NEW YORK -- The Winter Meetings are typically a time for teams to begin seriously looking outside the walls of their own organizations for help. So the Mets plan to do precisely that beginning Monday in Nashville, Tenn., as they look to shore up key areas on their roster.
But until resolutions are reached with third baseman David Wright and right-hander R.A. Dickey, who are both negotiating contract extensions, the Mets will have one eye turned inward throughout their time in Tennessee.
They would do well to reach conclusions with those two sooner rather than later, because plenty of other work remains on their agenda. Winners of only 74 games last season, the Mets are in dire need of some power hitting to support their strong rotation, and they could use upgrades in the bullpen as well. They have some chips to trade, but are wary of dealing too aggressively from their biggest strength, starting pitching. So outside of new deals for Wright and Dickey, this could turn into another relatively quiet offseason for the Mets.
Whatever they do settle on will begin to take shape next week at the Winter Meetings, where general manager Sandy Alderson struck quickly last season in acquiring three bullpen arms and an outfielder. Alderson has been clear that he may not move quite as fast this winter, and the Wright and Dickey situations may prevent him from moving at all in Nashville.
But whether there is a flurry of action or a complete lack of it, the Winter Meetings should go a long way toward unveiling New York's offseason plans.
Outfield: When Alderson was asked about his outfield at the General Managers Meetings earlier this month, his response was, "What outfield?" The quip hit home. As currently constituted, the Mets do not have a single player they can call a bona fide starting outfielder, with Lucas Duda perhaps best-suited to a platoon role in left. Mike Baxter projects more as a pinch-hitting wizard, and Kirk Nieuwenhuis may become the starting center fielder by default. In other words, the Mets desperately need help.
Catcher: Though Josh Thole should still receive at least a split of the starting-catcher's duties, the Mets would ideally like to pair him with a right-handed platoon mate. Unlikely to start often against left-handed pitchers, Thole must improve his performance against righties to stick around long term.
Bullpen: Last year's overhaul did not work, with Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch and Ramon Ramirez all struggling to varying degrees. Only Francisco will return from that group, leaving the Mets to patch together a new bullpen through a mix of prospects, incumbents and free-agent signings.
Who they can or need to trade
Dickey: Currently negotiating a contract extension with the Mets, Dickey will remain a trade candidate until he signs on the dotted line. The Mets understand how valuable Dickey is to the team, but they also know they could potentially receive a small fortune in a deal for him. It's a route they have to consider.
LHP Jon Niese: Niese is just one of several other starting pitchers the Mets could look to trade in the right sort of deal. Young, talented and under team control through 2018, he is exactly the type of player who would fetch a sizable return. But the Mets will also be careful about dipping too heavily into their rotation, their greatest strength. However tempting, a deal still seems unlikely.
Wright: This is an extreme long shot, but if talks between Wright and the Mets somehow crumble, the team could look to trade its franchise third baseman rather than let him walk to free agency next winter. In theory, it could help the team long term, even if it would be a painful divorce in the present.
Right-hander Zack Wheeler remains the crown jewel of the system, and he should reach the Majors by September at the latest. The Mets still have high hopes for fellow right-handers Jenrry Mejia and Jeurys Familia as well, with the former more likely to end up in the rotation and the latter potentially ticketed for the bullpen.
Beyond that top tier of pitchers, however, the system thins considerably. The organization has high hopes for recent first-round Draft picks Brandon Nimmo and Gavin Cecchini, but both are still years away from the Majors. Though intriguing names abound at the lower levels, this system remains a work in progress.
Rule 5 Draft
The Mets did not make a selection in last year's Rule 5 Draft, but they have been active in the proceedings in the past and figure to snap up anyone who might be a fit. Probably the highest-profile player they left exposed to this year's Draft is third baseman Aderlin Rodriguez, who hit 24 homers in the Minors last season.
Big contracts they might unload
Wright and Dickey are the big ones, though both are entering the final seasons of their deals and Dickey's salary ($5 million) is relatively small. The Mets already cut outfielder Jason Bay, though they are still on the hook for his salary. They would love to find a taker for Johan Santana's remaining $31 million, but that remains a pipe dream.
Excluding non-tenders, the Mets will negotiate new deals with first baseman Ike Davis ($506,690 in 2011), second baseman Daniel Murphy ($512,198), Thole ($498,920) and right-hander Bobby Parnell ($504,000).
Alderson said he expects the Mets to add a touch of payroll to the roughly $100 million they spent last season. But with new contracts for Wright and Dickey looming, and four key players headed to arbitration, that leeway could be gone before the Mets even have a chance to look outside the organization for help.