Minaya ready for moves

One interesting side note of the Willie Randolph coronation Thursday was a brief commentary by general manager Omar Minaya, in which he detailed some of the Mets' winter plans. <P> While it's still too early in the process to identify any players upon whom the Mets have concrete interest, it's notable that the team has already identified major trouble spots which they intend to fill before spring training.

Those red flags include shoring up the defense, finding a first baseman and plugging holes in a leaky bullpen.

Minaya said that while he has already discussed trades with some teams – Sammy Sosa, anyone? – he expects to fill at least one of those holes via the free agent market. Baseball's GM meetings will be held next week, and both Minaya and Randolph will be present to serve as meeters and greeters.

"I'm going in with an open mind," Minaya said. "I don't plan on saying no to nobody. I plan on contacting all free agents."

That could conceivably include Carlos Beltran, although probably not since agent Scott Boras now says the centerfielder is in the market for a 10-year deal. But there are a number of other stars available on the open market that the Mets could make a play for, beginning with a free agent pool of first basemen that includes Carlos Delgado, Richie Sexson and former Met John Olerud.

Available relief pitchers who have been mentioned in the media include Eddie Guardado and Billy Koch, the latter of whom had his best season in 2002 under Rick Peterson's watch in Oakland. Ricky Bottalico and Mike DeJean, who did decent jobs for the Mets in 2004 and were good clubhouse presences, are also without a team.

Minaya has also been reported to have interest in infielder Orlando Cabrera, a favorite of the GM's from his Montreal Expos service, but it's unclear how Cabrera would fit into the Mets' plans with Jose Reyes and Kaz Matsui already set in place. Cabrera is thought to be pining for a Red Sox return anyway.

Tacking on: By signing Randolph to a three-year contract worth somewhere in the ballpark of $600,000 per season, the Mets now find themselves on the hook to pay their managers a total of about $6.7 million through the 2007 season.

That's because fired manager Art Howe was already collecting $4.7 million not to manage the team through 2006. Some have criticized the organization for not offering more money to Randolph, but his lack of managerial experience at any level and the Mets' outstanding commitment to Howe appears to have precluded a large payday for Randolph.

Leiter heads toward free agency: The Mets will decline Al Leiter's $10 million club option for the 2005 season today, making him a free agent, the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger reported.

Leiter has been working on a new contract with the Mets, but the newspaper reports that the two sides are not particularly close. If Leiter opts to go elsewhere, the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies are all said to be interested.

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