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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

After losing World Series, now comes hard part for Mets: Try to make it back

New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson announces

New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson announces a two-year contract extension for Mets manager Terry Collins during a press conference at Citi Field on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Moments after collapsing Wednesday in the middle of reporters, Sandy Alderson didn't skip a beat once he stirred from the brief fainting spell.

"So, where were we?" Alderson said, smiling.

Truth be told, it was a question about Juan Lagares' balky elbow that coincided with the GM feeling woozy. And honestly, we can't blame Alderson for still being exhausted three days after losing the World Series.

Fortunately, Alderson walked away with no lingering symptoms, and the Mets said he was fine after getting checked out by the team's training staff. The GM chalked it up to no breakfast and a stuffy conference room.

So the start of what should be an interesting offseason for the Mets began with Terry Collins getting a well-deserved two-year extension and Alderson, the architect of this World Series trip, closing the morning's festivities with that frightening episode.

Suffice to say, the Mets have been working overtime since Wilmer Flores took the called third strike that ended Game 5. And after losing the World Series, now comes the really hard part: trying to get back.

We're entering a whole new phase for the Mets, one where the team's decision-makers and the rejuvenated fan base will set the bar higher than it's been in nine years. Remember when finishing over .500 was the goal? Then 90 wins? No longer.

As the defending NL champs, with a young starting rotation that Alderson described Wednesday as "second to none," it's World Series or bust for the Mets in 2016. Alderson kept some continuity by immediately rewarding Collins. But he's staring at a lineup that likely will be without Daniel Murphy and Yoenis Cespedes, his No. 3 and 4 hitters in the playoffs, should they choose to sign elsewhere, as expected.

For as much as we've trumpeted the Mets' Big Four, and rightfully so, relying solely on the rotation, regardless of how great it is, is not going to finish what the '15 team could not. Alderson's every other sentence Wednesday highlighted the need for more consistent offensive production, the GM undoubtedly scarred by how the Mets failed to create a more workable cushion in three of the four losses to the Royals.

"Our starting pitching was good," Alderson said. "But it wasn't good enough to separate ourselves in the later innings. As we look at next season, 2015 is instructive. The first half of the season, we didn't have any offense either. We've got to figure out ways to score more runs and at the same time, be a little better defensively as well."

But that's not going to happen without a piece or three from elsewhere. While Alderson doesn't anticipate dealing any of his top four starting pitchers for a big bat, the GM didn't address Zack Wheeler specifically. And Wheeler -- who isn't expected back from Tommy John rehab until July -- already has been traded once by the Mets, in the collapsed Carlos Gomez swap that more famously included a crying Flores.

By the same token, Alderson said the Mets never make it to the World Series without Cespedes, who cost them Michael Fulmer, another top pitching prospect. That trade "absolutely" was worth it in the GM's mind, so we wonder if he'll be persuaded to part with an additional arm, either Wheeler or Rafael Montero, to make up for the bats he'll be missing.

Of course, the payroll is going to be a factor again, too. Alderson expects to start above the roughly $100 million he opened with this season, but existing raises and arbitration bumps already will account for some of that. The roster that produced this World Series run hardly resembled the one that Collins had at his disposal during the first half, so Alderson has proved himself capable of adjusting on the fly. But the Mets face huge expectations after what they accomplished, and that in itself makes their job much tougher as they prepare for 2016.

"We will now be the hunted," Collins said. "There will be targets on their backs. No longer are we going to sneak up on anybody. And I love that. We'll walk out there with a swagger."

More importantly, the Mets will have to back it up. To show that getting to the World Series was not a lucky punch, or a once-in-a-decade thing. Collins, with Alderson's help, now has to make everyone believe all over again.

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