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11/29/11 12:01 AM EST

Mets look to lay groundwork at Meetings

GM Alderson's agenda includes Reyes, bullpen, rotation

NEW YORK -- Since the regular season ended more than two months ago, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson has deferred to Major League Baseball's lengthy offseason schedule whenever he is quizzed about his plans. The winter is long, Alderson has said on more than one occasion. Let the markets unfold as they will.

To date, that strategy has been popular with most general managers (a few notable exceptions notwithstanding). But each December, once the Winter Meetings ring in the unofficial start of splurging season, teams begin opening their wallets in search of missing roster pieces.

So it went last year for the Mets, who emerged from a quiet autumn to land two players at the Meetings and lay the groundwork for further acquisitions. And so they hope it will go next week in Dallas, with this year's Meetings scheduled for Dec. 5-8 at the Hilton Anatole.

Oh, and Jose Reyes is still at large. In case anyone forgot.

"I don't want to give you the false impression that we or they are anywhere along a road," Alderson said earlier this month of the free-agent shortstop. "I still think it's early."

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Early, perhaps, but growing later by the day. Recent history has shown that many premier free agents tend to sign right around the time of the Winter Meetings -- from Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford and Cliff Lee last offseason, to John Lackey the year before, to CC Sabathia and Francisco Rodriguez in 2008. Though none of this year's top three free-agent hitters -- Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Reyes -- seem imminently close to signing, the Meetings do have a way of accelerating the pace of negotiations. When 30 general managers and scores of agents all congregating in the same hotel for days on end, things tend to happen.

For their part, the Mets will enter these Meetings believing they at least have the right of last refusal on Reyes, should the Marlins or some other team blow him away with a nine-figure offer. So Alderson will continue to sit back and wait on Reyes, using the Winter Meetings as a springboard for other activities instead.

Most pressing for the Mets will be the acquisition of at least one -- and possibly more than one -- late-inning reliever. Though several former closers have already hooked on with new teams, the market is so stocked with relievers that more than a half-dozen potential closers remain at large, including Matt Capps, Brad Lidge, Francisco Cordero and Frank Francisco. Inking one of them in Dallas would help the Mets solve one of their most urgent issues heading into the season, after blowing saves at what Alderson called "a spectacular rate" during the second half of last summer.

"In some respects, we're in a much better situation than we were last year," Alderson said earlier this month of his relief corps, before voicing his overall dissatisfaction with the group. "Not a perfect situation. Not something we're happy with."

The Mets are also unhappy with their rotation depth, once again putting them in the market for a mid-level starting pitcher. Given the unlikelihood that they will pursue incumbent lefty Chris Capuano, who is seeking a multiyear deal, the Mets may chase after Joel Pineiro, Jeff Francis, Jason Marquis or some other similar starter at the Meetings.

And Alderson must still fill out his bench after losing most of it to free agency. Though the Mets inked converted outfielder Adam Loewen to a Minor League deal last week, they need to sign at least one more backup outfielder and perhaps a new catcher. Now is the time to start filling those holes.

All the while, they will silently monitor Reyes. As much as it remains unlikely that the superstar shortstop returns to New York, the Mets know there is still a chance for it to happen. They know that talks are bound to heat up during the Winter Meetings in Dallas. And so they know they must be patient and diligent in pursuing one of the most important free agents in franchise history.

At the very least, next week could go a long way toward answering some of their questions.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.