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No. 28 Mets: Clean up of Wilpon mess begins after brilliant trade of R.A. Dickey

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports

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.

2012 record: 74-88
Finish: Fourth place, NL East
2012 final payroll: $103.7 million
Estimated 2013 opening day payroll: $90 million
Yahoo! Sports offseason rank: 28th
Hashtags: #byebay #tweetingGM #burgerSSRI #humblebrag #refi #flyingwallendas #vegasbaby #wilponfail #outfieldofdoom #mess

OFFSEASON ACTION

The masterwork that was Sandy Alderson's handling of the R.A. Dickey trade this offseason should be studied, dissected and, whenever possible, emulated. He turned a 38-year-old pitcher on a one-year contract into six years of the game's best catching prospect, six years of a frontline pitching prospect, a high-ceiling 18-year-old and a stopgap catcher. And when your owner needs a tourniquet to stop hemorrhaging money, this is the sort of deal a general manager must concoct to keep hope afloat and progress alive.

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At least the Mets will have David Wright for what projects to be a painful 2013. (AP)

That the Mets – the New York Mets – are even in this position where they must play the game like a small-market patsy is simultaneously hilarious and embarrassing, an indictment and guilty verdict on the ownership of Fred Wilpon, who long ago should've been sentenced to exile. Somebody who needs to refinance $450 million worth of debt simply to cover day-to-day operations, as the New York Post reported the Mets just did, belongs nowhere near a team that should operate as a monster, not a mouse.

Instead, the onus is on Alderson to do what he did with Dickey, which is parlay the pieces New York does have into blockbuster returns. Whether the Mets' contract negotiations with Dickey ever were earnest – and either the Wilpons are poorer than anybody can imagine or the lowball offers were there to create the illusion of a potential extension – doesn't matter. Dickey liked New York and gave the Mets a number to hit, so there always was a threat of him re-signing, which gave Alderson proper leverage in his trade negotiations.

[More MLB Springboards: No. 30 Astros | No. 29 Marlins]

How he balanced the juggling of the Dickey talks and the eight-year, $138 million contract extension with David Wright, a move that bought some of the goodwill necessary to deal the reigning Cy Young winner, was worthy of a spot with the Flying Wallendas. Alderson waited and waited and waited, letting the free-agent pitching market blow up financially, and he waited some more, until the James Shields-Wil Myers deal reset the trade market, too.

And then Alderson struck, landing catcher Travis d'Arnaud, pitcher Noah Syndergaard and plaudits from around the industry for his industriousness. When the rest of your offseason consists of eating more than $20 million of a bad contract from your predecessor, trading for a fringe outfielder to fight for a spot among a cavalcade of others and re-signing a LOOGY coming off shoulder surgery, well, you'd better make that deal count.

Because these days, with the Mets operating like they play in Tampa Bay or Kansas City or Milwaukee, that's the best anyone can wish for.

REALITY CHECK

Since the last quarter-century has been rather unkind to Mets fans, perhaps a carrot of optimism is worth dangling before the gore: The starting rotation, with Johan Santana, Matt Harvey, Jonathon Niese, Dillon Gee and eventually Zack Wheeler, could be pretty good. Especially since Santana is in the final season of his six-year, $137.5 million contract.

Now for the grim stuff.

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Travis d'Arnaud is the future behind the plate for the Mets. (Getty Images)

The Mets' outfield is a semicircle of fringe major leaguers. Its middle infield is meh, its corner infield hurt too much and its bullpen flimsy at best, nuclear at worst. In a game of depressed run scoring, the Mets' production was among baseball's most melancholy: 650 runs – worse than Pittsburgh, San Diego, Cleveland and Kansas City, among many others.

New York returns essentially that team, minus the Cy Young winner, his 233 2/3 innings, 230 strikeouts and 2.73 ERA, of course, and is left to wait, like a fool on the corner for a cab. At some point in June, d'Arnaud and Wheeler will migrate east from Triple-A Las Vegas. Wilmer Flores, a natural hitting prospect and even more natural leader, may join them to man a position TBD. These are pieces for the future, a future that relies on their success, because unless the Mets start spending like the Mets ought to spend, this is the Mets' talent base, simple as that.

[Related: Braves might back off offensive logo]

The deeper the Mets sink, the more blame shifts to commissioner Bud Selig for allowing his good ol' boy network to supersede the health of a jewel franchise. The Dodgers' and Mets' financial troubles seemed to parallel one another, a big city team's cash flow going kaput before it spiraled into this sad shell of itself.

We see what's happening to the Dodgers. An owner with money bought them, and they're going to spend more on players this year than any team in sports history. The Mets, meanwhile, are trading for Collin Cowgill and calling that an offseason.

Which is to say nothing of Cowgill, a perfectly acceptable fourth or fifth outfielder. It's more to remind people how much owners matter, how a good one can make a franchise overnight, and how a bad one can break it down, piece by piece, until it is this, T substituted for S, a big, honking mess.

SAVIOR

Before the Dickey trade, there was the Zack Wheeler deal, a swap of such pulchritude even Alderson humblebragged about it on Twitter. The 22-year-old had his best season yet as a minor leaguer with 149 innings with nearly a strikeout per and a 3.26 ERA. Better yet, his walk rate dipped for the third consecutive year, to a tolerable 3.6 per nine. If Wheeler wants to be elite – and there's no question he can be – that must go even lower. For now, the idea of him throwing to d'Arnaud for the next half-decade is appetizing enough to give him a pass.

HAIKU

Mask your depression
In Section 139
With Shake Shack burgers

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