Mets' rebuilding efforts are upside down

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports
Mets' rebuilding efforts are upside down
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Mets fans wanted Jose Reyes back, but instead got a collection of spare parts for more money

Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the New York Mets.

2011 record: 77-85
Finish: Fourth place, NL East
2011 final payroll: $142.2 million
Estimated 2012 opening day payroll: $94 million
Yahoo! Sports' offseason rank: 26th
Hashtags: #badowner, #apathy, #sellmortimersell, #meetthemess, #vinegarbendmizell, #twelvemillionforfrankfreakingfrancisco, #wrightwrong, #badcontracts, #ikeikebaby

Offseason action

Among the most frustrating aspects about being a Mets fan today – and Mets fans know frustration like the Duggars know procreation – is a simple fact: The cornucopia of middling free agents the Mets signed this offseason will make more money this year than Jose Reyes.

It's true. Among Frank Francisco ($5.5 million), Jon Rauch ($3.5 million), Ronny Cedeno ($1.15 million) and Scott Hairston ($1.1 million), the Mets handed out $11.25 million in salaries for 2012. The Miami Marlins will pay Reyes $10 million this year. And while one can question both the intelligence and sincerity of a mega-backloaded deal like the one Miami gave Reyes, he will wear a Marlins uniform, not a Mets one, and that alone is damning.

Trying to piecemeal together a ballclub like the Mets have done almost never works. Incremental upgrades work for contending teams. They're wasted money for teams intent on slicing their payroll by one-third as the Mets are. As tough as it would have been to hand the injury-prone Reyes the six years Miami did, the structure of the contract actually made sense for the Mets, who have no money now but, whether under new ownership or a vanity-share-stabilized Fred Wilpon, should a few years down the road.

Instead, the Mets – the least-talented team in the NL East by a fairly large margin – spent the winter working on their bullpen. And while it projects as a potential strength, relief pitching is notoriously difficult to peg year-over-year, and the possibility for implosion is almost as strong. Moreover, bullpen strength is almost always an endgame for teams on the upswing. Lock down the starting pitching, fortify the lineup, then bolster the bullpen. The Mets are trying to build from the bottom up, the sort of strategy that works just about never.

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And so it's Francisco and Rauch and Hairston and Cedeno and Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez. All of which is to say: It's not Jose Reyes.

Reality check

General manager Sandy Alderson inherited a next-to-impossible situation: the biggest market with commensurate expectations and a cross-borough big brother that epitomizes success; a farm system devoid of talent; and an impoverished ownership group so intent upon keeping its claws in the franchise it had no qualms sacrificing a season or two, and maybe more, to ensure it stays in power. Mets? Psh. This is the New York Mess, and the ugliness is just beginning.

No, it's not going to be as bad as 1962, though Ike Davis as Marvelous Marv Throneberry, David Wright as Frank Thomas and Bobby Parnell as Vinegar Bend Mizell sounds about right. The Mets, remember, don't know what they're going to get from Davis after his odd ankle injury nor from Johan Santana, who returns from shoulder surgery with two years and $55 million remaining on his contract.

If Santana is 75 percent of his prime self, and if Mike Pelfrey and Jonathon Niese grow, and if R.A. Dickey's hike up Kilimanjaro does nothing to his knuckleball, the rotation can save the Mets from losing an embarrassing number of games. It can't help a lineup with all the pop of a Nintendo Duck Hunt gun.

The potential bopper remains Wright, who at 29 is reaching a seminal point in his career. He has gone from star to underachiever, his fortunes mimicking the Mets', and if Alderson learned any lesson from the Reyes fiasco in which he didn't even get a first-round compensation pick, it's got to be: Sell assets when the selling's good. Granted, Wright may be the one case in which it's smart to hold for another year; he earns the right to void his 2013 option with trade, so unless they're blown away with an offer at the July 31 deadline, the Mets will look to deal Wright after the season.

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Until then, it's a holding pattern. Wait on starting-pitching studs Matt Harvey, who could arrive this season, and Zack Wheeler, who Alderson stole last year in San Francisco's ill-fated Carlos Beltran deal. The Mets' farm system remains thin on impact position players.

That, as much as anything, makes Reyes' departure sting. For all the problems he had staying healthy, he was a homegrown impact player, the sort teams dream of cultivating and so rarely do. The Mets can sell the Lucas Dudas and Justin Turners and Josh Tholes and Daniel Murphys, but it's the Jose Reyeses that win championships. It's been far too long since the Mets have seen one of those.

And the next isn't coming anytime soon.

Savior

For as long as he has been in his cash-flow muck, Fred Wilpon has received unfailing support from the best ally possible: commissioner Bud Selig. Wilpon is different than Dodgers deadbeat Frank McCourt, Selig says through actions since he can't through words; the Mets' owner was worthy, after all, of a $25 million loan from Major League Baseball that he still hasn't repaid. But pressure is mounting. More bills are coming due. One source says MLB is likely to let the creditors' squeeze force Wilpon into considering selling, which isn't exactly imminent – and could set the franchise back even more. If Wilpon wanted what was best for the Mets, he'd sell now and give the club a chance to avoid the wrecking ball barreling toward him. Instead, this is about him and his family and their team, and so he olés the wrecking ball, knowing its target is the team onto which he so desperately wants to hold. It's sad really, this proud franchise sullied by a man whose greed overwhelmed the greater good of the thing he purportedly loved. Sounds a lot, in fact, like someone with whom Fred Wilpon was intimately familiar: Bernie Madoff.

Mets in Haiku

Ha ha ha ha ha
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
The Mets are funny

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