Sandy Alderson and the Mets’ new reality

MLB

This is not a premature crowning of Mets general manager Sandy Alderson as the strangely timed and even more strangely titled Baseball Maverick: How Sandy Alderson Revolutionized Baseball and Revived the Mets tries to do. Nor is it a random act of rage for Alderson’s seeming inability to make the aggressive move a large segment of the Mets’ impatient fan base – most notably Mets Twitter and their beat writers – has been demanding along the lines of Troy Tulowitzki.

This is about the current reality of the team in an objective assessment of what Alderson’s done and what he clearly plans to do. As notoriously inscrutable as Alderson is, it’s no secret what his underlying sentiments are beneath the corporate terminology, skillful verbiage and lawyerly subterfuge.

The book written about Alderson is, at best, premature. At worst, it’s a bizarre alteration of current truths that might eventually be true, but currently are not. The title of the book takes the tone of hope that Alderson’s supporters will read it and believe every word in spite of the fact that his Mets teams have finished under .500 in every one of the four years he’s been the GM of the team.

On the other side are those who don’t even have the basest understanding of what it was Alderson was facing when he took the team over. The farm system was in better shape under the previous regime led by Omar Minaya than popular perception suggests, but there were horrendous contracts on the books and many of the prospects were still years away. No one even knew who Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Juan Lagares and Lucas Duda were. Ike Davis was expected to be a centerpiece and there was a desperation that Jose Reyes would sign a long-term contract. He had to slash payroll, wait out those contracts, try to maximize the value he did have on the big league roster, and wait.

In short, with the Bernie Madoff financial disaster still in full swing and the Wilpons facing the bleak prospect of possibly losing the team, Alderson was the front man who had to take the hits for the sins of ownership. His even tone and outward calm turned out to be exactly what they needed as a spokesman. His ruthlessness and fearlessness was also what the club needed as he set about implementing a rebuild that was a long time in coming.

For so long, the Mets patched over their holes with veterans and largely ignored the farm system with an adherence to fan and media demands because Minaya and Jeff Wilpon heard the reverberating echoes for instant gratification even if it was doomed to be the baseball equivalent of the subprime mortgage crisis.

While Alderson’s accomplishment might have had more to do with the financial realities that the Wilpons were dealing with, he was still able to convince them to take the heat for failing to make a sound offer for Reyes; for trading National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey; for dealing away Carlos Beltran; for retaining manager Terry Collins when the fans and segments of the media made abundantly clear their desire for him to be replaced. It was a combination of warding off the interference of ownership to try and tamp down on the criticism, ignoring the media and fans, and rebuilding the team properly under financial constraints that are difficult to fathom for a big market team.

This spring, Alderson’s actions and his tone have changed from conciliatory and parrying to aggressive and challenging. Clearly it’s because he thinks he’s in a better position to be combative since the team has a legitimate chance at contention.

His acquisitions of two veteran lefty relievers Alex Torres and Jerry Blevins within hours of each other was another example of him staying silent and waiting for a deal to present itself rather than panicking to quiet the critics. This wasn’t the first time that Alderson acted without the media having the faintest idea as to what he was planning because his front office doesn’t leak information to drop pebbles into the water to see what the reaction is going to be. When he traded Beltran to the San Francisco Giants, the reports from supposed insiders as to what the return was going to be focused on then-Giants’ top prospect, center fielder Gary Brown. That was almost four years ago and, ironically, the Giants just lost Brown to the St. Louis Cardinals on a waiver claim after he contributed nothing to the big league club. Instead, he acquired Zack Wheeler who, in spite of needing Tommy John surgery, has far better career prospects than the plummeting Brown.

He traded Dickey for a catcher, Travis d’Arnaud who will at worst be a 15-18 homer bat, and what many believe is the best pitching prospect in baseball, Noah Syndergaard.

Simultaneous articles in the tabloids were written about the Mets lack of action to bolster their starting rotation after the loss of Harvey to, again, Tommy John surgery in 2013. That very day, he struck without warning and signed Bartolo Colon to a two-year contract leading the likes of Joel Sherman to do what he usually does after being embarrassed by his own lack of insight and information: try to explain away why he’s almost always completely wrong.

That’s not to say there are no negatives to be lobbed at Alderson. While the Kettmann book wasn’t written with Alderson as a manifesto for his ego and legacy, he did take part in it in a vast number of brutally honest interviews. Much of it seemed to be an attempt to place himself at the forefront of how baseball is run today as a father figure to be placed on the sabermetrics Mount Rushmore.

For all the talk that it was Alderson who ushered in the Moneyball revolution and that it was he who trained Billy Beane leaving the foundation for what became Beane’s faux aura of “genius,” Alderson’s teams with the A’s had basically surrendered to the fact that they didn’t have the money they did in the late 1980s and early 1990s when they were the best team in the American League. They had accepted their lot in life as a team for whom everything had to go right for them to show some semblance of competitiveness.

When he became the CEO of the San Diego Padres his teams were consistently solid, but the front office was in disarray with warring factions whose dueling battle lines were fostered by Alderson himself in a clear tactic to keep all loyalties to him. It also can’t be ignored that the success he experienced in Oakland and San Diego were accomplished with one manager, Tony LaRussa, who’s in the Hall of Fame, and another manager, Bruce Bochy, who’s going to make the Hall of Fame. His other managers have been questionable hires whose job status was based more on their willingness to listen to front office edicts regarding how to run the team on the field than their actual competence.

The narrative that it was Alderson who brought the stat-based theories into baseball is undermined by him having had limited success as the man in charge of those organizations. Perhaps that’s part of the reason he took the Mets job – he does have an ego and desire to receive credit for his work. It might also be part of the reason he signed the contract extension to stay on as Mets GM through the 2017 season. Maybe that’s why he decided to go through with participating in Kettmann’s book. Although Kettmann’s book jumps the gun on crediting him, he wants to be there to get the accolades from the wider audience instead of having his legacy debated and contextualized as to how much of it he’s responsible for and how much of it was due to circumstances.

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