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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees, Mets would like to change narrative, but at the moment, it's tough to do that

New York Yankees' GM Brian Cashman talking with

New York Yankees' GM Brian Cashman talking with the media during spring training in Tampa, FL Friday Feb. 14, 2020 Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The baseball offseason is full of deadlines. For qualifying offers, contract options and, this year, the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement at midnight on Dec. 1.

But another significant date popped up in my email inbox this past week when the Mets announced that individual game tickets for the 2022 season will go on sale this coming Friday. That’s a biggie.

And as we enter the holiday shopping season, what’s the level of consumer confidence in either the Mets or Yankees?

With both teams anxious to make everyone forget about the failures of 2021, this is not an ideal offseason to have supply-chain issues because of the sport’s looming work stoppage.

It’s a bit more extreme for the Mets, of course, who just attended the GM meetings without a GM, have no manager and currently employ only one coach — pitching holdover Jeremy Hefner.

The Yankees? Watching $324 million ace Gerrit Cole come up small in the wild-card loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park was a sobering end to a Jekyll-and-Hyde season. Bottom line, a team favored to reach the World Series was unable to do so for the 12th consecutive year, with general manager Brian Cashman and manager Aaron Boone becoming popular piñatas for a fan base that has escalated from restlessness to rage.

The winter months, however, typically offer the chance to not only wipe away all of that rancor but replace it with a renewed affection. Look at what happened a year ago when Steve Cohen purchased the Mets, free agents were signed and they pulled off a January stunner with the trade for Francisco Lindor.

Cohen badly needs to work off the same script this offseason. Everyone will quickly forget the GM follies — regardless of who winds up with the job — if he writes some big checks to get Starling Marte and Kris Bryant to Flushing.

Club president Sandy Alderson, who’s been acting as the de facto GM for the past eight weeks, knows this. And it was no accident that Alderson pumped that increased payroll flexibility storyline at the GM meetings in Carlsbad, California ("Lots" was his answer to the question).

"There are only two currencies in baseball," Alderson said this past week, repeating a favorite mantra. "Players and money. Right now we don’t have a lot of players in our system that we want to trade. And let’s face it, a lot of our players underperformed expectations — their expectations — last year. So you hate to be in a position of selling low.

"Look, Steve is committed to putting an excellent team on the field and I expect we’re going to make every effort to do that."

In every other year without an expiring CBA, there would be no reason to doubt Cohen’s billion-dollar resolve. And the same holds true in the case of Hal Steinbrenner’s fortune. But neither owner can realistically open the vault without knowing the consequences of doing so. And in that sense, both Cohen and Steinbrenner are virtually handcuffed as long as the labor situation remains in limbo.

Technically speaking, there’s nothing to stop players from signing right now. Baseball’s interminable free-agent period kicked off last Sunday and business has been conducted, with some options picked up. The Yankees brought back reliever Joely Rodriguez on a one-year, $2 million deal, so there is action within the margins.

But as far as the needle-movers, the franchise-changers, the stars who generate box-office revenue, that figures to be a while, which is why Alderson and Cashman could only pledge significant spending in the coming weeks without having any sort of timetable — or the mechanism to accomplish those goals.

Cashman went as far as to say that he had spoken with the representatives for some of the best free-agent shortstops — not all of the top five, when presented with a list by a reporter — and didn’t shy away from gushing about the No. 1, Carlos Correa.

The Yankees are a brand that automatically sells tickets. But Steinbrenner probably believes this offseason may need more of a push, especially if the sport puts a freeze on transactions into 2022 as the CBA gets worked out.

Cashman was out there in Carlsbad advertising "some latitude" with the 2022 payroll, even though the Yankees could have as much as $229 million already on the books, based on arbitration projections by spotrac.com.

"To me, I just need to understand what’s available, what are the price points of acquisition and then communicate all of that back to ownership and also to my baseball ops team so we can print them out," Cashman said. "And then gravitate to what’s realistic or not."

The Yankees made resetting their luxury tax a priority in 2021, but a similar austerity plan is shaping up to be impossible next year regardless of what baseball’s new economic system looks like.

For the Mets, they’re already at $185 million for 2022, according to spotrac.com, and based on Alderson’s promise to deliver upgrades, next year’s payroll is easily headed well north of $200 million.

It’s just a matter of where the market goes for those upgrades and when the bidding will begin. At least the Mets can take advantage of the delay to get a GM in place — we’ll assume that person will have a chance to make a few roster decisions this offseason — and maybe a manager. That sort of stuff can figure into a free agent’s choice, too.

Ultimately, the sooner the two teams can get some new stars in the ballpark, the better. Especially with the ticket sites clicking to life soon.

In the meantime, all the Mets and Yankees can offer is a sales pitch, with a hope that the likely prospect of a delayed CBA won’t keep them sidelined too long.

"We’ll wait and see how it plays out," Cashman said. "Obviously, they’ll come to a resolution at some point. They’ll find common ground. They’ve always done it in the past. I’m optimistic they’ll do that again. Otherwise, I just do what I gotta do."

As Cashman turned to leave the Carlsbad site, he added, "Sorry I was boring."

That can’t linger for two clubs eager to change the conversations — and for the immediate future, no clear path to do so.

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