Feb 02

It’s the not knowing that’s hard

Usually teams have a rough idea heading into spring training of what to expect for the season. Not so for the 2011 edition of the New York Mets. They could move dramatically in either direction.

Sandy Alderson said he’s hoping for a competitive season, which means building up from .500 and laying the groundwork for 2012 and beyond. However, in the back of his mind, he knows it is possible he might have to blow up the team by the All-Star break.

With the Wilpons facing legal problems in the wake of their involvement with Bernie Madoff, we won’t know the full impact of their financial situation until after the lawsuits are settled and that could take a long time. While it seems doubtful they will be forced to sell controlling interest of the Mets, we can’t say that with full certainty.

And, with buying limited interest in the franchise not including a part of Citi Field or SNY, where’s the incentive for attracting new investors? That might be harder to pull off than imagined.

But, if things continue to spiral downward, it’s almost a guarantee Alderson might have to sell off some of the pieces on the field to cut costs to attract a new buyer. Carlos Beltran, gone after this season, would be the first to go. Next, I can see them dealing Jose Reyes for chips rather then spring for a long term deal. If the team tanks in the first half and he’s having a good year, Angel Pagan would draw interest.

They will attempt to trade Francisco Rodriguez, but with that $17.5 million option, that would be tough to do. About as hard as trading Oliver Perez. I’ve been hearing about wanting to get out of Johan Santana’s contract, but with him not available until at least the All-Star break, what team is going to want to take that gamble? Jason Bay’s contract makes him untradeable and David Wright, who might command the most, is the face of the franchise. You have to have some assets.

If everybody remains healthy and have good years, winning 85 to 90 games isn’t completely unrealistic. It is what the team is hoping for. You really can’t say building for because they did little this winter

However, if there’s financial pressure on the Wilpons, there’s no telling what this team could look like come July.

Feb 01

Alderson wants to cut budget in the future

I wrote the other day to not expect the Mets go crazy next winter when the contracts of Carlos Beltran, Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo and possibly Francisco Rodriguez come off the books. Sandy Alderson pretty much confirmed that this week.

“Our payroll going into the season will be somewhere between 140 and 150 million [dollars],’’ Alderson said.

Then he drooped the other shoe.

“I think that’s significantly higher than we’d like it to be on an annual basis.’’

Ouch.

With the Phillies’ spending beginning at over $160 million for this season, can the Mets realistically expect to compete if they want to go “significantly,’’ lower?

With Alderson not defining what a significant reduction will be, it doesn’t take a stretch to reason the Mets don’t figure to spend extravagantly in the market, but will use the farm system to develop their team.

Building from within is the preferable way to go, but requires considerable patience and luck. To make it work, as San Francisco did last year, one must also develop pitching and the Mets don’t have any major league ready arms in the near future.

Building from within also requires the willingness to shop the market to patch the holes and in that regard we don’t know of Alderson’s aggressiveness when it comes to pursuing free agents. Even if the Mets slash their budget next year, he’ll still have greater resources than he did in Oakland and San Diego.

When he was hired, Alderson said he understood New York was a different animal and he had act to keep the fan base interested and excited.

So far, we’ve been told to wait. And, we’re hearing it again.

Jan 31

What will having new investors mean?

What we speculated since the news broke of the Madoff Ponzi scandal has come to fruition; the Wilpons are in financial straits.

To what degree, we don’t know and might not until after commissioner Bud Selig meets with the Wilpons. But, that they are entertaining the idea of bringing in new investors tells us the family has issues. One would think the Wilpon’s close relationship with Selig would preclude a complete sale of the Mets.

According to reports, selling a portion of the Mets is to raise money for Sterling Equities. What we don’t know is how much input any new investor will get for his 20 to 25 percent. And, with limited input, what is the incentive to buy in?

The Wilpons have repeatedly said the Ponzi incident has not, and will not, impact decisions made about the Mets and how they do business.

However, the hiring of Sandy Alderson as general manager at the suggestion of Selig, and how little the Mets spent this winter is indicative in their streamlining approach.

We know the Mets will not give an extension to Carlos Beltran and are hoping he’ll get off to a good start and be easier to trade. We can also bet the Mets will attempt to limit Francisco Rodriguez’s appearances to less than 55 to avoid his option kicking in. He’s also somebody the Mets will attempt to deal in July.

There’s also reasoned speculation the Mets will seriously entertain offers for Jose Reyes, the player that would attract to most in return.

What we’ve been told so far is the blueprint is to evaluate the team this year, build a competitive base and add pieces with money saved when several bulky contracts are off the books.

Alderson said several times having more flexibility next year doesn’t guarantee breaking the bank. Frankly, dealing Reyes, if it comes to that, says the Mets are starting over.

Jan 27

Smooth sailing not guaranteed for 2012

The conventional thinking is this is a throwaway season with the Mets not being able to compete until 2012 after the team clears its books of Oliver Perez, Carlos Beltran, Luis Castillo and possibly Francisco Rodriguez.

However, that’s not a given.

While the Mets should have more financial flexibility next winter, they’ll have a wide range of holes to fill including an outfielder to replace Beltran, at least two starting pitchers and possibly a closer if they don’t bring back Rodriguez.

There’s also the possibility of needing a second baseman and maybe a catcher if Josh Thole doesn’t pan out.

Take away those four contracts and the Mets will have $54 million to play with, but that’s only for one year. That’s probably enough to fill four spots, but will the Mets make four long-term signings?

That doesn’t appear to be Sandy Alderson’s way of doing things.

Another potential hole could be shortstop if Jose Reyes walks after the season.

The bottom line is the Mets could still have a lot of work to do after this season, and possibly next year as well.

Jan 26

Santana not throwing

Despite being cleared to begin his post-op throwing program, Johan Santana hasn’t begun, yet. It is premature to say this is a setback.

General manager Sandy Alderson said last month he expects Santana to be throwing before the start of spring training, but wouldn’t specify a date. He did say Opening Day was out and the expectation was for the second half.

When we see Santana could very well depend on how well the Mets are playing by the All-Star break. If the team is playing poorly and opts to rebuild by dealing Carlos Beltran, then there’s no sense in rushing Santana.

If the Mets are competing and have realistic wild-card aspirations, then it isn’t hard to envision there might be some pressure – probably self-imposed by Santana – to come back.

Either way, the clock on Santana’s return won’t start until he starts throwing and he hasn’t yet started long-tossing.