By Rich Coutinho
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We have seen so many different theories about the Mets and where this organization is going as it relates to reshaping their roster for 2013.

Many of those experts are saying that the team has already decided to keep their payroll at the current level, or even lower it. I am here to tell you that the team has not yet established a payroll level, but will do so in short order in the coming weeks. Based on conversations I’ve had with my sources,  my educated guess is that it will be around the $100 million mark. But as I have said on numerous occasions, nothing — I repeat nothing — has been determined internally by the Mets, despite what you may be hearing.

It is my firm belief that the first order of business will be to discuss contract extensions with both David Wright and R.A. Dickey, which will be complex discussions to say the least. Both players have indicated to me that they want to stay in Flushing long-term, but are very interested in the long-range plans of the team. Wright’s deal would involve more years and more mone,  but both are key to the fortunes of the 2013 Mets.

Sandy Alderson has a better team than he had to work with in last year’s offseason, if for no other reason than he has a formidable starting rotation with Dickey, Jon Niese, Matt Harvey, Dillon Gee and Johan Santana. And Zack Wheeler is on the horizon for a Mets debut some time in 2013.

He also has two solid bats in Wright and Ike Davis, coupled with two dependable players in Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy, which makes the infield solid. It is the outfield and the bullpen which need reshaping — as well as the catcher position — and it will be a challenge to address those areas of need.

The reason it will be tough is two-fold: It will cost money to solve those issues and, secondly, even if you had the money, this is not a free-agent class that has a plethora of big sluggers, of which the Mets desperately need. Josh Hamilton would seem to be out of the team’s price range, and I am not so sure that New York would be a great fit for a player who has experienced the off-the-field issues that he has struggled with over the past few years.

The Uptons both interest me, and would certainly give the team an infusion of speed and defense to go along with a big bat. But one will cost serious money, while the other will cost money AND players. A guy like Shane Victorino is interesting to me, but not exactly the big bat I was hoping for, and Michael Bourn will be asking for a long-term deal. I would be hesitant to surrender that to a player who relies solely on his legs.

What I expect Alderson to do is explore the trade market and possibly snare an outfielder or two that can provide protection for Wright and Davis in the middle of the lineup. All eyes will be on Alderson this winter because the Mets are in their first post-Madoff winter, and the fans are anxious to see what he does after two relatively quiet offseasons — at least in terms of adding players.

The Jason Bay issue is also something that will need to be rectified, but to take on a longer contract in return for his deal is not something the Mets are inclined to do. However, that may be the only way to solve the issue. And they must deal with it because if they do not deal him, they have two options: put a multi-million dollar player on Terry Collins’ bench or eat his contract.

For the record, I believe in Alderson and his ability to reshape this team. He has put himself in a position in which 2014 will be a year that the team has the most salary flexibility in years.

The arms in this system are very good, and having financial control over hurlers like Harvey, Wheeler and Niese will, in the long run, be a huge benefit for this organization. But he has to give the Mets fans something in 2013. He must add bats to this lineup, some speed and make this team better defensively. Reshaping the bullpen should also be on his “To-do list,” but I do believe most of that will come from inside the organization with guys like Josh Edgin, Robert Carson, and Jenrry Mejia. He will certainly add depth, but any money he has must be spent on the offense.

This Mets team is not as far away from contention as most think they are, but this is a huge offseason because Alderson must improve this team without sacrificing the payroll flexibility he will possess in 2014. It will be a very tough chore, but he must keep both goals in mind when he begins his offseason in a few days. It will shape his legacy as the general manager of the Mets, and it starts right now.

Shane Victorino? Michael Bourn? One of the Uptons? Who should the Mets target this offseason? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…


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