PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Winning was the topic of conversation Thursday, so naturally, it veered toward Derek Jeter.
The career of the retiring Yankees captain has been defined by postseason glory, precisely the kind that has eluded the grasp of David Wright.
And Thursday morning, the Mets captain did not hesitate to use words such as "envious" and "jealous."
"I'd like to win before I get to the point where I just feel like I can't do it at a high level anymore," said Wright, who has reached the playoffs just once in his career. "You feel that urgency when you feel like just yesterday you were 21 years old. And all of a sudden you're 31."
Yet, for all that urgency, Wright took an optimistic stance about whether the Mets have brought him closer to that goal.
The club handed out more than $87 million in free-agent contracts this winter to bring in Curtis Granderson, Bartolo Colon and Chris Young -- a splurge fueled by massive contracts finally coming off the books. But even with the additions, player salaries this season will stand at about $87 million, meaning that the payroll will remain roughly the same for the third straight season.
Nevertheless, Wright insisted that the Mets will be "100 percent" better than they were on Opening Day a year ago.
"I'm probably kind of like the fans, where you want to kind of go out there and sign every player," Wright said Thursday, as he attended voluntary workouts before the official start of spring training. "But at the end of the day, it's easy to give away somebody else's money and just to go say I want to sign every good free agent there is."
General manager Sandy Alderson said increasing payroll will be tied to winning games.
"I feel very confident that it will climb back up," he said. "But at the same time we need to have some success on the field, which drives some attendance, which drives some additional revenue and all of those things. We understand it's incumbent on us to have some success on the field to do that."
Meanwhile, the GM denied published reports that indicated the Mets have been subject to payroll restrictions, all as part of a loan agreement agreed upon by the team's owners.
Said Alderson: "If you're referring to banks or owners or other interested parties, I think the answer clearly is no; there are no constraints on the payroll."
Wright is set to begin his 10th full season in the big leagues, time that he said seemed to pass in the blink of an eye. He used the occasion to wonder just how many chances he'll have at playing for a winner.
Wright has not been in the playoffs since 2006 and the Mets have not fielded a winner since 2008. His contract extension runs through 2020. Wright signed it partly because he bought into the Mets' pledge to build a winner -- a commitment he says the club has honored so far. As he noted, he never received any specific assurances regarding the team's payroll.
If the Mets somehow reach the brink of contention, Wright remains hopeful that the team will spend.
"If we get to the point where we have a specific need come July, and the only way to do it is to make a trade for a guy making money, I'd like to think we're going to be able to do that," Wright said. "And build on what we were able to do this offseason, and go out there and continue to add payroll next offseason."
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