MIAMI -- Sandy Alderson is banking on faith to keep R.A. Dickey and David Wright in Mets uniforms, faith that he can persuade them to endure another year of darkness, faith that he'll deliver a future he insists remains bright.
The retention of "core players'' remains at the heart of Alderson's three-pronged plan, which includes building from within and using free agency and trades to secure talent. But Alderson's success ultimately rests with whether Dickey and Wright share his faith.
"I'm not prepared to blow up the team and start all over,'' Alderson said Wednesday, before the Mets ended the season with a 4-2 victory over the Marlins.
In a wide-ranging session, Alderson expressed disappointment in the Mets' 74-88 finish, lamented the second-half collapse that sent them plunging into fourth place in the National League East, and emphasized that the club is positioned financially to keep Dickey and Wright for the long term.
He expressed optimism that deals could be reached with both early in the offseason, with negotiations to begin soon. Both have gone public about their desire to play in a winning environment.
"My message would be 'Look, I think we're very definitely headed in the right direction,' " Alderson said. "But at the same time, we will not in the near future have unlimited funds. So recognize what our immediate situation is, what we expect to be our mid- and long-term situations, and evaluate us on that basis.''
Of course, their faith may be tested by an immediate future littered with obstacles, starting with payroll. For another year, Alderson will be handcuffed by mistakes of the past. More than $50 million -- representing perhaps more than half of next season's payroll -- are committed to Johan Santana and Jason Bay alone. Moving forward, neither is considered part of the team's core.
Alderson estimated payroll for this season at around $100 million, which includes buyouts and players on the 40-man roster.
Though Alderson is still in discussions with ownership about a final figure for 2013, the Mets aren't expected to deviate significantly from that range. They almost certainly will not have the means to make significant free-agent additions.
Alderson also must plug holes in areas that offer no quick fixes. The team's catching situation cries out for an upgrade. But even if the Mets had dollars to throw around, the position is thin around the game, leaving options that aren't much better than what they already have in house. Alderson faces the same challenge with the outfield.
The Mets could elect to pursue trades. They have marketable commodities such as first baseman Ike Davis, lefthander Jon Niese and reliever Bobby Parnell. But Alderson said it's not a given the team will swing major deals. Nor is it a given that the team will deal from a strength -- starting pitching.
"I really do believe that some of our players are on the verge of making bigger contributions,'' Alderson said. "But it's been two years. We have a better idea now of who we have at the major-league level, who's coming from our player-development system, and the places where we need to look outside.''
Before looking externally, the Mets appear focused internally. That means keeping Dickey and Wright for the long term. That means preserving a core around which to build. That means selling a bright future based on faith.
Alderson considers the ability to sign both to an extension a "fundamental shift'' in the financial outlook of the team as it emerges from the wreckage of the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme scandal. Both remain under team control through next year through a pair of team options. Neither appears likely to stick around without extensions this winter.
"I'm always optimistic," Wright said. "Judging by some of the young arms that we have, judging by some of the progress that the guys that have been here for years have made, I have a ton of faith and confidence in Sandy and his staff to make this team better."