On Tuesday evening, Adam Rubin quoted Sandy Alderson saying the following about the Mets’ payroll:

“Look, I don’t have any understanding about what the payroll will be or can’t be going forward,” Alderson said. “But, look, let’s say arguably we have like $50 million or $60 million coming off next year. Do I think it would even be prudent to invest that full $50 million or $60 million again in a situation which binds us going forward so that we’re only in the market every three years when this lump sum comes off our books? No. That’s not how we want to approach this. So next year, if $50 million comes off, it’s very unlikely that we would re-spend the $50 million and would commit ourselves for another four years out for all that money and then leave ourselves with a three- or four-year dark period where we can’t do anything else.”

This is unacceptable.

Assuming there are players worth spending the money on, there is no reason not to use all of the available payroll coming off the books next year. A smart general manager like Alderson should have no trouble both spending the money and ensuring that the Mets do not have a repeat of what befell them this offseason.

The Mets are in a bit of a fix for 2011 because of the way that previous contracts were structured. That falls squarely on the shoulders of former general manager Omar Minaya and is one of the first things that should be brought up by his detractors. It’s a mess, an avoidable mess, and no one else is responsible.

Thanks to Cot’s we can look at the payroll for the 2010 club, the 2011 club and commitments going forward until 2014. The biggest problem facing the Mets is that none of their highest 11 contracts was from a potential free agent following the 2010 season. The impending free agent with the highest salary in 2010 was Pedro Feliciano, who made $2.9 million last year.

If we just look at the Opening Day roster numbers, we see the Mets are rid of the $5 million they were obligated to Jeff Francouer and the $3.3 million that the owed John Maine last year. But the eight highest paid players by the Mets in 2010 are back in 2011, with four of them having increases for this season, most significantly Jason Bay. In his first year with the Mets, Bay was paid $8.625 million but this year Bay’s contract calls for $18.125 million.

Regardless of whom the GM was this season, the Mets were going to be hard pressed to add much in the way of star power, like fans of the team had been accustomed to the past six seasons. The good news is that after this season, it should not be like that again.

Currently, eight players are making at least $6 million in 2011. Of those, four are free agents and another, Francisco Rodriguez, may be bought out if he does not reach his vesting option. Counting that vesting option, the Mets have $60.88 million allocated for 2012, albeit to just three players (Johan Santana, David Wright and Jason Bay). Actually, with news that came down this evening, the Mets now have another player under contract for 2012, as they signed D.J. Carrasco to a two-year deal, but the money is nowhere near what the other three players will pull down.

So, the challenge for Alderson going forward is not to save money and go shopping in the discount bin. Instead, Alderson should sign whatever free agents he needs and ensure that he has multiple expiring contracts each year, including some of the biggest from the previous year.

There’s no reason not to be active in the free agent market for top talent next year, using all available resources. But if he signs three impact free agents, those three need to have their contracts end at different times. This way, the Mets can be major players each year and still have the financial flexibility to stay under the luxury tax, a definite goal of the Wilpons.

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