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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Will Mets allow their next GM to spend freely? 

Mets special assistant to the general manager Omar

Mets special assistant to the general manager Omar Minaya and COO Jeff Wilpon look on from the field before a game against the Phillies at Citi Field on Sept. 8, 2018. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The good feelings from David Wright’s amazing final game still were in the air at Citi Field when Jeff Wilpon sat down for a state-of-the-Mets news conference on Sunday afternoon before the season finale against the Marlins.

Wilpon, chief operating officer of a team without a general manager, has been out front in public a lot lately. He recently presided over farewell news conferences for Wright and for beloved media relations director Jay Horwitz, who is changing jobs.

On Sunday, Wilpon opened with a joke.

“I asked Jay and David to sit next to me since I’ve been sitting next to them, but nobody volunteered,” he said. “I’m on my own.”

Eventually, he won’t be. In the coming weeks, the Mets will hire a general manager and Wilpon will go back to operating behind the scenes. That’s totally appropriate; it’s part of the GM’s job to be the daily spokesman for the organization, not the COO.

But Wilpon has to be accountable to the fans, and that means taking questions from the media from time to time. It’s something Wilpon’s father, Fred, hasn’t done for years now as he has stepped back from the day-to-day grind. Fred could be a real charmer with the media. The same cannot be said for Jeff, but he does seem to be growing more comfortable with the role.

Hence the joke, and what followed, an opening statement in which Wilpon both thanked Mets fans and apologized to them for this disappointing season.

“We owe them something more than we’ve given them,” Wilpon said later. “And we’re going to produce that.”

Here’s the problem: Wilpon tried to be tight-lipped about what the Mets are looking for in a potential GM because he doesn’t want to do the interviewing and hiring process through the media. But the details of what Wilpon did let out produced a muddled picture that makes you wonder just what kind of a situation the new GM will be walking into. Or how much autonomy he will truly have, given that many already view Wilpon as the shadow GM.

“I’m not picking the players,” Wilpon said, “so I need them to come in and tell me what we need to do.”

His talk does allow us to offer free advice to the people who are going to interview for the job:

*  Don’t say you want to fire manager Mickey Callaway;

*  Don’t say you want to fire executives John Ricco, Omar Minaya and J.P. Ricciardi;

*  And most important of all, don’t question why the Mets can’t bump up their payroll to, say, the $200-million range and make a run at Manny Machado or any of the really big-ticket free agents.

Wilpon and Ricco will conduct the first round of interviews. Ricco is not a candidate, which is bad because he’s more than qualified and good because it’d be uncomfortable if he had to interview himself.

Ricco is one of the Three Wise Men running the Mets since Sandy Alderson stepped away because of health issues. Wilpon said the other two aren’t candidates, either.

“They’re part of the failure that we had this year, the same as I am and the rest of the front office,” Wilpon said. “It’s only fair to give somebody coming in an open book to bring in who they want . . . From an ownership standpoint, I’d like them to stay.”

And what of Callaway, the rookie manager? Can the new GM bring in his own man?

“I’d like Mickey to stay,” Wilpon said. “That’s from ownership, though, and we’re going to rely on the new GM to give us that direction and guidance.”

What if that direction and guidance is that the Mets need to spend like a big-market team? Or hire an expensive manager such as Buck Showalter or Joe Girardi?

“Until we have somebody on board,” Wilpon said, “I really don’t want to answer those [payroll] questions.”

Chances are he’s not going to answer payroll questions after they have somebody on board, either. But no matter who the new GM ends up being, money questions are never going to go away when it comes to the Mets and their owners. And that’s no joke.

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