PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon says the team's trimmed-down $83 million payroll has more to do with patience than a spending freeze.
Wilpon watched the club's first official workout Wednesday and said the Mets are in better financial shape than in the past.
The Mets had a relatively quiet off-season aside from locking up All-Star third baseman David Wright for another eight years and $138 million and bringing in pitcher Shaun Marcum on a one-year $4 million deal.
But Wilpon said general manager Sandy Alderson isn't under any strict monetary limitations and "the family is doing very well" financially.
That wasn't the case in the past when Wilpon and Mets management were busy paying off debts and working on damage caused by the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme case. Ownership settled on the Madoff case last spring.
"Everything that was in the past, you guys saw all the pain we went through, all of that is gone -- the fact we couldn't do much during that time," Wilpon said.
"I think we would anticipate being big investors where appropriate," he said.
The Mets' payroll dipped from $134 million in 2010 to $93 million last year.
This winter, they had a chance to improve their outfield by going after free agent Michael Bourn. Wilpon and Alderson both said the hang-up wasn't all about money -- Bourn recently went to Cleveland on a $48 million, four-year deal.
Had the Mets signed Bourn, they would've given up a high draft pick. There earlier had been speculation that the Mets would not have lost the pick, but that wasn't the case.
The length of the contract was another problem.
"We weren't prepared to go to five years, and they had known that for some time," Alderson said.
The Mets are hoping for a big return on a handful of low-risk deals designed to help shore up the bullpen.
In a much different approach to last year's $15.5 million investment on closer Frank Francisco and now-departed reliever Jon Rauch, the club signed veterans Pedro Feliciano, Scott Atchison and LaTroy Hawkins to minor league deals. The Mets also got Brandon Lyon for a one-year contract worth $750,000.
"We want to be as effective as we possibly can in the bullpen," Alderson said. "That hasn't been the case over the last few years. Relief pitching is notoriously unpredictable, but we think with the mix we have and the quality of the veterans we brought in, we should see some definite improvement."
Lyon especially could make an impact now that Francisco has been shut down with the same right elbow inflammation that ended his season Sept. 16 and ultimately led to December surgery to remove bone spurs.
Alderson said Francisco fell behind in his rehab during the off-season because of personal issues related to deaths in his family, so the setback was not a surprise.
The Mets, however, already have a backup plan in place should Francisco not be ready to start the season with the team.
Manager Terry Collins informed Bobby Parnell late Tuesday that he would be the first guy in line to replace Francisco, should he not be ready to start the season with the team. Collins said Wednesday that Lyon likely would move into the eighth-inning spot in that scenario.
Collins said Parnell took "enormous steps forward" at the end of last season and could earn the closer job outright, even if Francisco comes back healthy.
Parnell is coming off his best season yet, going 5-4 with a 2.49 ERA and 61 strikeouts over 68 2-3 innings.
"It's simple," Parnell said. "Frankie is coming off surgery, and if he's not ready I need to be ready. I have to prepare myself like it's the ninth, and we'll go from there."
Though Parnell had struggled in ninth-inning situations in the past, he recorded a 1.90 ERA in 26 ninth-inning appearances in 2012.
The 28-year-old right-hander said he hopes to "ride that wave" into this season.
"It's the same game, same three outs, just a different inning," Parnell said. "I'm going to go out there and pitch. Maybe I put a little bit too much pressure on myself in the past, but I can't do that now."
NOTES: Alderson said the visa issue delaying the arrival of 23-year-old RHP Jenrry Mejia is related to an investigation into his age and identity. Alderson said he believes the review, which is being handled through Major League Baseball at the request of the U.S. Consulate in the Dominican Republic, was random and not because of suspected wrongdoing. "It could take a while, but MLB is treating it as a priority, so I'm hopeful he will be in soon," Alderson said. In the meantime, Mejia is working out at the Mets' complex in the Dominican Republic.