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Payroll flexibility is always right around the corner for the Mets

The Mets are perpetually looking forward to having payroll flexibility. What, exactly, is "payroll flexibility?" Who knows.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

There have been several constants during Sandy Alderson's time with the Mets: Terry Collins; Alderson posting pictures of his dog, Buddy, on Twitter; lawyer-speak; the Wilpons; and payroll flexibility. Or, more specifically, payroll flexibility that the Mets will have sometime soon in the future.

Alderson has highlighted payroll flexibility from the very beginning of his Mets tenure. Here he is during his first week with the team in October 2010 (emphasis added throughout):

"As far as the major league roster is concerned, there is a lot of payroll already committed. One of the things we want to achieve at some time very soon is payroll flexibility."

This theme continued during that inaugural offseason, when Alderson took the time to answer questions from Mets bloggers in December 2010:

"I would expect to have -- I would hope to have -- much more flexibility... Assuming we're in a position to make a run... We'd be in a strong position to make a move."

Alderson was asked about payroll flexibility by Adam Rubin before the 2011 season, specifically whether or not multi-year deals to arbitration-eligible players would be an option:

"I wouldn't rule that out necessarily. Certainly we want to maintain flexibility for next year, but we also want to have flexibility in solving some of the issues we face this year. I wouldn't entirely rule that possibility out."

The Mets had a payroll of $143 million in 2011, largely comprised of several sizable Omar Minaya Era contracts (source: Cot's Contracts). They wisely shed some of that payroll by trading Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran in July 2011. Alderson commented on what it would mean going forward:

"Clearly, we now can look forward in 2012 to considerably more payroll flexibility. That flexibility to allocate our resources will be very important to us [heading into] next season... Any time you add flexibility, I think it’s a positive."

Mets fans hoping the team would re-sign Jose Reyes were dismayed to hear this from Alderson in an offseason preview interview in September 2011:

"Adding Jose [Reyes] would... create less flexibility for us than we would like to have. That’s something we have to take into account... Do I think we have more financial flexibility this year than last year? Yeah, I think we do."

The Mets' payroll dropped to $95 million in 2012, and the team stunk up Citi Field. Alderson had this to say when asked about payroll flexibility going forward, in October 2012:

"...right now, we have a lot of money tied up in a handful of players. So what I hope is that we do end up with more flexibility over the next couple of years. But also that we can grow the payroll to some extent."

After the general managers' meetings in November 2012, Alderson added this about payroll:

"I think we're going to have a little more leeway. I think there's a little more flexibility."

Later that offseason, the Wilpons chimed in. Here's Jeff in December 2012:

"The budget has been expanded. We're giving Sandy some more money to work with now that David [Wright] is done and we did what we did with Jason Bay. He's got some flexibility now to do some things, and we're going to be competitive this year."

And here's Fred in February 2013:

"Everything that was in the past -- you guys saw the pain we went through -- is gone... [soon enough,] the payroll will be commensurate with anything we've ever done, because we can do it."

Payroll remained about the same in 2013 as 2012: $94 million. Following a 74-88 season, Alderson said this in September 2013:

"Certainly we’ll have more payroll flexibility than we’ve had since I’ve been here... It’s great to say we have financial flexibility and then blow it on players’ deals that don’t work out and put yourself right back in the same situation you were before. At the same time, at some point you’ve got to go for it. Having flexibility is great, but at some point you’ve got to put yourself on the line, and I think what we’re going to try to do is balance the level of our commitments with the desire to continue to maintain some flexibility going forward."

The Mets did spend a bit that offseason, on Curtis Granderson, Bartolo Colon, and Chris Young, but 2014 payroll was still just $85 million. Near the end of a season in which the Mets improved to an 79-83 record, Alderson said:

"It’s important to keep in mind a couple things. One is, I actually believe we will have some payroll flexibility that goes beyond what some people are thinking. But at the same time, I don’t think we expect to go out and spend money just to get to a threshold. We have to see what’s there, both in terms of the free agent market and over time the trade market. We have to evaluate what we have.

I don’t want to talk about any specific [payroll] number, because that creates expectations. All I am saying is I think we have some flexibility. But at the same time, I want to spend our money wisely."

The Wilpons were pleased enough with Alderson's performance to exercise his 2015 option and extend him another two years. Fine by me -- Alderson has done a respectable, if unspectacular, job with limited resources at his disposal. Jeff Wilpon provided some commentary in September 2014:

"We want Sandy to continue to explore all the ways to improve the team. He does have payroll flexibility whether through free agency or trades. And we're looking forward to 2015 as well as Sandy's leadership and guidance in getting us to the postseason."

At this point, some might be asking "What, exactly, is 'payroll flexibility' and how will it help the Mets win more games?" These are fair questions. Unfortunately, neither Sandy Alderson nor the Wilpons have provided answers. We do know that:

  • the Mets' payroll has dropped sharply in recent years, from $143 million in 2011 (4th highest in MLB) to $85 million in 2014 (25th highest in MLB);
  • they have taken on significant payroll in just one offseason out of the last five;
  • the only big-league players they have traded for since 2010 have been inconsequential, both in terms of player quality and salary (Eric Young Jr., Collin Cowgill, and Andres Torres, for example); and
  • they haven't had a .500 record or better since 2008.

So who the hell knows what "payroll flexibility" means or why it's desirable.

If the last four-and-one-half years are any indication, we probably will not receive an explanation about the meaning of "payroll flexibility." We will, however, probably receive assurances from Sandy Alderson during his next banal press conference that payroll flexibility is right around the corner, something that the Mets are excited to have going forward.