Palladino: Is Mets COO Jeff Wilpon All Talk?
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By Ernie Palladino
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The Jets spent the week preparing for the Saints, and the Giants spent their week thinking about 2-6 and what lies after the bye.
The Yanks spent the week watching the scruffy, archrival Red Sox win the World Series.
And the Mets?
Well, the offseason did officially begin this week, didn’t it? That’s usually the signal for the mouths in the front office to shift into high gear for bold predictions and encouraging offseason promises.
Chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, a man who never met a question he didn’t like, led the way this time. His team nearly flush after a couple of seasons of penurious spending thanks to Bernie Madoff and the oppressive contracts of Johan Santana and Jason Bay, Wilpon said some sweeping changes might be necessary to turn his 74-win team into something respectable.
He pinpointed exactly four players worth keeping — David Wright, Dillon Gee, Zack Wheeler, and Jon Niese. And no, he didn’t forget Matt Harvey. It’s just that Harvey’s Tommy John surgery will keep him out for 2014, so there’s no need to count him.
Still, Wilpon alluded to sweeping changes, which was fair enough. But if he thinks Poppa Fred is ever going to spring for a wholesale roster rebuild, he’d better shake himself back into reality.
Rather, he should listen to his general manager, who now has spent enough time with the Mets to realize spending sprees in Flushing more often resemble discount shopping days at Kohl’s.
Nice, usable clothes cheap, but nobody’s going to mistake anyone coming out of there for a fashionista.
So Alderson quickly stuck a pin in Wilpon’s bubble.
“Finances are always an issue, with every team,” Alderson told the New York media. “But certainly, we have a lot more flexibility than in the past.”
It’s a question of how they’ll use that flexibility now. Chances are they’ll target an outfielder, a shortstop, and a starting pitcher to take Harvey’s place. Will they unload supposedly tradable commodities like Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy for big-ticket items? Does Juan Lagares, the sweet-fielding but light-hitting centerfielder, stick around? What about young catcher Travis d’Arnaud or closer Bobby Parnell?
A guy like Shin-Soo Choo might look nice in the leadoff spot. He gets on base plenty — 162 hits and 112 walks last year. Only Joey Votto had a better on-base percentage in the NL. But all that means is that Choo is going to cost the Mets a bundle. The price tag? If agent Scott Boras gets his way, he won’t come for a nickel less than $16.6 million per year.
If the Mets do go after him and get him, it will be interesting to see just how much of that “flexibility” Alderson has left to wrangle about. It will also talk volumes about the commitment the Wilpons have to turning around their floundering franchise.
It can be done, however. Boston just went from last to first by taking the money they unloaded last year on the Dodgers and bringing in people like Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, and the guy who turned into their closer, Koji Uehara.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that Boston sported an ultra-rich minor league system that yielded Xander Bogaerts at just the right time. Not that the Mets don’t have talent down there, but the Red Sox have a surplus of it.
Still, a few well-place acquisitions, and the Mets might just jump into the thick of next year’s pennant race. At least that’s what Wilpon the Younger is promising unless the purse strings tighten again — always a possibility around Citi Field.
At any rate, Alderson will go to work starting next week, next month at the Winter Meetings, and all the way through to the opening of spring training and beyond. Whether there’s enough Wilpon bucks to accomplish what he’d like is always a question.
But for now, Jeff Wilpon is talking a big game.
Mets fans should hope the size of his pocketbook matches the grandiosity of his words.
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