For New York Mets fans, the worst news to emerge on Sunday, on the eve of baseball’s winter meetings, wasn’t the fact that shortstop Jose Reyes jumped ship via free agency and signed a six-year, $106 million deal with the division rival Miami Marlins – although that was plenty bad.

(Jeff Roberson/AP)

It isn’t difficult to see how the Mets lost money last season – with a bloated payroll, a sharp drop in attendance, a hefty revenue-sharing payment and the looming threat of a lawsuit stemming from the Bernie Madoff scandal. But $70 million (again, if it’s accurate) is a staggering figure – larger than the total payrolls of a third of all Major League teams.

“When a team loses $70 million,” Alderson told reporters in Dallas, at the site of the winter meetings, “… that’s probably a bigger factor in our approach to this season and the next couple than anything else.”

So there it is: The Mets have become the Tampa Bay Rays, only without the recent playoff appearances. For the foreseeable future, the Mets, it appears, are going to shrink payroll, let their best players and walk away and try rebuilding through youth – except they have one of the worst farm systems in the game.

“If we get all our [injured] players back healthy,” Alderson said, “which would count among them people like Johan Santana, we’ll be fine.”

Well, that’s comforting. The Mets aren’t going to spend any significant money. They may dump more payroll. But if Johan Santana — who missed all of 2011 after the type of shoulder surgery that frequently ends careers — can come back good as new, all will be fine!

The Mets not only lost Reyes – they lost him to a division rival. At a reasonable price (he didn’t get Carl Crawford money, as some were predicting). With only a third-round draft pick in 2012 to show in exchange for him. And now, reading between the lines of Alderson’s words, the Mets may be looking to trade third baseman David Wright, their best remaining player. At one time, Wright and Reyes formed the best left-side-of-the-infield in the National League. Now, that designation probably goes to Reyes and Hanley Ramirez, assuming the Marlins’ former shortstop accepts a move to third base.

Not so long ago, the Mets would have signed Reyes to a huge extension, then set their sights on Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. But now, that sounds more like a description of the Marlins – who have already handed out $133 million in free agent contracts this winter.

Between 2005 and 2008, the Mets finished above .500 four straight years, went to the NLCS once and were in contention for a playoff spot until the final weekend of the season two other times.

But now? The Mets have suffered three straight fourth-place finishes, and as things stand today – with plenty of more shuffling of the cards to come this winter – they are very clearly the worst team in the NL East. They don’t have the makings of a contender in 2012, or 2013, or anywhere in the foreseeable future. The worst part of this for Mets fans is that things may get much worse before they get better.


Nationals Insider: Reyes signing won’t alter Nats’ plans 

Reyes agrees to  sign with Marlins

SEC to probe financing of Marlins stadium