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With Madoff Mess In Rearview Mirror, Mets Now Await Challenge On The Field

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Terry Collins (credit: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Terry Collins (credit: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (AP/WFAN) — Now that their financial future is sorted, the New York Mets can turn most of their attention back to the ballclub on the field.

Good thing, too, because an awful lot of work lies ahead. There’s far more to mending fences at Citi Field than bringing them in a few feet.

Jose Reyes is gone, David Wright got hurt in spring training and Ike Davis was diagnosed with a likely case of valley fever. Davis says he feels fine, and the team plans to rest him regularly to prevent extreme fatigue. But the thought of playing in the loaded NL East with a payroll slashed by about $50 million has made plenty of Mets fans queasy.

“I don’t want these guys to think for one second there aren’t any expectations,” second-year manager Terry Collins said. “There are expectations. This is the major leagues. We’ve got a good team.”

That remains to be seen, of course.

Johan Santana is nearly back from shoulder surgery, providing some much-needed optimism, but there are major question marks at every position up the middle. New York has virtually no speed, little depth and a suspect defense. Mike Pelfrey struggled mightily in spring training and injuries — as always — keep cropping up.

“What we have is what we’ve got,” said Wright, who tore a ribcage muscle early in camp and missed the first 2½ weeks of exhibition games. “There’s no sense in worrying about who’s not here or what could have been.”

The face of the franchise, Wright received a cortisone shot and insists he’ll be ready for opening day. Still, many wonder if he will soon follow Reyes out the door. The club holds a $16 million option on Wright’s contract for 2013, which gets voided if the All-Star third baseman is traded this year.

Elsewhere, new center fielder and leadoff man Andres Torres strained his left calf a little more than two weeks before the opener. Even affable reliever Tim Byrdak had surgery on his left knee, likely leaving the retooled bullpen without an experienced left-hander at the start.

All that for a team coming off three straight losing seasons marked by economic turmoil. Attendance at Citi Field declined from 3.15 million when it opened in 2009 to 2.35 million last year, the club’s lowest home total since 2004, and general manager Sandy Alderson said the Mets lost $70 million.

Following the departures of Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez, the payroll was cut from $142 million at the end of last season to around $90 million to $95 million this year — the biggest one-year drop in baseball history. New York reduced ticket prices again, hoping to appease fans who have grown frustrated or, even worse, apathetic.

“There’s no question, we have to put a better product on the field, and ultimately that means winning. Last year I think we made inroads into the overall perception of the team. But look, we finished with 77 wins. That’s the bottom line,” Alderson said. “We’ve got to give people a reason to come back to the ballpark.”

On a positive note, Santana is working his way back from the September 2010 shoulder surgery that sidelined him last season. The two-time Cy Young Award winner looks healthy and was on track to pitch the opener April 5 at home against Atlanta.

“I’m feeling good,” Santana said. “It’s a process and I’m building up.”

Off the field, Mets owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz reached an agreement with the trustee for Bernard Madoff’s fraud victims. The settlement makes it likely that Wilpon and Katz will pay much less than the agreed-upon $162 million, if any at all. It also guarantees they will owe nothing until the end of four years.

Their owners have paid back a $25 million loan from Major League Baseball and a $40 million loan to Bank of America. The team also closed on 12 limited partner shares of $20 million each, of which five were bought by newcomers and the rest by the current ownership group and its partners in the SNY cable network.

“From just an overall organizational standpoint, the landscape today is a lot brighter than it was two or three days ago,” Alderson said Tuesday. “Having moved beyond that now, I think we as a franchise have a chance to go through sort of an evolutionary process to get us back to where we want to be. The immediate impact on our payroll is going to be negligible. The last time I heard, Albert Pujols already had signed for 2012.

“We’re going through a process of redirection and sort of re-invigoration, if you will. That takes a little bit of time and a little bit of patience,” he added.

After trading Rodriguez and Beltran last summer, the Mets didn’t even make a formal offer as Reyes, the NL batting champion and a homegrown star, left for a $106 million, six-year deal with the division-rival Marlins. Light-hitting youngster Ruben Tejada takes over at shortstop, while New York tries to squeeze Daniel Murphy’s bat — and surgically repaired knees — in at second base.

The starting rotation was durable last season and most of it returns intact. The Mets are hoping for big things from improving lefty Jonathon Niese and right fielder Lucas Duda, who had a .370 on-base percentage with 10 homers and 50 RBIs in 301 at-bats a year ago.

Davis returns after missing most of 2011 with a slow-to-heal ankle injury. The farm system features a few promising arms and athletes, but most are probably at least a year or two away.

“Nobody has made a big deal about it, but we might be the youngest team in baseball. I don’t think we have a player with 10 years in the big leagues,” Collins said. “We might be a little thin right now, but we’ve got some players coming. Patience is a tough word in New York City, but we’ve got to have it.”

In perhaps their biggest offseason move, the Mets lowered and brought in the fences at cavernous Citi Field, approximately 15-20 feet closer to home plate in certain spots. They hope that will benefit Wright and big-money bust Jason Bay. Of course, it could easily mean more home runs for the opposition as well.

And not to be forgotten, the Mets will celebrate their 50th anniversary this year, commemorating a lovable expansion team that finished a woeful 40-120 in 1962.

Five decades later, this group could be headed for last place, too.

Mets fans, how many games do you predict the Amazins’ will win this year? Let us know…

(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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