David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
The Mets did two things they absolutely, positively had to do Friday in coming to an agreement on a four-year, $60-million contract with Curtis Granderson: Convince us they were telling the truth about spending money this offseason and also give the impression that Sandy Alderson's rebuilding project will not be further delayed until 2015.
As of now, we're listening again. That wasn't so hard, was it? Flash some cash, persuade a Yankee to come across town, and the Mets have us feeling as if they could be a legitimately competitive franchise.
The operative word, of course, is "could." The concern for fans is that the Mets finally will exhale, pat themselves on the back for writing a big check -- and navigate through the rest of this offseason on the cheap.
Tossing the fans a bone, however, is no solution to anything. It's a quick bump, a sugar high. Although the Mets are a better team with Granderson hitting behind David Wright, the goal still must be a shot at contention in 2014, just as Alderson pledged after taking over at the end of the 2010 season. Granderson should be only the start for the Mets, not the end. And if that means digging deep for another free agent -- Stephen Drew immediately comes to mind -- this is no time for hesitation.
It's understandable that the Wilpons might have felt somewhat paralyzed by a few of their recent deals gone bad. Even we can't cleanse from our memory banks the uncomfortable image of another Jason Bay strikeout, and we didn't pay him a dime.
But that money, along with Johan Santana's, explains the $40 million or so coming off the books that the Mets figure to have in disposable income this winter. Factor in an additional $50 million from Major League Baseball's new TV package and what you get is a golden opportunity to invest in a roster.
It might be difficult to pin down how much the Wilpons are on the hook for refinancing various debts, or the hit they've absorbed from spiraling attendance at Citi Field, but the payroll flexibility and the new influx of TV cash are out in the open. Giving a chunk of that to Granderson was significant, but that's still only $15 million for 2014, and that leaves plenty of room.
Not like the Yankees with a $189-million luxury-tax threshold putting their heads in a guillotine they seem to be ignoring. (They doled out $311 million in about a month, including Derek Jeter's $12-million extension.)
For the Mets, there's no penalty here, and the best thing about free agents this time is that they only cost money. No more moaning from the Mets about losing a draft pick -- theirs is protected -- or from a front office that still seems wary of moving any top minor-league talent in a trade.
So let's get back to Drew for a second. Heading into this offseason, the Mets -- who have soured on Ruben Tejada -- identified shortstop as one of their biggest needs. They had a sit-down with Jhonny Peralta during last month's general managers meetings, but after wincing from the market's early sticker shock, they passed, and Peralta signed a four-year, $52-million contract with the defending NL champion Cardinals.
Maybe the Mets thought they could get a discount based on Peralta's PED suspension. Unlike Drew, he also doesn't have Scott Boras as his agent. But the PED troubles didn't hurt him in the wallet, and Boras no doubt has gone to work on Drew's contract while shopping for buyers.
Where the Mets could find an opening, as they did with Granderson, is the length of a contract for Drew. The Red Sox would love to have him back on their terms, but that seems to top out at two years as protection for the left side of the infield, which has young phenom-to-be Xander Bogaerts and still-developing Will Middlebrooks.
While Boras usually is patient, letting teams ripen for a blow-away offer, he got one early enough to put Jacoby Ellsbury in the Bronx for seven years and $153 million. The Mariners, another team facing respectability issues, made a $240-million offer that Robinson Cano couldn't refuse. If it was an overpay, sometimes clubs need to buy credibility to build momentum.
As Wright told Newsday's Marc Carig about Granderson, "Once you get that first guy, I think it becomes easier."
It's the Mets. Nothing that involves money is ever easy. They've got us interested again. But it's going to cost more to get us to believe.