Union boss Michael Weiner: If Mets want to contend, they're going to have to spend

MLB players union head Michael Weiner speaks at MLB players union head Michael Weiner speaks at a news conference in New York. Photo Credit: AP, 2011

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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- If the Mets intend to field a competitive team, the head of the players' union believes that they'll eventually have to start spending again to acquire top talent.

"A New York franchise in the National League is one of the flagship franchises in baseball,'' union chief Michael Weiner said Thursday during his annual tour of spring training venues. "I think everybody would like to see the Mets as a competitive team, and it's going to require a higher payroll.''

Mets principal owner Fred Wilpon said last week that the economic downturn and fallout from the Bernie Madoff financial scandal forced the Mets into a period of austerity.

Payrolls that once approached $150 million had been slashed to about $90 million by last season.

But Wilpon insisted that the Mets no longer will be forced to hold down payroll, which is up to roughly $95 million this season and could have climbed even higher had the team signed outfielder Michael Bourn.

Weiner expressed his confidence that the Mets "will end up putting together a competitive team shortly.''

During his visit to Mets camp, Weiner addressed several on-field and off-field issues during a meeting with players that lasted about 90 minutes. He fielded questions about several topics, including the state of baseball's performance-enhancing drug policy.

PEDs once again have emerged as a hot issue within the game in light of the growing Biogenesis doping scandal. Mets prospect Cesar Puello is one of the players who has been linked to the Miami anti-aging clinic that authorities believe may have been a steroid-distribution center.

Meanwhile, the Brooklyn-based ACES sports agency has had several of its current and former clients tied to the clinic through various news reports.

"Just remember on the Miami thing, just follow the evidence,'' Weiner said. "Make sure that whether it's in respect to agents or players, just follow the evidence.''

The union chief warned against rushing to judgment.

"Players understand that what's happening in Miami, at this point, remains to be seen in terms of fairness and judging things on the evidence,'' Weiner said. "But there is a lot of talk in the clubhouse about where we should be on the joint drug program, and that's a good thing.''

Meanwhile, he said players have voiced support for newly added testing for human growth hormone. Though some concerns had popped up regarding the blood-drawing required for HGH testing, Weiner said the policy grants appropriate safeguards for players.

"Nobody can have their blood drawn pregame,'' Weiner said. "They also understand that there are protections there in case there is a health-related, or a weather- or heat-related reason they can't give blood.''

Moving forward, Weiner said the union might lobby Major League Baseball to address concerns about new rules in the collective bargaining agreement regarding free-agent compensation.

The revised CBA accomplished a major union goal by reducing the number of free agents requiring compensation from about 30 to nine. But teams have shied away from signing some of those players because doing so would require forfeiting a draft pick.

The union also wants clarification on whether teams knocked out of the top 10 in the draft will retain their pick if they sign free agents. It became an obstacle for the Mets during their pursuit of Bourn, who eventually signed with the Indians.

Said Weiner: "I don't think it was the intention of either bargaining party that draft-choice compensation would have the depth of the effect, the intensity of the effect, it had on some players."

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