NEW YORK -- The busiest half of baseball's Hot Stove season is over, with fruitful free agent and trade markets defining November and December. The Mets took part in the action to an extent, making significant splashes when they signed David Wright to a $138 million contract extension and when they traded R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays.
But they are also the only team in baseball yet to sign a Major League free agent, and their roster, without Dickey, is unquestionably weaker than it was at season's end. Outside of signing Wright, who was already under team control, and dealing away Dickey, the Mets have busied themselves by making two small trades and inking an army of players to Minor League contracts.
They know there is much more work to be done -- general manager Sandy Alderson acknowledged that himself following the Dickey trade, pointing to the team's starting staff, bullpen and outfield as areas in need of improvement.
"There's a long time between now and the beginning of February," Alderson said. "There's still some good players on the board."
And so the search continues. With Dickey gone, one of the Mets' top priorities is starting pitching. Though Alderson admitted that "we're not going to replace [Dickey] with a No. 1 starter," he did vow to import a proven Major League starter to round out the rotation.
"I would expect that we will acquire someone who is not necessarily a swingman, but somebody to whom we're going to have to commit a starting role," the GM said. "We're probably going to have to commit. And actually that's one of our attractions. We have now a starting pitching opening, and we can attract the type of pitcher that we hope can get us 10 or 12 wins."
So rather than rely on Jenrry Mejia, Collin McHugh or some other mostly unproven in-house candidate, the Mets will look to find a pitcher outside the organization.
The only issue is that the stock of available starters is dwindling. Chris Young, who has a close relationship with Alderson and who enjoyed a strong bounce-back season in 2012, is an option. So are Shaun Marcum and Joe Saunders. But from any perspective, the candidate pool is small.
"We don't of course expect to go out and duplicate R.A. Dickey -- that's not going to happen," Alderson said. "But at the same time, we'll be looking for somebody who probably is looking for a good opportunity, somebody with some upside."
More options exist in the bullpen, where the Mets lack much substance beyond injured closer Frank Francisco and Bobby Parnell. Though the club will fill most of those holes internally, likely with young players such as Josh Edgin, Robert Carson, Jeurys Familia and McHugh, Alderson has acknowledged the need for veteran depth.
But quantity does not necessarily equal quality. Of the nearly three-dozen Major League relievers still available on the open market, more than half are well into their 30s or coming off serious arm trouble. Tweaking the bullpen is a more reasonable goal than overhauling it.
Aside from that, Alderson said the Mets will poke around the catching market, even if the additions of John Buck and Travis d'Arnaud in the Dickey trade reduce that priority. The Mets could still use a left-handed-hitting catcher for Triple-A depth, if nothing else.
And they will look to the outfield, which has seen multiple subtractions since September but few notable additions. Though the Mets traded for Collin Cowgill and signed Andrew Brown to a Minor League contract, neither of those players projects as a surefire regular. Nor do any of the club's incumbents, barring improvement, creating plenty of opportunity for interested free agents.
Scott Hairston tops the list, though he has also drawn interest from various contenders. Should the Mets whiff on Hairston, Austin Kearns or Jeff Baker could come into the picture.
With January just beginning, it's all still quite unclear for the Mets. But as Alderson mentioned, there is a long time between now and the beginning of February.
How the Mets use that time will go a long way toward determining the quality of their roster in 2013.