After three years of financial austerity under the watch of general manager Sandy Alderson, the Mets moved closer Wednesday to making a major free-agent splash of their own.

Negotiations with outfielder Curtis Granderson have heated up, according to sources, with the Mets expressing some optimism about luring the former Yankees All-Star to Flushing.

Although a move did not appear imminent, the Mets have been engaged in negotiations, progressing past the exploratory phase. Granderson may be in line for a three- or four-year deal, according to multiple reports, but it remains unclear just how much money the Mets might commit.

An industry source estimated that Granderson could fetch upward of $15 million per year on the open market, which theoretically would fall within the Mets' offseason budget. Compared to some of the megadeals that have been handed out this offseason, such a commitment would be considered to be in the mid-range category.

But for the Mets, a multiyear deal would be a clear sign that the club may finally be emerging from the financial constraints that have hampered their efforts to field a competitive team.

"This sort of demarcation is an important one for us," Alderson said shortly after the Mets wrapped up their fifth consecutive losing season.

Since Alderson took over as GM late in 2010, he has not offered a free-agent contract more lucrative than the two-year, $12-million deal given to reliever Frank Francisco. The Mets almost would certainly blow by that benchmark if they landed Granderson, who had a dinner meeting with Alderson on Sunday night in La Jolla, Calif.

The meeting only reinforced the Mets' interest in acquiring him. It's unclear whether any other team has pursued Granderson as aggressively. An MLB.com report last night indicated that neither the Cubs nor the White Sox has shown heavy interest in Granderson, who is from Chicago.

The Yankees made Granderson a $14.1 million qualifying offer that was rebuffed. Their recent seven-year, $153-million agreement with outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury appears to have eliminated any slim chance of a Bronx reunion for Granderson.