NEW YORK -- Up in the team's hotel suite at the Winter Meetings in Dallas, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson closed on his three most significant deals of last offseason in the span of roughly two hours.
Making good on his vow to overhaul a 28th-ranked bullpen, Alderson inked Frank Francisco to become the team's closer. He signed Jon Rauch to become its setup man. And he traded for Ramon Ramirez to help bridge the gap between those two and the rotation.
They were the only significant player acquisitions that Alderson made all winter, which made sense: those deals seemed to fortify the club's most pressing need. Without reliable arms at the back end of their bullpen, the Mets blew 24 saves last season, many of them in the second half.
But Alderson's quick strike did not work out as planned. Francisco pitched so poorly that he nearly lost his closer's job in early May, and he has spent the past three weeks on the disabled list with a strained left oblique. Rauch dealt with elbow discomfort and suffered through a miserable stretch in May, after beginning the season as the team's best reliever. And Ramirez has also battled through injury, pitching ineffectively when healthy.
So with the non-waiver Trade Deadline less than three weeks away, the Mets again have relief pitching on their mind. Though Francisco is due back soon and Bobby Parnell and Tim Byrdak have both pitched effectively, the Mets know they need at least one more reliever to take stress off the rest of their bullpen.
"We want to try to field the best team possible, so as we get to the Deadline, we look at where we think we have weaknesses," Alderson said recently. "Our assessment isn't going to be much different than ... the average fan's. But at the same time, we need to be able to find people who improve us."
That strategy is not limited to the bullpen. The Mets have also struggled mightily on offense against left-handed pitchers -- just compare their .415 slugging percentage and .339 on-base mark against right-handers to their .372 and .312 tallies against lefties. Though Jason Bay's impending return from the disabled list should help, the Mets -- especially with regular right fielder Lucas Duda scuffling -- may look to import another right-handed bat for their bench.
The Mets are also scoping out the market for catchers, given the poor offensive production that Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas have provided throughout the first half of the season. Knowing that a veteran, offensive-minded catcher could do wonders to deepen their lineup, the Mets have already begun exploring such possibilities -- they've been linked to Colorado's Ramon Hernandez -- perhaps intersecting that with their need for a bat.
But more than anything, the Mets are looking to improve a bullpen that ranks last in baseball despite -- or more accurately, because of -- the acquisitions of Francisco, Rauch and Ramirez. Don't look for the Mets to trade away any of their top prospects in an effort to improve -- that's not their agenda, with Alderson still building his nucleus for the future. But with the Mets apparently more financially stable than they were six months ago, they could target pricier relievers such as Brett Myers, Francisco Rodriguez or Huston Street in a salary-based deal.
Last year, the Mets dealt Rodriguez to the Brewers in that exact type of maneuver, receiving little back in the way of meaningful prospects. This year, they could easily be on the other end of such a trade.
"I think we're in a good position," Alderson said. "I'm happy with where we are. I think we're positioned well for the second half, but obviously, there's a lot of work to do and we need to be a little better."