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Rob Manfred believes the Mets can increase payroll if they want to

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The new commissioner said the team has the "capacity" to spend more on players.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

During a visit to ESPN headquarters last week, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred spoke about some baseball issues affecting the Mets. The most notable topic was the team's ownership and its ability to spend money on payroll. Since dropping salary costs from $142 million to $94 million in the wake of the Bernie Madoff scandal, the Mets have not seen payroll peak above $100 million.

Although many fans and analysts believe that one or two more free agent acquisitions could push the club into postseason contention, the Mets have only signed a single major free agent -- aging corner outfielder Michael Cuddyer -- this offseason. Manfred believes that the front office is holding back without regard to finances.

"I have had ongoing, numerous conversations with both ownership and Sandy [Alderson] about the Mets' situation. ... I think at the point in time that it is their judgment that it is effective to increase their payroll, they'll do that, and they will have the capacity to do it."

"...I have never had a question about the Mets' capacity to spend if they decided it was in their baseball interest to spend money. I really don't believe that's an issue."

With a deep, young pitching staff, the Mets could be the talk of baseball if they made a bigger investment in their lineup this winter. According to Manfred, the lack of spending was due to baseball reasons alone. If true, that's very puzzling.

Giving the Wilpons a pass is not going to make Mets fans feel great about Manfred, but at least he appealed to the Queens faithful went it came to Hall of Fame concerns. Manfred says he believes in the "innocent until proven guilty" mantra when dealing with potential steroid abusers. Voters shouldn't discount players who are merely rumored to have used performance-enhancing drugs.

"Everyone should keep in mind the difference between players who tested positive and were disciplined on the one hand, and players where somebody has surmised that they did something on the other," Manfred said. "I think, based on what you read in the media, sometimes those lines get blurred. And I think it's really important to keep that line in mind."

"I think it's unfair for people to surmise that Player A did X, Y or Z absent a positive test or proof that we produce in an investigation or whatever. It runs contrary to a very fundamental notion in our society that you're innocent until somebody proves you guilty."

While the new commissioner's stance on Mets ownership is as troubling as his predecessor's, it seems Manfred would be willing to let Mike Piazza into the Hall of Fame. It will be curious to see how many years of a bottom-third payroll the Mets need to have to change Manfred's opinion on the other topic.