The Mets have no plans to make an offer to Jose Reyes before their window of exclusivity with the free-agent shortstop closes, a person familiar with the situation said this past week. That comes as no surprise, mostly because neither side has any idea what his market value is at this point.
With unrestricted free agency set to begin at 12:01 a.m. Thursday after the five-day exclusivity period following the end of the World Series, Reyes remains the primary concern for the Mets, and really their only potential big-ticket investment. If Reyes turns out to be beyond their financial reach -- a very distinct possibility, given their money concerns -- the Mets are unlikely to target another top-shelf free agent.
Earlier this month, Sandy Alderson chose his words carefully when asked about "spending big" this offseason if he passes on Reyes. "I'm not ruling it out," he said, "but at the same time, I think that we will try to be as creative as we possibly can and look at what's available across the board. We could go into a free- agency negotiation beyond Jose if, for example, the market is different than we anticipate or we trade somebody. There are a variety of different things that could happen."
Alderson again is faced with a limited budget. While it won't be as constricting as it was last winter, when he added roughly $9.7 million to the 2011 payroll on eight players (not including the two-year, $7.8-million deal to avoid arbitration with R.A. Dickey), Alderson certainly won't have carte blanche to improve on this season's 77-85 record. Not with the payroll expected to be slashed to about $110 million from $142 million.
However, with some of those bloated salaries coming off the books -- $48 million alone from Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo, Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez -- it's not as though Alderson will be completely paralyzed. Losing Reyes would subtract another $11 million, and if the Mets radically changed direction and pushed hard to trade David Wright, that would clear the $15 million committed to the third baseman for next season.
"Do I think we have more financial flexibility this [coming] year than we did [this] year?" Alderson said. "Yeah, I do. Even if you take into account that the payroll will be lower, I think we still have a little more of a margin to work with."
If at least a portion of that money is not reinvested -- say in rotation help and a major bullpen upgrade -- the Mets will have difficulty competing in a rapidly improving NL East, especially if Reyes winds up signing with the Marlins or Nationals, two clubs that could try to make a major splash with him. But as long as the Bernie Madoff case is unresolved and the Wilpons are still searching for minority investors, it's difficult to see how they can find the money to significantly improve in the short term.
"I think if you look at where we are currently, with or without Jose, we have a very small number of players and a large amount of money tied up in those players," Alderson said. "Adding Jose would contribute to that same situation and create less flexibility for us than we would like to have. That's something we have to take into account, but there are pluses and minuses to every situation. We just have to weigh those."