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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Top-tier free agents too pricey for GM Sandy Alderson

Mets GM Sandy Alderson talks to the media

Mets GM Sandy Alderson talks to the media during a spring training workout at Tradition Field. (Feb. 13, 2013) Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

ORLANDO, Fla. - David Wright is the only $100-million player on the Mets, and for Sandy Alderson, that's more than enough. Shortly after showing up Monday night at the general manager meetings, he immediately crossed out the names of Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury and perhaps even Shin-Soo Choo by stating what everyone pretty much expected.

The Mets dug deep to give Wright an eight-year, $138-million pact last offseason. It's safe to say Alderson doesn't feel like going to nine figures for another free agent.

"We've been in that stratosphere once recently with David Wright," Alderson said. "I think those were special circumstances. I think it would be difficult to duplicate that again, not from a financial standpoint, just in terms of team-building. I think it's difficult to concentrate those kinds of resources in very few players. It's not really the way you build a quality, sustainable winning team."

In case anyone didn't get the message, Alderson paused for a moment, then added, "I think that's a probably not."

We'll do Alderson the favor of removing the "probably." The only issue here, however, is determining the Mets' cutoff point. Though it may be easy to argue that those top three players don't deserve the crazy money they will haul in, that's your opinion. Every free agent is worth precisely what a team pays him.

That's how the system works. Alderson just has to figure out how much he wants to be involved. With all the Mets' interest in Curtis Granderson, there's no guarantee that he'll wind up in Alderson's range. Granderson turned down the one-year, $14.1-million qualifying offer from the Yankees, and at age 32, there's no telling how much higher he can go. Would $50 million be too much for Granderson? How about $60 million?

On Monday, Alderson stated two of the Mets' most obvious areas for improvement: runs and homers. Granderson would help immensely on both counts, but Alderson would have to show a willingness to do what it takes to get him. That means winning a high-stakes bidding war, something he hasn't tried to do during his three years in Flushing.

Alderson says the Mets are bracing for those battles. We'll see soon enough if they have the stomach for it.

"I think you have to deal with reality," he said. "I'm not sure tonight, at this moment, we know exactly what the reality is. But I think we've always understood there's a time for patience and there's a time to be aggressive. I would expect we will try to demonstrate both qualities.

"It's a fine balance, but we understand that you can't be patient forever. At some point, you've got to pull the trigger. So who knows, maybe we'll see the whites of their eyes in Florida."

It feels as if the Mets have asked their frustrated fans to be patient forever, and after all this time, Alderson might want to go heavy on the aggressive part.

For years, he's talked about trimming the bloated payroll and how 2014 would mark a return to respectability -- if not contention -- for the franchise.

With the loss of Matt Harvey to Tommy John surgery, October baseball remains a long shot next season. But the Mets can't be a joke again, not in Alderson's fourth season running this operation. When asked Monday what he has accomplished, he began his media briefing with the type of opening monologue we've grown used to.

"Well, I was upstairs stacking our money," Alderson said before adding, "Don't get excited -- they were all fives."

We get it. But if Alderson is past the days of using a coffee can for his free-agent fund, he's going to have to pony up real money.

It doesn't have to be $100 million for any one player. But finishing second in the bidding for a difference-maker isn't going to cut it this time.

Wright doesn't need company in the $100-million club. But he could use some big-time help.

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