NEW YORK -- Sometime this weekend, general manager Sandy Alderson and his team of assistants will shuffle into the Swan and Dolphin Hotel in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., unpack their bags and spend the ensuing few days not doing much of anything.
Set to begin on Monday are the Winter Meetings, a four-day flurry of activity for most teams and so often a time of action for the Mets. But this winter, there simply isn't much to do. The Mets don't have excess dollars to spend on the open market, they don't have many tantalizing players up for trade, and the new front-office regime has yet to perform a thorough audit of its own team.
So although new GM Alderson will do his due diligence in Florida, talking to agents and chatting with teams, he isn't likely to fly north from Florida with any significant new players in tow. What little the Mets can do this offseason, they aren't likely to do at Disney.
"I've tried to be clear from the outset that we are not going to be big players in the free-agent market this year," Alderson said last Tuesday. "Our goal is to be players every year. We have a little less flexibility this time around. The free-agent market is certainly something we're keeping our eye on. The free-agent market extends through January, so we've got a lot of time to go. We'll see where we are at the end of that time frame."
The Winter Meetings, in short, should be more of the same for the Mets. Other than fulfilling a contractual obligation by cutting ties with left-hander Hisanori Takahashi, the Mets haven't made any player-personnel moves this winter. They'll learn the status of another lefty, Pedro Feliciano, by end of day on Tuesday, they may cut ties with pitchers John Maine and Sean Green prior to Thursday's non-tender deadline, and they reportedly are closing in on a deal for right-hander Chris Young. But they're not in the mix for anything major, and the Winter Meetings aren't likely to change that.
That's not to say, however, that the Mets will remain silent all offseason. Alderson has already noted that "it's important for us to begin to spend more and more time on the team, on the players," and the Mets intend to do just that. The problem is, with a finite budget allotting them only scant millions to spend this winter, the Mets may have to wait until the big-ticket free agents are off the board before they can find any bargains at the back end of the market.
And that's just fine, because even now, player acquisitions do not top the agenda. The Mets must fill out their big league staff with a bench coach, hitting coach, first-base coach and bullpen coach; interviews for those positions should begin soon. Lengthy GM and manager searches significantly set back the Mets' offseason calendar, and they are only now beginning to catch up.
"We've been kind of keeping up with events over the last month given everything we had to do," Alderson said, "but next on our agenda is complete the coaching staff, and then [we'll] focus on the players."
When the Mets do begin focusing on players -- something that isn't likely to happen in earnest at the Winter Meetings -- they will look toward pitching. Given the uncertainty surrounding Johan Santana, the Mets need healthy arms simply to round out their rotation. They need quantity perhaps more than they need quality.
The Mets have also lost one bullpen arm in Takahashi, with Feliciano perhaps not far behind. They have little relief depth behind Francisco Rodriguez and Bobby Parnell, each of whom has issues of his own. So pardon Alderson's redundancy when he says "very definitely" that starting pitching and relief help are his top priorities.
Due in large part to their mistakes in offseasons past, the Mets may have as little as $5 million to $10 million to spend on players this winter, which would put their payroll around $135 million -- same as last year. They must allocate that money carefully, as there simply isn't much of it.
So don't expect the Mets to do much in Florida, with the offseason still young and players' price tags still high. Expect them to be prudent -- which was their intent all along.