may make his push as early as this weekend now that Boras is done negotiating with the Red Sox on a deal for Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.

After losing Chad Bradford, Roberto Hernandez and Darren Oliver to free agency, the Mets spent the early part of the offseason replenishing their bullpen -- trading for Ambiorix Burgos from the Royals and re-signing Guillermo Mota.

The Mets had also concentrated on re-signing their own free agents, including: Tom Glavine, Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, Jose Valentin, Dave Williams and Mota.

Improving their pitching, particularly the rotation, is the Mets' focus now. Glavine, El Duque and John Maine are expected to make up the front end of the rotation, but there are still spots open. Martinez is not expected to pitch until July, at the earliest, after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery.

That's why the 28-year-old Zito, who went 16-10 with a 3.83 ERA for the A's last season, could be an important addition for the Mets.

"I like what we have, but Barry's one of the best pitchers in the game," manager Willie Randolph said. "And if the organization sees fit that we can fit him into our budget, then we'd love to have him. He's the best pitcher on the market right now, and I think he could help our ballclub. It would be nice to have him under our tree."

Williams is likely to start the season in the rotation, with Oliver Perez and top prospects Mike Pelfrey and Philip Humber expected to compete in Spring Training for the final spot should there be no additions.

"If [signing Zito] doesn't make sense, we're comfortable with our starting pitching and our overall pitching," Minaya said.

Should the Mets make a strong push for Zito, expect third baseman David Wright to be an ambassador.

"If we get that far and Barry decides to come and visit New York, I'd be more than open to showing Barry around and trying to sell him on New York," said Wright, who played Santa Claus at the party and helped hand out presents to more than 100 New York City public school children.

The Mets and Minaya are also working on an extension for Randolph, who is entering the final year of his contract after falling just one game short of taking the Mets to the World Series in just his second season as their manager.

"We are talking to his agent; they have expressed to us that this is going to take some time," Minaya said. "He's still under contract for another year. There is no time frame for doing these things. We would like to be able to get something done."

Randolph said: "I have a contract for next year and that's all I have to think about is to honor that. If the organization [wants me here] for years to come, that's their call."

Minaya added that Mets' trainers would be visiting Martinez in the Dominican Republic next week to track his progress from shoulder surgery.

"All the indications that I'm hearing are very good and very positive," Minaya said, "and Pedro is feeling very good."

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