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Mets will improve, only question is how

Flexibility and a couple cornerstones have the franchise headed in the right direction @RichardJustice

The Mets are going to get better this offseason. Significantly better. More interesting, too. That's the bottom line in all of this. As for how we get from here to there, well, that's the tricky part.

I've got Jhonny Peralta, Shin-Soo Choo, Nate McLouth, Phil Hughes and Scott Kazmir penciled onto the roster as new Mets.

But I digress.

Maybe you've heard they've got a couple of holes to fill in Flushing. They do, no secret there. But for the first time in general manager Sandy Alderson's four offseasons, he has money to spend -- perhaps as much as $30 million in 2014 payroll commitments.

If you're hoping for a splashy move, that's probably not going to happen. Alderson simply has too many needs to go for the big-ticket guys. But his money probably matches up with some intriguing talent that would also fill needs.

Since Alderson took over the team three years ago, he has spent cautiously and begun replenishing the Minor League system, while getting out from under the weight of some large payroll commitments (Jason Bay, Johan Santana, etc.).

That Alderson has done. If nothing else happens this offseason, Mets fans should at least know that the worst is over, and the most fun part of the reconstruction of the franchise has begun.

In a perfect world, Alderson would like to land two outfielders, two starting pitchers and a shortstop.

Oh, and a new bullpen.

Piece of cake, right?

To fill all those needs for, say, $30 million may not happen. But it would be stunning if the Mets didn't take a huge step in the right direction in 2014. Will they be good enough to contend in '14?

Some of that will depend on how much progress Lucas Duda, Jon Niese, Dillon Gee and Travis d'Arnaud make. At times, all of them have looked like they're good enough to be part of the long-term future.

But this is an important year for them. As the Royals and Mariners have taught us in recent years, young players don't come with guarantees, and it's silly putting a timetable on them.

To compare these Mets with the 2013 Red Sox would be a silly mistake. But here's one legitimate comparison: Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington had a similarly long shopping list after the '12 season. He, too, was committed to staying away from long-term salary commitments and to increasing his payroll in any dramatic way.

When Cherington began signing Jonny Gomes, David Ross, Mike Napoli and others, he wasn't universally praised. One Boston columnist called his work a big stack of mediocrity, or something close to that.

What Cherington reminded 29 other general managers is that roster building is more an art than a science. It's about adding talent, but it's about also adding chemistry, teamwork and work ethic.

Cherington needed a new atmosphere and a bunch of pieces to plug into the lineup card here, there and everywhere. His advantage was that in Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Jon Lester, John Lackey and Clay Buchholz, he had a core of talent on which a champion could be built.

Alderson does not have that championship core -- at least not yet. At least not that we can see. He's got one of the five best players in the game in third baseman David Wright and a solid second baseman in Daniel Murphy.

After that, there are questions almost everywhere. If you hear that Alderson has contacted the agents for Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Garza and Brian McCann, you should not be surprised. He's going to attempt to find out exactly what he's capable of doing.

But there are other good options that may not require a mega-contract. How about Peralta to play shortstop? Choo might be within the Mets' budget as well. He's an on-base machine who would dramatically upgrade the club.

As for improving the rotation, Alderson probably will have to let the market play out behind Garza, Tim Hudson and others. There are going to be interesting names available -- Kazmir, Scott Feldman, Josh Johnson, Bronson Arroyo -- but the market will take time to develop.

So be patient, Mets fans. This is a new kind of offseason, one filled with possibilities. It may be agonizingly slow. Just know that by the time the Mets gather in Port St. Lucie, Fla., in February, they're going to be far different -- and better -- than they are today. That's worth waiting for, isn't it?

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.

New York Mets, Shin-Soo Choo, Phil Hughes, Scott Kazmir, Nate McLouth, Daniel Murphy, Jhonny Peralta, David Wright