New York Mets season preview: It’s going to be a bumpy ride

The New York Mets are becoming trendsetters – just not in good way.

A major market franchise that finished eight games under .500 last season, the Mets decided not to splurge on any top tier free agents this summer and instead slashed payroll by $50 million. It was the single largest season-to-season payroll decrease in baseball history, which spells trouble for a team that seriously lacks premium talent at the major league level. Brace yourselves; it’s going to be a bumpy season.

Even if owner Fred Wilpon won’t admit it, his involvement with Bernie Madoff has hamstrung the franchise’s progress. With most of the off-season drama occurring in the courtroom, it left little room for progress on the field. That won’t sit well with Mets fans who will make their ire known.

Expect the fans’ wrath to be in full swing sooner rather than later, too. On April 24, just 16 games into the season, the Mets will be coming off a tough stretch of games against the San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves and defending National League East champion Philadelphia Phillies.

As the first game following this stretch begins, long-time Mets shortstop and fan favorite José Reyes will trot to the plate, batting leadoff – for the Miami Marlins. If they didn’t know already, the Wilpons won’t be able to deny how the fans truly feel after that.

Reyes spent his entire eight-year career with the Metropolitans before signing with the new look Marlins in the offseason for six years and $106 million. Upon leaving Reyes said, “[The Mets] didn’t make a real offer, so that means they don’t want me there.” It’s almost inconceivable that a major market franchise, based in New York of all places, could let a homegrown superstar walk away without an offer. They might as well call themselves the New York Pirates or the Kansas City Mets.

Then there’s David Wright. At one time, Wright was on his way to super stardom until a series of injuries, late season collapses and oversized outfield walls seemed to sap his potential and his confidence. Now, he is all that Mets fans have and like Reyes before him, he might be preparing for his final season in Flushing, N.Y. Wright has one year left on his contract at $15 million and if he continues to produce, even at a marginal level, he could become their best trade chip.

Best case scenario: Lucas Duda and Ike Davis have breakout seasons, Daniel Murphy stays healthy, Johan Santana recaptures some of his Cy Young magic and ownership coughs up a contract extension for Wright. If not, the team trades Wright, ends up at the bottom of the National League and is hampered by a stagnant offense, inconsistent pitching and horrendous defense (they finished dead last in ultimate zone rating in 2011).

If optimism in baseball is based on potential wins, then Mets fans don’t have much to look forward to. The cavalry isn’t coming in the owner’s box and it certainly isn’t coming on the field. Sandy Alderson is a great general manager and Terry Collins is a fiery, respectable coach, but they can only work with what they’re given.

It looks like “wait ‘til next year” will be the Mets mantra for the foreseeable future. Bummer.