Have the dulcet tones of the late Joe Strummer rang out over the Shea Stadium tannoy for the very last time? Is there a better way to address the paucity of quality starting pitching on the free agent market than by dangling the one reliever on the big league who has all but begged to return to starting pitching for the past 3 years? Newsday’s Ken Davidoff explains the Mets’ current line of thinking.

The field of free-agent starting pitchers is mediocre at best, and the available catchers aren’t even that good. The Mets, therefore, are prepared to trade to fill both needs, even if it means draining their core of enticing players.

The most prominent major-leaguer to be traded could be reliever Aaron Heilman (above), who still has value among opposing teams. The Mets have long held Heilman out of trade discussions, but Minaya clearly wants to pull off a big deal.

“They’re going to be active,” one official from an American League club predicted of the Mets. “They’re going to use those guys as trade chips and try to get some pitchers back.”

“Those guys” could include Heilman, pitchers Phil Humber, Kevin Mulvey, Mike Pelfrey and Joe Smith, and outfielders Carlos Gomez, Fernando Martinez and Lastings Milledge. The official called Mulvey, who recorded his first full professional season in 2007, “probably the sexiest guy” among the pitchers.

On the catching front, the Mets would like to trade for either Baltimore’s Ramon Hernandez or Texas’ Gerald Laird. Having negated a three-year, $14.4-million deal with free- agent catcher Yorvit Torrealba, the Mets think their own free-agent catcher, Paul Lo Duca, is asking for too many dollars (a raise from his $6.25-million salary of 2007) and years (three or four). They don’t view free agents Michael Barrett and Jason Kendall as attractive options.

At the moment, the Mets view the asking prices for Hernandez and Laird as too high. One official familiar with the Mets’ thinking predicted that no moves will be made, for either a catcher or a starting pitcher, before the Dec. 3-6 winter meetings in Nashville.

The Mets have some interest in free-agent starting pitchers Livan Hernandez, Kyle Lohse and Carlos Silva but view that trio as innings-eaters more than staff leaders. So they will be in the mix for the likes of Minnesota’s Johan Santana, Baltimore’s Erik Bedard, Oakland’s Joe Blanton and Dan Haren and Milwaukee’s Ben Sheets should those clubs make those pitchers available.

Santana is going to be virtually impossible for the Mets to acquire unless they include Jose Reyes in the trade package. The others could be more attainable if the Mets include enough quality pieces.

Though Sheets would be a huge asset, he’s also likely to end up the DL as many times per year as El Duque. I also have a hard time envisioning the Orioles swapping Bedard for anything less than John Maine and Lastings Milledge, along with an agreement the Mets will take back Anna Benson, Gary Thorne and David Segui.