David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - A year ago, David Wright told us about the master rebuilding plan that convinced him to sign the $138-million extension with the Mets. On Tuesday, we again heard a similar sales pitch, only this time delivered by Curtis Granderson, who had 60 million reasons to believe general manager Sandy Alderson's futuristic vision of a winning franchise in Flushing.
The Mets couldn't have picked two better spokesmen for their message. But we're not buying it -- not yet.
Granderson looked pretty good in that cream-colored, pinstriped No. 3 jersey. And he stayed on point through every interview, describing an organization that didn't sound much like the one we watched lose 88 games last season.
When asked about the blueprint Alderson presented him with, over that "yummy" salmon dinner in San Diego, Granderson could have been reading from a teleprompter fed by the front office. Last year, he played for the Yankees, a team with a $200-million payroll. Now he already was reciting the company line calling for fiscal restraint.
"The big thing is that we got pieces currently there," Granderson said. "They're going to look to go out there and get a couple of pieces -- but the right pieces. You don't just spend a bunch of money just to make everybody happy. You got to do things that are going to give you the best opportunity to win."
There's no reason those two things have to be mutually exclusive. In many cases -- maybe most -- buying a few free agents tends to help significantly. Look at the Red Sox. Even with a talented nucleus, Boston spread some cash around to supplement what they already had, and the Mets are operating at a much greater talent deficit than the world champions were at this time a year ago.
For Granderson, the choice to pocket some of the Mets' payroll flexibility this offseason was easy. No other team went to four years, and for that, the Wilpons bought themselves a Costco-sized barrel of loyalty. Just like they did with Wright, who passed on a chance at free agency to become the highest-paid Met in franchise history.
Looking back, here's what Wright had to say during his day at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville last December. "There were 100 different factors that went into this decision," Wright said of signing his extension. "No. 1 had to be that commitment to winning, and I got the answers I wanted to hear."
Well, the Captain and Granderson makes two. We're not sure anyone else is particularly pleased with the vibe the Mets have been putting out there since making Wright a Met for life. As soon as the Granderson deal was completed, Alderson quickly dialed back the talk of a big allowance to spend this winter, switching gears to a more pragmatic view of stopgap pitchers and sticking with Ruben Tejada at shortstop.
Granderson's sunny outlook can't disguise a pockmarked roster, and no one on the Mets is saying they're ready to seriously compete in a strong NL East.
"I think we're still building," COO Jeff Wilpon said. "We'd like to win next season, of course. But I can't tell you what other moves Sandy will be able to make between now and Opening Day. We've got a long time to go."
He's right. Technically, it's relatively early, with another two months left before the start of spring training. But that's only in relation to the remaining pieces on the board -- and the Mets' willingness to pursue them. One of those pieces is Stephen Drew, who would fix a glaring weakness at shortstop, if only he winds up in their price range.
The Mets intend to monitor the market for Drew, but a source said they are reluctant to go to a third year if his agent, Scott Boras, pushes for that. For now, the plan is to see if Drew falls back to them.
"It's a baseball decision because Sandy hasn't come to me and said, 'Gee, we have to sign Stephen Drew' or anybody else for that matter," Wilpon said. "They're looking at things as a whole. It's not financial at this point."
Granderson would agree. He's perfectly fine with the Mets' spending so far. But as hard as he tried Tuesday, he couldn't convince the rest of us.