Feb 17

Fred declares innocence; K-Rod wants fresh start.

Yesterday it was Jeff Wilpon’s spin on the Mets’ legal issues. Today it was father Fred Wilpon.

WILPONS: Telling their side.

The message was basically the same:  They were duped, insists Fred Wilpon. The father said he invested millions with Bernie Madoff shortly before the Ponzi scheme unraveled. His argument does make sense: Why would he throw good money after bad if he knew Madoff was scamming him?

It’s a reasonable defense, but only the legal process will decide if it holds water. Both Wilpons said the payroll will be around $140 million, which is what it was last season. They also stressed GM Sandy Alderson wants more payroll flexibility, which is to say there will be no big signings or trades at the All-Star break. Contracts might go, but they won’t come.

With all that’s swirling around the Mets these days, it was good to see the Wilpons show up and not go into hiding. There’s nothing that screams guilt like hiding.

As for Francisco Rodriguez. He said all the right things about anger management, wanting to apologize to his teammates, and needing to turn his life and career around. For his part, manager Terry Collins said Rodriguez’s appearances to finish 55 games aren’t an issue and haven’t been discussed.

I know Rodriguez has to say those things, but who really knows what’s in his heart? Ditto for Collins.

The Mets can’t come out and say they will limit Rodriguez’s contract as it would raise ire with the Players Association and send a clear signal to the fans the team doesn’t want to compete.

It will be interesting to see what will happen if the Mets amazingly are competitive this season and are in the race deep into September. If there is a slight chance of making the playoffs, how can they limit Rodriguez.

Even so, smart money says the Mets will closely monitor Rodriguez to close save siutations. There will hold him back whenever they can to avoid the $17.5 million option from kicking in. This option is in his contract and makes him nearly impossible to trade, so don’t expect him leaving in July.

I know Carlos Beltran is going and the team doesn’t want to bring back Rodriguez. The Mets will do everything they can to unload Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo. None of that is surprising and shows their financial concerns.

To me, the one issue that dictates financial fear is Jose Reyes. If Reyes has a good year and they don’t bring him back it will raise the red flag. However, if Reyes has a poor season, it would be his third straight down year and they can’t be faulted for being conservative.

Feb 15

Top Ten Mets issues as camp opens

Good afternoon. Players are trickling into camp today in Port St. Lucie. A few pitchers are throwing, but they don’t have to officially check in until to tomorrow.

No team reports to spring training without questions, and the Mets are no exception. They will enter the season this spring loaded with questions, but without any substantive answers.

Here’s the top ten issues surrounding your New York Mets:

Q: WHAT WILL BE THE OWNERSHIP FALLOUT?

A: Speculation has the Mets attempting to reach a settlement in the Ponzi mess instead of taking their chances in court where reportedly the losses could reach as high as a billion dollars and undoubtedly force the Wilpons to sell the franchise. Who knows? Even a settlement could be that costly. One thing where there is no doubt is the team won’t be adding salary at the trade deadline, but will be trying to shed it, notably with Carlos Beltran being shopped.

COLLINS: Will run a tight camp.

Q: HOW WILL TERRY COLLINS IMPLEMENT THE NEW CULTURE?

A:  The Mets are supposed to be a no-nonsense bunch concentrating on fundamentals. Such things like hustling, working the count, throwing to the right base and running the bases begin in spring training. Collins is expected to run a tight camp and is to be decisive about two issues, whether Beltran plays center or right and where, or if, Oliver Perez fits in the roster.

Q: HOW HEALTHY IS CARLOS BELTRAN?

A: Let’s face it, this is Beltran’s last year. The Mets would like to move him and save on his $18.5 million salary, but to maximize the return he has to be healthy, productive and playing center. Beltran playing a sound center will make him easier to move.

REYES: Could be moved.

Q: WHAT WILL BECOME OF JOSE REYES?

A: Again, this is predicated on the ownership situation. Ideally, the Mets would like to sign Reyes – the 2006-2007 model – to an extension, but what will their economic situation be like? If Reyes gets off to a great start the meter will start running high, and at the same time so would the price tag in prospects that it would take to procure him. There is a prevailing sentiment the Mets’ ownership situation might force the team to deal Reyes to ease the financial strain. Such a decision would impact the franchise for years.

Q: WILL MIKE PELFREY TAKE THE NEXT STEP?

A: Many scouting reports have Pelfrey ranked as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter, but Johan Santana’s injury makes him the ace. Pelfrey said his goal is consistency, but he has to be more than that – he has to be dominant. The rest of the rotation is loaded with concerns, but even should Pelfrey develop into a 20-game winner, probably won’t be enough to lift the Mets into competitive status.

Q: WILL THE REAL JASON BAY STAND UP?

A.: The Mets expect 25 to 30 homers a year for the $66 million package they will spend on Jason Bay, not the six they received last season before he sustained a concussion. Bay gave the Mets hustle and defense, but was clearly an offensive liability. The Mets must hit this summer to make up for the multitude of pitching problems. David Wright, Beltran and Bay are the projected 3-4-5 hitters.

Q: WAS R.A. DICKEY A FLUKE?

A: The Mets are banking no with a two-year deal, but the fact remains he’s coming off the best season of his career. Dickey never pitched better than he did last year, and he’s only done it once. Dickey’s numbers dictate a No. 5 starter, but he’s second behind Pelfrey.

NIESE: Not proven.

Q: WHAT ABOUT THE BACK END OF THE ROTATION?

A: Jon Niese, the No. 3 starter, ran out of gas after a 6-2 start and finished 9-10. Clearly, he’s not a given. Neither are the No. 4 and No. 5 starters, which should come from a pool of Chris Young, Chris Capuano, Dillon Gee, and yes, Perez. Young and Capuano are coming off injuries, Gee is unproven and Perez is on his last chance. Management will not endure another summer of a Perez saga. He’ll earn it in spring training or they’ll cut ties and be quick about it.

Q: WHO’S IN THE BULLPEN?

A: Speculation is the Mets will monitor Francisco Rodriguez’s appearances as to avoid his $17.5 million option from kicking in. Of course, part of that is predicated on Rodriguez’s health.  But, what of the rest of the pen? Bobby Parnell figures to be the set-up man.  D.J. Carrasco, Taylor Buchholz and Taylor Tankersley will be in the mix there somewhere, but hardly come across as clamp-down relievers.  Pat Misch could be the long man, and there’s always the chance Perez could stick in the pen.

Q: WHO PLAYS SECOND?

A: The Mets have already said Ruben Tejada isn’t in the plans to start. The cast includes Daniel Murphy, who hasn’t shown he can play the position, or for that matter, stay healthy. Justin Turner, Chin-lung Hu, Brad Emaus and don’t forget, Luis Castillo, are also in the mix. The best combination would be Tejada’s glove and Murphy’s bat, but that’s not an option. The uncertainty of it all could bring us another year of Castillo, who, if nothing else, is fairly predictable in what he can provide.

Feb 08

Could Wilpon mess make Wright expendable?

It wasn’t surprising to hear David Wright is already is Port St. Lucie working out long before his report date. He’s consistently been an early show. A lot of Mets arrived early which is a good and refreshing sign. What better way to begin a new culture?

WRIGHT: Could Mets' financial woes make him expendable?

Wright is correct when he said the Mets haven’t won anything, but he’s been saying that since the spring of 2007. He broke no new ground there.

“It’s to the point now where you’ve got to put up or shut up,” Wright told reporters. “When it’s all said and done, I want to win, and we haven’t done that. … We have to be a team on a mission, no question about it.”

Saying they are on a mission is one thing. Following through on that mission is something else, especially with what the Mets are saying are limited resources. Perhaps the most telling thing Wright said was his admission the Wilpon’s legal and financial struggles have distraction potential.

“Anytime you’re talking about, in the clubhouse, anytime you’re talking about something that has nothing to do with the pitcher that you’re facing that night or the hitters that you’re facing if you’re a pitcher then, you know, it’s somewhat of a distraction,” Wright told XM Radio.

And, you know there will be plenty of trade and contract talk around the trade deadline involving Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes, and what moves the Mets should make.

There is one certainty in the uncertainty that is the Wilpon mess, and that is there will be limited if any spending this year, especially with the Mets likely to eat the Oliver Perez contract. The Mets, as they’ve done the past few seasons, will likely not make any additions at the trade deadline, regardless of how well they are doing. To the contrary, they will attempt to sell off some of their parts, maybe even Reyes.

We don’t know the severity of what’s to come of the Wilpons and how this could play out. Should the Mets be forced to deal Reyes in July, and the Ponzi fallout lingers into next season, who is to say Wright won’t become expendable? He’s signed through 2012 (with a club option for 2013), productive and making a salary relatively easy to unload (he’ll make $14 million this year and $15 million in 2012, with a $16 million option for 2013).

If the Mets are forced to go into full rebuild mode, Wright would bring the most back in return.

I hope it doesn’t come to this, and I believe the Mets will do everything they can to keep Wright, but we don’t know what conditions will be beyond their control in the future. And, that would be very distracting.

Feb 03

Why it is important for Beltran to play center

BELTRAN: Easier to move as center fielder

Angel Pagan said manager Terry Collins has not talked with him or Carlos Beltran about who will play center, but this is an important issue for the Mets to decide as soon as possible in spring training, and it must be the veteran.

With Beltran making $18.5 million this year, the Mets know they will not re-sign him to an extension. They also know with their roster they will not overtake Philadelphia and the wild-card is also a long shot. And, that’s with Beltran and Jason Bay healthy and producing.

Pagan was the better center fielder last year and might be better this season, but the best interest of the Mets in the short term is for Beltran to prove he can play the position.

The Mets have had surface discussions with teams about Beltran, but there aren’t any serious talks because nobody wants to take the gamble on his salary, age and injury history the past two seasons. And, there won’t be any legitimate conversations until Beltran proves he can play, and that means center field.

If Beltran is back in center and hitting, he’ll be easier to trade and a contender might bite. Because Beltran won’t be returning and the Mets aren’t winning this year, his value to the franchise is not as a player but what he can bring back in prospects and the salary they might save.

And, he’ll be easier to move as a center fielder.

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.