Hot Stove: Wagner a top priority

Wagner is a top target.

Grinding through the General Managers' meetings in Indian Wells, Calif., the Mets have come up with several clear-cut targets for the next few weeks.

The plans can move into motion Friday, the first day that clubs are allowed to exchange dollar figures with potential free agents. With a closer, catcher first baseman and second baseman among the Mets' needs for the winter, the team figures to splash around in the market considerably.

A rundown of rumors and potential moves the Mets are pursuing:

  • Rafael Furcal, 2B-SS, free agent: As first reported by MLB.com, the Mets have entertained the idea of bringing Furcal to New York as a second baseman, which would mark the third straight year the club has converted a shortstop to the right side of the second base bag.

    And even though it hasn't worked out in the cases of either Jose Reyes or Kaz Matsui, the Mets are still determined to try, try again. The team had contact with Furcal's agent to gauge interest in a position switch, something that appears to be a trend – one newspaper report said the Yankees were pursuing Furcal as a possible centerfielder.

    The switch-hitting Furcal hit .284 with 12 homers and 58 RBI for the Braves in 2005, stealing 46 bases, and would be an upgrade over Matsui, whose time in New York appears to be drawing to a close.

  • Bengie Molina, C, free agent: Molina has emerged as the Mets' top choice to replace Mike Piazza as New York's starting catcher, leading the pack ahead of potential imports Ramon Hernandez and Kenji Jojima.

    Omar Minaya has dispatched deputy Tony Bernazard to meet with the former Angels backstop on Friday, according to newspaper reports. Molina hit .295 with 15 homers and 69 RBI for the Angels in 2005.

  • Kenji Jojima, C, free agent: The Mets seem more interested in the 29-year-old Jojima than in Ramon Hernandez, and could bring him to Shea Stadium for a visit shortly.

    A major stumbling point is Jojima's unfamiliarity with the English language; the Mets want to make sure he can communicate with pitchers before offering a contract. The He averaged .299 with 30 homers and 100 RBI over the last seven years for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks of the Japanese League, but is coming off a season in which he lost time to a broken leg.

  • Manny Ramirez, LF, Boston Red Sox: Despite the claims of Ramirez's agent, who told reporters that the power-hitting outfielder has no desire to play in New York, the Mets are again dabbling in a potential trade for the Washington Heights native.

    It is believed the Red Sox are finally ready to part ways with Ramirez, tired of his mercurial behavior and willing to unload a chunk of the $57 million he is owed through 2008.

    Trading for Ramirez would deplete the Mets' outfield defense and spell the end of Cliff Floyd or Mike Cameron at Shea Stadium, while likely also costing New York a selection from their top of their minor league system.

  • Tampa Bay Devil Rays: The Mets have reportedly been working on a deal for Devil Rays closer Danys Baez, part of a package that could also include first baseman Aubrey Huff and/or infielder Julio Lugo, the latter of whom could slot in as a replacement for Kaz Matsui.

    Such a deal would cost the Mets a selection of their young pitching talent, with likely suspects including Brian Bannister, Aaron Heilman, Yusmeiro Petit or Jae Seo.

    The Mets would like to get a strong veteran bat for first base, a role that the lefty-hitting Huff - who slugged 22 homers and drove in 92 runs last season - fits to a tee. Mike Jacobs' hot major league start was nice, but the club can't be convinced that Jacobs' production would hold up over a 162-game schedule.

    Interestingly, the New York Post reported Friday the Mets have had talks about a potential three-team deal with the Devil Rays and Texas Rangers, in which the Mets would get Adrian Gonzalez and Gerald Laird from Texas and send them to Tampa, though that was characterized as not being imminent.

    Finally, the Mets would likely make a move if the Florida Marlins made Carlos Delgado – New York's original No. 1 pick before trading for Doug Mientkiewicz last year – available, but that's a long-shot. The Palm Beach Post reported Friday that the Mets, Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners have all shown interest.

  • Billy Wagner, LHP, free agent: The Mets have identified Wagner as one of their top targets, and GM Omar Minaya plans on visiting the 34-year-old lefty in Virginia for the second time Friday, Newsday reported - the same aggressive approach the team used in pursuing Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran, among others.

    The Philadelphia Phillies have vowed to be similarly aggressive in efforts to re-sign Wagner, who had a 1.51 ERA last year and would be a huge upgrade over Braden Looper.

    As a fallback, the Mets have also had repeated contact with the agent for 38-year-old Trevor Hoffman, who saved 43 games last season but is having trouble reaching agreement on a new contract with the San Diego Padres.

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