The blueprint: Knicks are evidence that Mets’ patience is prudent

Very different Big Threes

I got this e-mail last week — before Cliff Lee signed with the Phillies — from a good friend who listens to what I’d consider to be an unhealthy amount of Mike Francesa:

Are the Mets looking at anyone? Crawford to Red Sox. Yanks are in hot pursuit of Lee.  Angels are looming once again. Why are the Mets second-rate?

Although my friend isn’t a fellow Mets fan, I sense his radio-honed opinion likely mirrors a lot of the fan base, and even the media. (Jon Heyman seems to have a particular axe to grind.)

I’m definitely not opposed to fans having passion for their teams, especially when it’s also my favorite team. But when it gets in the way of patience, not to mention logic and reason, that’s when you have to cast your gaze across town at the excitement surrounding the Knicks, and understand that they are the model outcome for the Mets’ new regime.

Most Mets fans — and New York fans in general — would scoff at that notion. Burned by bitterly disappointing endings to consecutive seasons and subsequently promised contenders that didn’t pan out, anything short of instant gratification is completely unacceptable.

They sound a whole lot like Knicks fans two years ago, irate when Donnie Walsh traded away Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph in order to create future salary cap flexibility at the expense of a potential No. 7 or 8 seed in the playoffs. The whole point was to get themselves under the salary cap to have the solvency to bid on the big free agents of this past summer.

No, they didn’t end up getting LeBron James. But after a couple of predictably horrible years, they finally had the freedom to sign both Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton, an MVP candidate and a near-certain All-Star. Stoudemire, in particular, looks like a true leader.

In addition, they’ll be under the cap again this summer when Eddy Curry’s 1,000-year tenure runs its course, and it looks as if they could very well be in position to add Carmelo Anthony, unequivocally one of the top 10 players in the NBA, if that’s the direction they want to go. (And it should be.) The Knicks have lost their last three and are obviously not a title contender yet, but there’s at least reason to believe they could get get to that level.

Would it have been worth having a potential playoff season with Randolph and Crawford –running the same business plan of piling mediocre veterans on top of each other until the Garden is hip-deep in Weatherspoons and Maurice Taylors — at the expense of putting together a team that actually has a basketball city excited about its hometown team again?

For everyone who was frustrated by the Mets’ relative lack of spending during the Winter Meetings — I don’t want the Mets to spend more right now. Their payroll is already going to be $140 million next year. That’s not Sandy Alderson’s fault.

Not a bumper crop And this isn’t a good market for them to be bidding in. Carl Crawford – a very valuable player, don’t get me wrong – got $140 million. 32-year-old Cliff Lee got five years, and that’s only because he was enamored with the Phillies and gave them a discount. Jayson Werth — Jayson Werth – got $126 million. I wouldn’t have wanted them to sign any of these guys, especially at the expense of a forward-looking plan to turn the franchise around.

Besides, the Mets aren’t in position to mortgage long-term solvency for flawed or aging players when they’re not one, two, or even five players away from title contention. The Red Sox, for example, are in that position since they’ve been running a solid organization. They draft well, trade them for good players, those players leave, they get draft picks out of it and the cycle starts again. That’s where I want the Mets to get to.

You have to build a solid foundation before you build the penthouse. Anyone criticizing the Mets for acquiring more front-office personnel than players is either ignorant, or attempting and failing to be funny, or both.

And I’d like to hear a plan presented on how Alderson’s critics would have done things differently this offseason. I’d imagine they’d have exacerbated an already lousy situation.

I’d expect the Mets to be market players on at least some level next year, though. Here’s their allocated money — Luis Castillo, Oliver Perez, Gary Matthews Jr., Ryota Igarashi and Carlos Beltran are off the payroll. That’s about $40 million, and even raises for Wright, Pagan and Pelfrey won’t put a crippling dent into that.

Reyes is a free agent too, and who knows if they want him back? I actually suspect they won’t, depending on whether he’s simply too good to let go of this year. That’d be another $11 million. If they work out a way to not pay Francisco Rodriguez’s option, which I would hope they’re going to try, that commitment drops from about $13 million to a $3.5 million buyout.

That’s a potential $60 million off the payroll for guys who have bee known for building teams without a lot of funding. I’d like to see what they’d do if they had some.

I understand Mets fans are scarred by the past few shaky years of Omar Minaya’s tenure, but you can’t put a band-aid over an axe wound. It’s going to take time, not another Jason Bay.

But probably not as much time as people think. The Knicks aren’t as good as everyone thought they were last week, but they’re far, far better than people thought they’d be last summer.

I think the Mets will be better than people think this season, and then pretty competitive in 2012, basing that on faith in the intelligence and patience of their new front office, which far exceeds those of their critics.

You might say teams can’t rebuild in New York City. My advice would be to sit back, think of how far the Knicks have come, and leave it to people who know better.


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