Chien-Ming Wang being non-tendered by the Yankees has me salivating in spite of his recent injury history. John Lackey's contract demands will likely surpass his skill level. Keeping in mind salary demands and budget restraints, what free-agent pitcher do you feel will give the Mets the best bang for their buck?
-- Neil M., Flushing, N.Y.

Two weeks ago -- and last December when the Mets were pursuing Ollie Perez -- I said Randy Wolf is the pitcher they ought to sign. But the contract he signed with the Brewers stunned me and, no doubt, a number of general managers as well. Now, I can't identify one pitcher they should pursue, though I know they need at least one.

I do see a degree of logic in the Mets' thinking; that is if Wolf, Joel Pineiro or Jason Marquis is going to cost X dollars, it might be wise to spend 1 1/2 X for Lackey, who has a greater upside than the others. If Lackey's price tag is 2X, then the club has to determine how great a need exists. The need is quite real.

All that said, I like Pineiro. And it can't be that he can command as much as Lackey. Can it? My only reservation about Pineiro is that I have seen him against the Mets mostly, and he has handled them particularly well. But the Mets have scouts who have seen him against other opponents.

Wang would be a bit of a gamble, given his poor performance last season, but he appears to be the kind of pitcher -- relatively young, 29, and with a history of success -- who would be worth a look now, perhaps a December audition and possibly a contract for a low salary and incentives to protect him. His winning percentage in four seasons (95 starts) before 2009 was .730.

I have a simple question: Why in the world haven't the Mets signed Jason Marquis? He is a durable pitcher and a very solid No. 3 starter. And the fact that he has come out and said he wants to pitch for them just makes this that much more confusing. Why isn't he a Met?
-- Dave A., Lakewood, N.J.

One reason is that there is no deadline for signing him, and Spring Training is weeks away. The union doesn't pay bonuses to clubs that sign free agents before the holidays. Another factor is that, as a large market club, the Mets can tell agents, "Come back to us before you decide anything" and be believed. In that way, the Mets need not negotiate blindly. But, of course, they could be less than interested in Marquis. They haven't indicated any strong feelings about him.

Now that some players have been non-tendered, do you think Mike MacDougal or Matt Capps might accept setup roles with the Mets? If the Mets are intent on having Daniel Murphy play first base, why not sign a first baseman like a Hank Blalock, Xavier Nady or Chad Tracy? Maybe convert a Garrett Atkins to first, as the Mets did with Todd Zeile. Lastly, what about a player like Alfredo Amezaga as a guy who can play anywhere and has a little fire?
-- Thomas J., East Farmingdale, N.Y.

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MacDougal and Capps are pitchers with late-inning experience who, I would think, the Mets would have to consider, given how thin their bullpen is. Each has closed, but I never put too much weight in saves (a flawed statistic) accumulated while pitching for a poor team. Just the same, they would have to be considered.

I'm confused by your comment about Murphy. If the Mets weren't intent on using Murphy at first base, then I would think they would look at the some of the players you mentioned, unless you were thinking of a right-handed hitter who could play left field and spell Murphy at first base.

That scenario would exclude Blalock and Tracy, who bat left-handed. Nady and Atkins might fit well. Both bat right-handed and could spell Murphy at first; each has some experience in the right side of the infield. Nady had performed well for the Mets in 2006. But Atkins' production has fallen off, as has his playing time. And who can tell about players whose resumes were built in Denver?

Why don't the Mets sign Nady? He can play first base or left field. Then if they add a left fielder like Jason Bay, they could move Nady to first base and put Murphy where he belongs, on the bench as a bat or in the Minors learning to play some defense somewhere. If they don't sign Bay, and they re-sign Carlos Delgado, then Nady goes to left field. If they sign Bay and Delgado, Nady could sub in the outfield and at first while the club waits for the inevitable injury. The Mets should try to sign Wang, too. He has a much better shot at returning to form than does Perez, and he would be much, much cheaper. They should sign him and see what happens.
-- Dan K., St. Louis

I like some of what you say. Nady would fit nicely in several ways. And, well, I don't think much of Perez's chances of being a successful pitcher.

I have been enjoying your best-of lists, and I wanted your opinions on the best managers the Mets have had. Obviously, Davey Johnson and Gil Hodges are at the top, but who follows?
-- Mike C., Erie, Pa.

That is a difficult one. I didn't cover Hodges even close to regularly. And, from what I learned once I began regular coverage, his best work was in 1968 and '69. In that regard, his time with the Mets was similar to Johnson's in 1984 and '85. Establishing young talent and changing the culture of the clubhouse, as Hodges and Johnson did, is critical to long-term success. Hodges' time was cut short, and the team didn't come close to duplicating its 1969 success in the two subsequent seasons that preceded his death.

Johnson's teams had more position-player talent than Hodges', which is not to diminish the manager's impact. It's not easy to win when winning is expected. And Johnson's Mets teams averaged 96 victories per season for six years, quite an accomplishment no matter the talent or expectations.

I put Johnson on top, followed by Hodges. Then, it becomes more difficult. Bobby Valentine was seldom outmanaged, and he was a wonderful teacher. But his welcome was worn out rather quickly, and opponents took great delight in beating his teams, often going out of their way to do so. That's a significant drawback. Willie Randolph seemed to withdraw from things after his successful 2006 season. Some players became selfish, and I believe Randolph was undermined by Tony Bernazard serving as a sounding board for unhappy players.

Dallas Green's John Wayne, tough-love manner worked when players responded, but not too many players liked it. The staggering lack of talent undermined Joe Torre's managing at every turn. And though I wasn't there, it had to be the same for Casey Stengel and Wes Westrum. (An aside: I would have paid to cover Stengel's first Mets teams.)

Jerry Manuel plays favorites, but all managers do to some degree. The bullpen has been a problem for him since he replaced Randolph. But his constant pitching changes are a problem for the bullpen.

Buddy Harrelson tried to present a tough-guy image, and it didn't work. It still saddens me that he was booed by Shea Stadium. That never should have happened. Jeff Torborg was given a roster of players who had no sense of team -- Vince Coleman, Bret Saberhagen, Bobby Bonilla. Most of them were obsessed with their own welfare. He never had a chance, and when he lost Bonilla and Howard Johnson to injury in early August 1992, bad changed to worst in a New York minute and lasted through the dreadful '93 season.

Joe Frazier was a nice enough guy who might have done a good job if he hadn't been such a misfit. The Tom Seaver-Donald Grant mess was brewing while he managed in 1976-77. Art Howe never was the devil, as he was characterized in the media. He was a good man, and who could tell if he was a good manager with problems he had with Kaz Matsui, Robbie Alomar and the early injuries to Jose Reyes?

It's difficult for me to cite George Bamberger or Frank Howard for wrongdoing during the 1982-83 seasons when they managed sour-puss teams with players of questionable motivation. Bambi was a pitching coach asked to do more than he should. And Howard, whatever faults he had as a strategist, pushed his players and initiated the reversal that showed itself in Johnson's first year. Under Hondo, the Mets still lost, but they played better.

Does that answer your question? There's a lot of gray there, but I've grouped the managers to give you a sense of what I think.