Can Mets afford to sign star SS?

Can Mets afford to sign star SS?
September 30, 2011, 2:04 pm
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From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- The biggest win for the Mets this season may have come this week in a federal courthouse. The team's owners have been relieved from much of a 1 billion lawsuit filed on behalf of the victims of Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme. Whether that gives the financially hobbled ballclub more flexibility to retain Jose Reyes remains to be seen. Mets fans will be watching, for sure, after New York's third straight losing season and fifth in a row without a playoff appearance. In a year that was described from the start as transitional, the Mets brought in a new general manager in Sandy Alderson and a new manager in Terry Collins. Yet Reyes, clearly, was the exuberant face of a team that went 77-85. The dynamic shortstop won the NL batting title on the final day of the season, drawing some heat after leaving the last game after a bunt single in the first inning. He led the major leagues with 16 triples and was superb in the field. He also made two trips to the disabled list with more hamstring trouble, derailing an MVP-like season. He's now in line to file for free agency after the World Series. Alderson said Thursday he expected discussions to begin with Reyes' agent "in the next day or two." "We were fortunate to experience an outstanding year from Jose. There is obviously some uncertainty as to where he's going to be next year," Alderson said. "We will see where that takes us." "We will try to be as creative as we possibly can and look at what's available across the board," he said. But can owner Fred Wilpon, who told Sports Illustrated this spring the Mets were "bleeding cash," afford one of this offseason's most desirable free agents? Can he afford not to keep the team's most popular player and biggest draw? Despite the losing record, the Mets did make strides on the field under the enthusiastic Collins in his first managerial job since 1999. Their real trouble, though, came in the board room. -- Attendance dropped to a low not seen since 2004, hurting revenues. Wilpon has said the Mets could lose 70 million this year. -- The Mets put a portion of the team up for sale this winter because of the financial uncertainty created by the Madoff mess. -- A 200 million deal to sell a minority share of the team to hedge fund manager David Einhorn fell through and now Wilpon and co-owner Saul Katz are looking to sell 20 million shares to family members and other investors. Alderson and the players insisted the off-field trouble did not have any effect on their play. And despite several key injuries to stars early, the Mets remained on the margins of the NL wild-card race into July. They traded closer Francisco Rodriguez and All-Star Carlos Beltran -- New York improved to 55-51 on July 28, they day he was dealt. "That team we put together in spring training, I know that if we had been out there we would have been a lot different-looking club than what we ended up being," Collins said. Ike Davis was off to a promising second big league season before a mild collision with David Wright turned into a season-ending bone bruise in his ankle. Wright missed two months and Johan Santana did not pitch after having offseason shoulder surgery. Reyes had a remarkable first half, but missed the All-Star game with a hamstring strain and re-injured it in August. Still he finished with 101 runs scored, 39 steals and a .337 average. "Certainly every day I hope the shortstop returns because he gives us the best team," said Collins, who had the 2013 option for his contract exercised Tuesday. With the stars out, several youngsters proved they could play at the major league level. Justin Turner lost out in the competition for the second base job in spring training but took advantage of his April call-up and batted .354 with runners in scoring position. Ruben Tejada and Lucas Duda also showed they belong. Duda, who hit several long home runs, could be the starting right fielder next year. "I think there's a lot of optimism moving forward," Wright said. "We had some young players come up and make a name for themselves. I think that you like the feeling that is in this clubhouse every day." While Mike Pelfrey (7-13, 4.74 ERA) took a huge step backward after being named the Mets' No. 1 starter with Santana out, Dillon Gee (13-6) became first Mets rookie to win at least 13 games since Dwight Gooden won 17 in 1984. "I really thought a lot about taking the next step in the offseason and getting even better," Pelfrey said. "After April ended, I thought it got better. Obviously not where I wanted to be, but it got better. I think it's going to help me better prepare for next season." The 24-year-old Jonathon Niese won a career-high 11 games in his second full season in the rotation, and R.A. Dickey was stellar down the stretch to finish with a 3.28 ERA. One area of concern is the closer role. Collins wanted 27-year-old Bobby Parnell with his 100 mph fastball to seize the spot but he was only 6 of 12 in save opportunities down the stretch. With the hefty contracts of Beltran and Rodriguez off the books for 2012, along with those of Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez -- both cut during spring training -- the Mets should have some flexibility. But Alderson has said that the team's payroll would be in the range of 100-110 million next year, down from more than 140 million this year. One area the Mets might spend on is making Citi Field friendlier for their struggling power hitters. Alderson has indicated that the team is looking into lowering the 16-foot left-field wall and bringing in the fences at the spacious ballpark, where New York hit just 50 homers this year and 162 in the three seasons since it opened. Wright has hit only 22 homers at Citi. In 2008, the Mets' last season at Shea Stadium, he hit 21 homers at home. Jason Bay, who has struggled mightily in his two seasons in New York, hit just six of his 12 homers at home and had a .374 slugging percentage overall this season, the lowest of his career. All told, the Mets got off to a 5-13 start, then went 12-16 in September. In between, not so bad. "I would have hoped that we could have done better, not only in the overall season but even finishing up," Alderson said. "One of the disappointments for me was that we started poorly and ended poorly. First impressions are important and last impressions are important. We did a lot of good things between those two bookends but I think the poor start and difficult finish may obscure some of that," he said.