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Mets Only Need Wallflower Status at Winter Meetings

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I keep catching myself staring at the Countdown to the Winter Meetings clock over at MLB Trade Rumors.

In less than five days' time, MLB bigwigs and agents and everyone else converging on Dallas will finally find themselves in a position to at least lay groundwork for meaningful moves ahead of the 2012 season. Even if we don't see a repeat performance of Boston snatching up Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez or the Nationals throwing a ridiculous sum of money at Jayson Werth, we'll at least see the type of meaningful baseball chatter that makes the Hot Stove season worthwhile.

Then again, we Mets fans are likely expecting another boring offseason. The biggest Mets-centric question in need of an answer -- whether Jose Reyes's loyalties lie with the only organization he's ever known or the monies waved by another potential suitor -- will not significantly improve the Mets in 2012. Re-signing Reyes does not necessarily make the Mets any better in the short term; he just prevents them from getting worse.

The other questions? Well, that's the real problem, isn't it? There's a lot of questions. Questions about whether Angel Pagan should anchor an outfield that includes a downward-trending Jason Bay and a big ol' nebulous ball of mediocrity in the form of Fernando Martinez, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, or some other stopgap who we will all collectively pray can maintain a batting average above Mo Vaughn's playing weight. Questions about the starting rotation and Pelfrey's role in it. Questions about the bullpen and whether it needs an Octavio Dotel to anchor it.

Questions that we'll need a lot more than five days and a Winter Meetings session to answer.

Sandy Alderson's current approach to roster building is driven by need. If Reyes goes, the Mets will need a backup plan if Ruben Tejada's not ready for primetime at shortstop -- hence, Jack Wilson. If Pagan goes or we're seriously looking at meaningful playing time in the outfield for Willie Harris, the Mets will need roll the dice on other options -- hence, Adam Loewen. The Wilpons need money and to not have anyone call in a loan before they get it, so Alderson needs to focus his efforts on building a productive and cost-effective minor league system while the Mets needed to stay in the fans' good graces by bringing back Banner Day and drumming up what will hopefully serve as a worthy tribute to 50 years of Mets baseball.

There'll be other gambles Alderson needs to take, just as there were with Chris Capuano and Chris Young one year ago. But I keep wondering how much the Mets need to ultimately succeed. Alderson signed on to a $140 million payroll and a collective bargaining agreement that favored prospect hoarding, but saw that payroll number and farm investment shrink almost immediately. All that payroll room we expected upon the Mets clearing the 2011 Hump vaporized seemingly overnight, down to an approximately $105 million which will be handcuffed by Reyes's new contract or possibly even less if the longest tenured Met transfers that honor to David Wright.

I don't mean to go all doom and gloom here -- all we know on the eve of the Winter Meetings is that we know nothing. I still believe there may be a path to .500 baseball for the 2012 Mets, which in turn is a likely path back to profitability, which would then improve the long-term prognosis of the franchise. And it will happen on a path that differs from the one tread by Steve Phillips, Jim Duquette, and Omar Minaya: a key offseason signing to placate the Shea Faithful.

But I keep staring at that MLB Trade Rumors countdown clock and ask myself how the Mets go about feeding their greatest need: certainty. Not certainty about when to expect meaningful games in September, nor even about Reyes's future. I just want certainty that the goal posts will stop moving on Alderson long enough for him to implement any kind of meaningful baseball strategy that brings the Mets back to respectability.

That'll need more than the remaining four days on that countdown clock to resolve, and more than the return of Reyes. And I need to come to grips with it, because the Mets' future only looks bleaker when I let the uncertainty get to me.