By Rich Coutinho
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When you get past all of the media nonsense and overkill about Fred Wilpon’s comments in The New Yorker, the real stuff that mattered was in the SI article because it revealed that the Met payroll could be significantly less in 2012 than it was this year. The key word in Fred Wilpon’s quote was “could” and a lot could happen between now and when the Mets establish payroll benchmarks in October for the 2012 season. The hot button issues are Jose Reyes and David Wright and whether they will be here long-term. The fate of Reyes will be the single biggest decision Sandy Alderson will have to make during the trading deadline.

I have said this from Day 1 this season and will say it again: if the Mets are close to a Wild Card berth–say within 4-5 games come the All Star break–the Mets will not unload players. That is what I hear from the inside of the organization and also the money lost in tickets sold will far outweigh any bump the Mets get from a mid-season salary dump.

Now, if the team falls 8-10 games out of a playoff spot, the temptation will rise, especially if there are given a good offer. Once we get past the deadline, the Mets can then take a look at their finances and see where their payroll levels will be. And despite what you might hear in the media, nobody knows where they will be. The Mets aren’t even sure,  so how could a member of the media pretend to know?

It is fun to guess and so here is what I think: payroll will be $105-110 million, which is more than enough to build a winning team. The challenge is that they must get there after committing huge sums of money to both Johan Santana and Jason Bay. They must also decide the fate of Jose Reyes and if K-Rod accrues his $17.5 million option it becomes a real challenge. It is a tough task but not an impossible one as we all saw last year how the Giants got there with a payroll of under $100 million while being saddled with Barry Zito’s insane contract.

I think Wilpon’s comments in SI were accurate, but they were interpreted incorrectly. There is a clear vision in this organization that they must rely more heavily on homegrown talent than high-priced free agents. That may have come about because of necessity but nonetheless, the Mets have chosen the man with the right “skill set” (no pun intended–OK maybe I meant it) to go down that path.

Look at their roster and you can see that metamorphosis has slowly taken shape–Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, David Wright, Jose Reyes, Angel Pagan, Dillon Gee, Jonathan Niese, Mike Pelfrey, Josh Thole, and Jason Pridie are among the homegrown talent on their roster. And there is more help on the way, whether it be Matt Harvey, Jordanny Valdespin, or Reese Havens. That is what makes Jose Reyes so key to this strategy.

He is a homegrown talent and most Met fans love his passion for the game. He will be expensive but the question remains how expensive? That is why we should take Wilpon’s comments with a grain of salt after the initial reaction of anger and amazement, which I must admit was my first reaction.

I really believe Wilpon wants to retain the services of Reyes, but knows what it will cost and also knows he can not afford Carl Crawford money. He is banking on the fact that no other clubs will offer that amount and that might be closer to the truth than you think.

The prevailing notion is there is no way Reyes will be back here next year and I am not so sure about that. There has not been one negotiating session between the two parties and the only mention of money was the comment Wilpon made in The New Yorker. The Reyes camp has been silent, even after the Met owner fired the first shot, who knows if Wilpon will be chopping off big chunks of payroll next year? I am not so sure some of it is not earmarked for Reyes, but just not in the Carl Crawford neighborhood. The New York media will have you believe the decision has already been made, but this is the same group that said Carlos Beltran had nothing left and K-Rod would never pitch another game for the Mets.

They also told us Johan Santana would not return this year and yet I hear he is throwing off a mound. I really want to see how the media wiggles out of that one when Johan is toeing the rubber at CitiField come mid August.

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