Mets' payroll likely won't change

Updated: August 19, 2012, 1:47 AM ET
By Adam Rubin | ESPNNewYork.com

WASHINGTON -- Looking for the New York Mets to spend their way out of their doldrums during the upcoming offseason? Don't count on it, a baseball source told ESPNNewYork.com.

Although general manager Sandy Alderson publicly said last week a formal budget has not been established for next season, the Mets are likely to have a payroll comparable to the slightly more than $90 million they have committed in 2012, according to a person briefed on the current internal planning.

"They may have $10 million to $15 million max to spend -- if Sandy is lucky," the source said.

That is a handcuffing blow for an organization that currently has a 57-63 record and does not have large expiring contracts.

In fact, it leaves Alderson nearly entirely dependent on remaking the team through the farm system -- a prudent long-term strategy, but one that may leave the Mets languishing in the standings again in 2013.

Now that rookie Matt Harvey has been introduced to the rotation, the only new impact player who may debut next season is fellow right-hander Zack Wheeler.

The largest salary commitments coming off the books this winter:

•  $5.6875 million from the expected non-tendering of right-hander Mike Pelfrey, who missed most of the season following Tommy John surgery on May 1.

•  $3.5 million for right-hander Jon Rauch.

•  $2.65 million for right-hander Ramon Ramirez.

•  $1.15 million for infielder Ronny Cedeno.

•  $1.1 million for outfielder Scott Hairston.

•  $1 million for left-handed reliever Tim Byrdak.

Add in the potential non-tendering of arbitration-eligible outfielder Andres Torres ($2.7 million) and that would mean roughly $17.8 million being freed -- with gaping holes to fill.

The Mets particularly need to reshape their outfield during the offseason and retool the bullpen leading into closer Frank Francisco. They acquired free-agent-to-be Kelly Shoppach from Boston last week with the intention of potentially re-signing him to a modest deal and pairing him with cost-effective Josh Thole behind the plate in 2013.

Meanwhile, raises pretty much consume the expiring contracts -- even before any fresh spending on free agents.

Left-hander Johan Santana and outfielder Jason Bay will earn a combined $50 million next season including 2014 buyouts, up from $40 million this season. The five-year deal left-hander Jonathon Niese signed in spring training calls for a $2.23 million raise in 2013. Third baseman David Wright and Francisco's salaries each jump $1 million, while knuckleballer R.A. Dickey's salary increases $750,000. Daniel Murphy, Ike Davis, Bobby Parnell and Thole all should be eligible for arbitration for the first time this offseason.

Mets owners favorably settled a lawsuit related to Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme earlier this year, and should have to pay out no more than $40 million apiece in 2016 and 2017. They also received a $240 million infusion from new minority investors.

Much of that investment, however, immediately was redirected toward paying off debt, including a $40 million bridge loan from Bank of America and an emergency $25 million loan from Major League Baseball.

Alderson estimated the Mets lost $70 million last season, so some of the cash infusion had to cover that shortfall.

A historic payroll reduction last offseason -- roughly $50 million -- should lessen the franchise's losses this fiscal year.

But attendance has dragged this season, also decreasing revenue. The Mets have averaged 29,487 fans per game this season, down from their 30,108 season average in 2011. And with the team all but out of the wild-card race and interest dwindling, the gap should grow by season's end.

Because there are no existing payroll commitments for 2014 beyond Niese's contract, Alderson could backload new free-agent deals with a low base salary for next season to circumvent some short-term limitations. A team official did not discount that as a possibility, but also noted Alderson's cautiousness with respect to long-term contracts and making such back-loaded commitments.

And with Wright and Dickey due to be free agents after the 2013 season and seeking extensions this winter, any available dollars could be set aside to attempt to retain them.

"The Mets' internal conversations have been no increase in payroll next year -- and may be another reduction, which would be a disaster," the source told ESPNNewYork.com.

Adam Rubin has covered the Mets since 2003. He's a graduate of Mepham High School on Long Island and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He joined ESPNNewYork after spending 10 years at the New York Daily News.
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