Jeff Wilpon says Mets' hands aren't tied financially
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GARFIELD, N.J. - As the Mets near the start of an offseason long considered to be critical in the team's rebuilding plan, chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon offered a glimpse into his team's priorities.
Speaking publicly for the first time since organizational meetings in Florida earlier this month, Wilpon reiterated Tuesday that the Mets will be free from the financial shackles that have stunted their efforts to add talent in recent years.
It remains to be seen just how much the Mets actually spend to revamp a team that finished with a losing record for the fifth straight season. But expiring contracts alone are expected to free up more than $40 million in payroll, signaling what the team insists is the end of an era marked by austerity.
"That's always been part of the plan, to use the money that's coming off the books and try and improve the team," said Wilpon, who spoke at the Boys & Girls Club, where he and other Mets employees helped to restore a building that was damaged a year ago during superstorm Sandy.
However, Wilpon also threw a curveball, saying that the Mets have a "logjam" of viable options at first base despite a season in which the position became a revolving door.
Both Ike Davis and Lucas Duda spent part of the season in the minors because of their struggles, throwing into question their immediate future with the team. Yet Wilpon said the Mets did not offer a contract to power-hitting Cuban defector Jose Abreu, citing what he called a "glut" of first basemen.
"That didn't really seem like the point of need," Wilpon said of the highly touted Abreu, whom the White Sox signed to a six-year contract worth $68 million. "If he played left or rightfield, yeah, I think we probably would have offered the guy a contract."
Wilpon said other clubs have already shown interest in trading for one of the Mets' first basemen, reinforcing the expectation that either Davis or Duda will be dealt this winter.
Meanwhile, Wilpon identified four players -- David Wright and pitchers Dillon Gee, Zack Wheeler and Jon Niese -- as "the three or four that we're solidified on" heading into the offseason.
Teams will be free to negotiate with free agents five days after the World Series ends. General manager Sandy Alderson will be tasked with filling in the rest of the roster, which has clear holes in the outfield and the back end of the starting rotation.
"If the free agent doesn't present itself, is there a trade where you might pick up somebody else's larger-salary player and the swap out is the same thing?" Wilpon said. "I can't tell you which way it's going to go right now."
Wilpon spoke shortly after applying a fresh coat of paint to a refurbished game room at the Boys & Girls Club, which suffered water damage during superstorm Sandy. Mets staffers also assembled new furniture for the building, which functioned as a shelter in the aftermath of the storm.
Said Wilpon: "To have all the kids come in later to see all this stuff freshened up will be really neat."
Notes & quotes: The Mets soon expect to officially announce their new radio rights deal with WOR (710) . . . During organizational meetings in Florida earlier this month, the Mets came up with theories about their struggles at Citi Field the last three seasons though Wilpon said they found "no exact answer." . . . Wilpon called Matt Harvey's decision to have Tommy John surgery "the right move," even though he won't pitch again until 2015.