Sandy Alderson softens payroll talk

CHICAGO -- The end of the world would not have necessarily been a welcome occurrence. But New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson noted it would have saved the organization a ton of grief.

"I was thinking, 'If the world had ended on Saturday the way it was supposed to, we wouldn't have to deal with these issues,'" Alderson quipped Wednesday at Wrigley Field, as he attempted to soften payroll-slashing fears.

A day after Alderson felt compelled to address principal owner Fred Wilpon's denigration of key players in comments to The New Yorker, the GM responded to Wilpon's comments in Sports Illustrated that the Mets' payroll could sink to $100 million or below from its current $140 million to $145 million range.

Alderson, a Harvard Law graduate, began by noting Wilpon never uttered the $100 million figure that appeared in SI. Wilpon only acknowledged it was a "fair" expectation.

"The answer to your question is yeah, that could happen," Wilpon had said.

Alderson said his discussions with chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon lead him to believe the figure will be more than $100 million, but certainly less than the current level.

"In light of all of that, I was a little surprised by the number," the GM conceded, referring to the magazine figure. "But, again, Fred was not quoted."

Asked if $120 million was then a fair assumption for 2012 payroll, Alderson replied: "I don't want to get into any specifics, because I do think where that number ultimately falls is going to be a product of a number of different things. I think it's too early to accurately predict exactly what it will be. Within that range, I think that's a fair statement and something you could probably rely on. But, you know, there's a potential minority investor that may come on board. It may depend on how we end up this season. There are a lot of other factors at play."

The Mets have several large contracts committed for next season: ace lefty Johan Santana at $24 million, left fielder Jason Bay at $16 million, third baseman David Wright at $15 million and closer Francisco Rodriguez, assuming he finishes 55 games this season, at $17.5 million. That's $72.5 potentially allotted for four players alone, which suggests shortstop and free-agent-to-be Jose Reyes is headed elsewhere at the trading deadline.

"There's no question we've got a lot already committed," Alderson said. "At the same time, it's still a substantial [payroll] number [in 2012]."

Alderson said he would at least have to exchange salary parameters with Reyes' representatives this summer in order to make an informed decision on a trade.

"At some point we will touch base," Alderson said. "But, again, we're still into the first third of the season at this point. Barely passed the quarter mark, I guess."

Should the Mets firmly resolve to trade Reyes -- or outfielder Carlos Beltran or Rodriguez, for that matter -- they will have to decide how much remaining money they will pick up on the contracts. Given ownership's financial crunch, it is entirely conceivable the Mets will settle for lesser prospects in order to get financial relief.

Still, Alderson spun that salary-dump potential as an opportunity. He suggested any salary savings could be redirected to amateur signings -- either via the draft or by signing Latin American teenagers.

"The more money somebody picks up, the less likely they are to give up prospects," Alderson said. "On the other hand, the more money they pick up, arguably the more money one has to spend it in the international amateur market or in the draft. So it really gets down to the question not just of money versus prospects, but prospects versus the players you can acquire with the money that you can get back. I wouldn't look at just money versus prospects.

"Now, there's an advantage of getting prospects in a deal -- one, you don't have to pay them signing bonuses. But, more importantly, they're already on their way to development, so they're typically further along in the system."

But wouldn't the cash-strapped Wilpons just pocket any 2011 salary savings?

"I wouldn't expect it would necessarily be dollar for dollar, but it doesn't need to be," Alderson said about reinvesting money in amateur signings.

Alderson did acknowledge concerns about the organization's overall health, and cited uncertainy about what could happen in the future.

"There's a potential minority investor that may come on board. It may depend on how we end up this season," he said.

"Any time you're entertaining the idea of a minority investor, budgets need to be prepared, projections, forecasts and so forth. A fair amount of work, a fair amount of discussion has gone into the topic of payroll."

He was vague about timetables for making decisions on specific numbers or players, but Alderson understands the challenge that lies ahead of him.

"The financial situations are somewhat more challenging than I had originally anticipated. I didn't expect this to be an easy task," he said. "None of these financial issues have affected any of the decisions we've made. Will that effect occur down the road? We'll see."

The Sports Illustrated article came out a day after The New Yorker published an article in which Wilpon, sounding a lot like the team's frustrated fan base, disparaged the Mets' play, called the franchise "snakebitten," and took aim at some of the team's high-profile players.

He said Reyes won't get a contract similar to the $142 million, seven-year deal that the Boston Red Sox gave Carl Crawford last winter.

Wilpon said Beltran is "65 to 70 percent of what he was," and called Wright, a five-time All-Star third baseman, "A really good kid. A very good player. Not a superstar."

Wilpon is facing a multimillion dollar lawsuit filed by a court trustee seeking to recover money for victims of the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme. The Mets received a loan from Major League Baseball in November to help cover expenses, and Wilpon and his son, Jeff, are looking into selling part of the team.

Alderson has managed to keep his sense of humor, though, despite all the controversy.

Asked about the SI article, he said in reference to The New Yorker article: "It was a warm-up."

Alderson had joked Tuesday that he had not yet read the SI piece, nor pieces in Mechanics Illustrated or Men's Health.

Asked if Mechanics Illustrated was even a real magazine, Alderson said: "It used to be."

"I was going to drop 'Argosy' on you," the GM continued, referring to a now-defunct literary magazine, "but I don't think it would resonate at all."

Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPNNewYork.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.