By Rich Coutinho
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Every game day, we would walk into the Mets’ locker room and there would be Jason Bay, with a look on his face that said he had run out of answers.

Nobody could ever question his work ethic. But as Sandy Alderson put it: “We are in a results-oriented business.” And now Bay is gone.

For the general manager, Bay represented more than just a hole in the middle of the Mets’ lineup — he symbolized the club’s limited financial flexibility.

Beyond that Bay had become a whipping boy for Mets fans, who thought the outfielder personified what was wrong with the team — and that clouded the future. Although terms of the buyout were not disclosed, you would expect that the Mets paid — or will pay — a large portion of it. Any relief Alderson could get would have an effect on the team’s payroll.

It also created an opportunity for the Mets to either cultivate a younger player or look outside the organization.

One thing was made crystal clear from my conversations with Alderson: he intends to make changes this offseason as the evaluation process with this team has concluded.  He will continue to reinforce his minor league system, and we saw the start of that with the advent of the “Matt Harvey era” last season.

There are others on the way, but the intention is to improve the team this offseason with more power in the lineup and more power arms in the bullpen. The free-agent class is not deep this year, so he will have to be creative. All eyes will be on Alderson, who enters his first offseason in the post-Madoff era.

One thing we should have all learned this season? Building a baseball team is not about throwing millions of dollars at a problem. It certainly didn’t work for the Miami Marlins. And while the Los Angeles Dodgers and Anaheim Angels have spent the last 12 months spending money like a teenager who just got dad’s credit card, it should be noted that subtle moves made the difference in places like San Francisco, where Marco Scutaro became the bargain of the trading deadline.

The key is building a strong rotation, which the Mets have started to accomplish as guys like Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Jonathon Niese (not to mention R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana) give them a formidable corps of pitchers. The bullpen is a mess and the offense needs two big bats. Addressing both problems will be difficult to do in one winter, but more payroll flexibility will surface at this time next year.

In the meantime, one of the biggest obstacles to success has been removed from the roster — at least from a personnel perspective, if not from a financial one. Signing David Wright to a long-term deal would be yet another step in building a foundation while rewarding a player who has been the face of the franchise.

The Mets took a giant step today in showing the world they are back in business.

Many more steps need to be taken to get the trust of the fans back. But you have to start somewhere, and parting ways with Jason Bay early in the offseason shows that Sandy Alderson is committed to building a winner in Flushing.

What should Alderson’s next move be? Sound off in the comments below!

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