NEW YORK -- The Mets will host their 2014 Anthem Search competition this Thursday at Citi Field, with the winner performing the national anthem on Opening Day.

The first 100 contestants to arrive at Citi Field on Thursday are guaranteed an audition to sing a song of their choice -- excluding the national anthem -- a cappella. SNY anchor Gary Apple and Z100 radio personality Skeery Jones will judge the competition, selecting a group of finalists to sing the Star-Spangled Banner over Citi Field's PA system. Mets staffers will then select one winner to perform the anthem on March 31, before the Mets open their season against the Nationals.

There are no age restrictions for the competition. More information is available at mets.com/anthemsearch.

Sandy expects Mets' payroll to increase in '14

DiComo on Mets' first base decisions, Harvey's health

NEW YORK -- The Mets may not be counting stacks of money "as high as some people expect," in general manager Sandy Alderson's words, but they do expect to increase their payroll heading into 2014.

Alderson said Tuesday that he expects the payroll to be higher than the $87 million that he calculated for last year's budget, though the GM stopped short of guessing how much higher.

"I don't think our payroll will be below what we saw last year," Alderson said. "As far as where it will finally land, let's defer that question until all precincts have reported."

The Mets currently have $25 million in guaranteed payments budgeted for two players: David Wright and Jon Niese. Tack on expected arbitration raises for several key players and regular salaries for a host of younger ones, and that still leaves the Mets with tens of millions of dollars to spend this winter.

The key will be allocating those funds toward a long list of needs. The Mets continue to search for at least one starting corner outfielder, at least one starting pitcher, a new starting shortstop and a few bullpen arms.

The first of those vacancies could fill quickly. Though Alderson indicated that he has not reestablished contact with free-agent shortstop Jhonny Peralta, whom he met during last week's General Managers Meetings in Orlando, Fla., the GM expects to be more aggressive earlier in the winter than he has in years past.

"We have to be realistic about the market and not sort of deny the inevitable," Alderson said. "If the market is as robust as it seems to be, I think we have to acknowledge that. And consistent with that acknowledgement, if we're going to participate, we have to recognize that. It may not manifest yet to the average fan, the average person, but I think we are more active than we were last year."

Mets unwilling to match Rockies' offer to Hawkins

MIA@NYM: Hawkins saves Dice-K's first win of 2013

NEW YORK -- The Mets unearthed the right stone last winter when they signed 40-year-old LaTroy Hawkins to a Minor League deal, watching the 19-year big league veteran add another solid season to his resume.

Their skepticism of a repeat performance at age 41 is a significant reason why Hawkins is no longer a Met.

Though the Mets did make Hawkins a formal contract offer, they were unwilling to match the guaranteed $2.5 million the Rockies dangled in front of him this week. They were also unable to give Hawkins the same assurances as Colorado of a chance at becoming the regular closer.

"I hate to keep emphasizing he's 41, but at that age in this game, I think the financial issue becomes -- not paramount in every case, but important," Alderson said of Hawkins, who will turn 41 next month. "Because Colorado saw him in a particular role, they went to that level that they did."

Hawkins finished the 2013 season with a 2.93 ERA over 72 games, his largest workload in nine seasons. Stepping in at closer after Bobby Parnell suffered a season-ending neck injury, Hawkins drew rave reviews for his work with the younger pitchers on the staff -- particularly Vic Black, who could become the closer if Parnell is not healthy by Opening Day.

"We certainly would have liked to have had him in the 'pen," Alderson said. "But going into spring, I think given the vagaries of relief pitching anyway, and his age and what we have coming -- it wasn't clear what his role would be -- I think we made an offer consistent with that."

Duda, Tejada, Flores attending fitness camp

NYM@CIN: Duda hits a no-doubter to even score

NEW YORK -- Lucas Duda and Ruben Tejada are among seven Mets attending a fitness camp this month in Michigan, general manager Sandy Alderson said Tuesday, allowing the organization to monitor their offseason workout regimens.

Duda and Tejada have been working out alongside Wilmer Flores, 2013 first-round Draft pick Dominic Smith and three other Mets farmhands, all under the instruction of strength and conditioning consultant Mike Barwis. The camp, Alderson said, was voluntary, focusing on exercise and nutrition.

"We saw this as a great opportunity to get certain people in a concentrated program, with oversight from somebody who works directly for us," Alderson said. "Each of the players is there for a different reason. There's nothing punitive about it. It's really an opportunity. And we've heard back from a number of them that they're having a terrific time. In fact, [Mets COO] Jeff [Wilpon] was there one weekend and hosted them at a football game. To a man, they're excited about what's going on."

Alderson added that several of the players plan to return to the camp for a follow-up session in January.

Worth noting

• Free agent right-hander Bronson Arroyo said on WFAN that the Mets are not among a sizable group of teams already contacting him to negotiate. It was widely assumed heading into the offseason that the Mets would court Arroyo, who went 14-12 with a 3.79 ERA in 32 starts for the Reds last season, eclipsing 200 innings for the eighth time in nine years.

• Second baseman Daniel Murphy will play Santa at the Mets' annual holiday party on Dec. 17, taking over a role that is purportedly cursed. Over the past decade, R.A. Dickey, David Wright, John Maine, Kris Benson and Mike Cameron were all either traded or seriously injured within months of suiting up as St. Nick.