CLOSE

Now Commenting On:

{"content":["winter_meetings" ] }

Minaya to meet with free-agent closers

Minaya to meet with free-agent closers

LAS VEGAS -- Not long after Mets general manager Omar Minaya touched down in Las Vegas on Sunday, he checked into his hotel suite and set about his winter business. The inactivity of the past two months vexed him, to be certain, but he had reason to believe that conclusions might be near.

"I expect to leave with players," Minaya said. "I think that there's a chance that we can hopefully get something done here."

And so Minaya's work began immediately, highlighted by meetings with agents merely hours after landing in Vegas. And his upcoming work schedule is even more frantic.

Minaya said he expects to meet face-to-face throughout the week with three of the top closers on the free-agent market -- Francisco Rodriguez, Brian Fuentes and Trevor Hoffman. And before baseball's Winter Meetings are through, Minaya said, there is a fair chance that the Mets will have signed one of them.

"In the next four days, we will probably be more aggressive with dialogue with agents," Minaya said. "And at the same time, we have some potential trades that are out there that we might be able to get done."

Heading into this annual meeting of baseball's top executives, agents, and administrators, the Mets have completed just one notable transaction, re-signing outfielder Fernando Tatis. Their roster is markedly similar to the one that came in second place last season, save for the absences of Oliver Perez, Pedro Martinez and Billy Wagner.

Las Vegas is where Minaya can attempt to fill those gaps.

"I know that there's a lot of activity with Omar on the phone with GMs right now, trying to get something done in a trade or maneuvering, so he's ready when we get to the Winter Meetings," Mets COO Jeff Wilpon said recently. "We can go from there."

Baseball's annual Winter Meetings will take place from Dec. 8-11 in Las Vegas, and will boast something of a blue-and-orange flavor. Cooperstown's Veterans Committee will announce its annual election decisions on Monday, determining who will make the Hall of Fame from a group that includes former Met Gil Hodges. And longtime Mets Spanish-language announcer Billy Berroa will learn the following day whether or not he has won baseball's Ford C. Frick Award, a Hall of Fame equivalent for broadcasters.

Wednesday will include an announcement for the 2009 World Baseball Classic, in which Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes, Oliver Perez and Luis Ayala are all likely to play. And the Winter Meetings will conclude on Thursday with the Rule 5 Draft. Last season, the Mets selected reliever Steven Register, before eventually returning him to the Rockies.

Yet the meat of the meetings, and their most unpredictable aspect, is what happens within the Hot Stove. Minaya's main priority lies at the back end of the bullpen, arguably his team's most conspicuous void -- but also one of the easiest to fix.

The free agent and trade markets each contain a glut of established closers, and the Mets are one of the few teams searching for one. It's a rare case of supply and demand gone awry, in an industry that usually has little of the former and plenty of the latter.

Look for the Mets, amidst that loophole in economics, to woo either K-Rod or Fuentes to become their next closer. Rodriguez is the younger, more attractive, but also more expensive option, and the Mets are one of the few teams who can afford to sign him. But Fuentes, who will attend the Winter Meetings in person, has similar upside and lighter contract demands. Either would be a snug fit in the back end of the bullpen, and either is liable to sign in Las Vegas.

Where the Mets might run into greater problems is in the rotation. Without Perez and Martinez, the Mets have only four starters heading into Spring Training -- and one of them, Jonathon Niese, has merely three big league starts to his credit. But unlike the relief market, which includes few suitors, the market for starters is flooded with teams in need. The Yankees have already offered CC Sabathia a record contract that no team is likely to match, and plenty of others are in competition for Perez, Derek Lowe, A.J. Burnett and others.

"I would like to resolve the closer first," Minaya said. "But if we can't come to terms and the starting pitcher is there, then we'll have a good starting pitcher."

The Mets' other needs are not of such high priority, though that doesn't mean the Winter Meetings won't see them make a signing or a deal. And if the Mets can find matches for second baseman Luis Castillo or reliever Aaron Heilman, they could easily spring a different sort of deal.

So when Minaya and his fellow executives return back east at week's end, there's a fair chance they'll do so with some new Mets in tow. Change is bound to come at some point this winter, and Las Vegas will provide a fine venue in which to start.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["winter_meetings" ] }
{"content":["winter_meetings" ] }