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Kicking the Tires on a 2011 Playoff Push

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While the Mets treating the Great Jose Reyes Resigning Debate of 2011 in isolation is wise, it does leave room to wonder how to complement such a move. You're dealing with one of the hottest players in baseball at one of the most difficult positions to fill, but he can't do it all by himself. In the near or distant future, Reyes will always need help.

And Sandy Alderson may soon find himself in a position to provide it. Dan Martin of the New York Post reiterated comments by Jeff Wilpon regarding the tautness of club's purse strings if the Mets look capable of making a postseason run.

From Martin:

"He'll have all the opportunity in the world to bring anybody he wants in," team COO Jeff Wilpon said yesterday, without giving the GM carte blanche. "The way for him to do that is to bring the ideas to us and we'll talk about it. But he does not have restrictions. We'll deal with everything on a case-by-case basis."

Naturally, this leads into the obvious conversation about why the Mets haven't signed Reyes to the longest possible, most reasonable contract extension ever awarded to a human being. Even with Martin including the disclaimer about Alderson lacking the carte blanche previously at Omar Minaya's disposal, you thought it. You thought, "Just spend the money on Reyes, dammit."

So say the Mets do just that. Then what?

The Mets presently project a win total between 78-82 wins, depending on how well you get along with Pythagoras. That pairs well with many preseason predictions for a third-place club expected to fall short of a meaningful Wild Card race, but leaves enough daylight to ask what could be if Alderson refrains from waving the white flag at the trade deadline.

Resigning Reyes doesn't lift that total much. His contributions are included in that 78-82 win total, which would likely fall off a bit if he leaves prematurely. He's certainly on an MVP-like tear, but may still need a ridiculously Ruthian finish to single-handedly lift the Mets above 85 wins. Same goes for Carlos Beltran, whose tenure with the club is tenuous at best these days. The duo might do enough to lift the Mets, but there are no guarantees yet.

David Wright, Ike Davis, and Johan Santana would be welcome talent injections, but remain unknown quantities at this point. Will Wright return from the disabled list without his strike outs? Can Davis rediscover his hot start rather than regress to his career projections? Could Santana return in time to offer more than the one month of effective pitching Pedro Martinez delivered in September 2007?

No idea. And you can't stake a playoff chase on maybes.

So it makes sense that the Wilpons would remain flexible about enabling Alderson to spend should things break right. In the book Baseball Beyond the Numbers, Nate Silver observed that the marginal revenue from a win doesn't really outweigh the cost of a win until you get above 85 victories. That means if you need to spend money to make money, then you shouldn't spend any money until you're fairly confident you can accrue 85 wins or better. There's some dispute on whether tanking it if you can't reach 85 wins is wise, but it would take a full-on fire sale to send the Mets into a death spiral anyway.

But if spending is wise, where do you spend it? If you think paying the ransom in prospects to rent a Prince Fielder's services is wise, you are likely Omar Minaya and still fired. Wright and Davis returning would make Turner expendable if Murphy resumes regular duty at second base, but what would he fetch in a trade? Would you be OK endangering the precarious state of the rotation if Alderson could sell high on Chris Capuano?

There's a lot of questions in this post, and that's the point. Signing Reyes maintains the status quo in the short term, which may or may not be good enough to flirt with a Wild Card chase. After that, either a confluence of rebounds by Wright, Davis, and Santana or a clever trade or acquisition by Alderson can push the team further along. Resolving the Reyes situation will clarify that distinction, but it does nothing to resolve it -- especially since no one's looking for the Mets to concede what few resources are still at their disposal to hamper their long-term viability.

It's officially the summer, and the Mets are on the cusp of playing meaningful baseball for a good chunk of it. If they can hang on long enough, it could produce unforeseen revenue that's desperately needed by ownership. There's allegedly money and players to make things happen on the personnel front at that point, even in a short-term capacity.

But when does it become worth it to even conservatively gamble on 2011? Resigning Reyes can't answer that question.