Alderson And The Experts

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You can watch the Sandy Alderson interview with Kevin Burkhardt on Mets Hot Stove above and make your own determination as to what he’s actually saying.

The body language/tone/behavior/baseball experts on Twitter and in the media took the “look” of Alderson as ranging from profoundly negative to depressed to near suicidal.

If you read the transcript of the juicy bits of what he said here on MetsBlog, you can make an entirely different judgment.

Those who are ripping the Mets as a matter of course for the relentless need to complain; because there’s an editorial mandate to do so or because it’s designed to drum up webhits in a trolling sort of manner; to push a book; or just because, here’s the truth: they either don’t want to understand reality or are utterly incapable of doing so, and they’re not accepting facts.

If you dissect the Mets 2012 situation financially and in talent, they’re not going to be anything more than a fringe contender for a Wild Card spot if they bring Jose Reyes back and have everything go exactly right.

Some are actively trying to tilt at windmills, aggrandize themselves as influential voices and catalyze a new ownership.

The Wilpons are not selling the team. This is the position they’re in at least until their part in the Madoff lawsuit is completed and they have a firmer grip on what the circumstances are. Anyone hoping for a Mark Cuban to walk in, buy the team and start spending, spending, spending the team back into relevance hasn’t the faintest idea of how an organization—sports or otherwise—is run; Cuban did all of those things the Mets are entreated to do; but what the ignorant outsiders are failing to grasp is that the Dallas Mavericks went through multiple incarnations of players, coaches and a lack of success before hitting the jackpot with an unexpected championship last season.

The Red Sox, Yankees and Phillies proved this very year that spending capriciously for star players doesn’t automatically guarantee a championship.

The Mets have gone down that road. They signed the big names—Johan Santana, Jason Bay, Billy Wagner, Carlos Beltran, Pedro Martinez; they filled all the holes; they did everything the fans wanted them to do including building a new ballpark.

They haven’t won.

In fact, they degenerated into a disaster.

It’s not because of the Madoff Ponzi scheme and the Wilpon’s entanglement in that nightmare, it’s because they were top-heavy and shoddily constructed—built to win immediately for a short window.

The window closed and they hadn’t won.

It’s not Omar Minaya’s fault; it’s the Jeff Wilpon’s fault; it’s not Bernie Madoff’s fault.

It happened. And it happens to the teams that are perceived as doing everything the “right” way.

Sandy Alderson was hired to fix the Mets and that’s what he’s doing whether you like it or not.

Do you believe that John Henry intended to spend $160 million on payroll when he bought the Red Sox? If he did, then what was the purpose of hiring Theo Epstein and his young, stat savvy crew of Ivy League educated, sabermetric wizards? Why did he hire Bill James? Why did he hire Billy Beane only to be spurned at the altar?

Henry wanted to create the Moneyball Red Sox patterned after the cheap and efficient method in which Beane (and, in part, Alderson) transformed the A’s into a dominant franchise without spending a ton of money.

Things morphed into the Red Sox competing with the Yankees for the same players and a championship or bust attitude. It’s part of the reason for the 2012 Red Sox catastrophe and departure of both Terry Francona and Theo Epstein.

People wanted the “Red Sox way” and that’s what they’re getting.

Alderson has the people—Paul DePodesta, J.P. Ricciardi—from that school of thought; a similar school of thought that has made the Rays into a team that wins with a non-existent payroll and an atrocious ballpark. When the Stuart Sternberg regime took over the Rays, they knew they could’ve won a few more games if they’d spent some money on mediocre big leaguers to look better than they were. But is there really that big of a difference between 68 wins? 76 wins? 82 wins?

No.

So why bother wasting cash to lure a negligible number of extra fans?

Reyes will either stay or he won’t;  barring a sudden leap from the pitching staff, some luck with bullpen signings/trades and the new Citi Field dimensions helping David Wright and Bay become what they were before entering baseball’s version of the Grand Canyon, Reyes’s presence isn’t going to help the team escape the morass in which they’re currently trapped. The club will save some face and make people who already have Reyes out the door look foolish, but that’s all.

It takes a brutal assessment and sheer courage to say to the fans that the team isn’t going to be able to contend with Reyes, so why overpay to keep him? The National League East is a nightmare. If the Mets had the cash of the Yankees and Red Sox, they’d be able to cobble a contender from the current market by signing Jonathan Papelbon; C.J. Wilson; Josh Willingham.

They don’t.

This is why Alderson was brought onboard. I saw no negativity in what he said concerning the rebuild—and that’s what it is; his body language indicated what those who are looking for “clues” wanted to see; his tone was matter-of-fact, realistic and intelligent; his content was comprehensive and honest.

Alderson asked Reyes’s representatives what it would cost to sign him; they received silence; the Mets told him to shop around and come back. What else are they supposed to do? What else can they do?

Nothing.

Reyes will be presented with offers from other clubs; the Mets might be able to match them; if they can, he’ll stay; if they can’t, he’ll go elsewhere (watch the Angels) and the Mets will move on in a rational, coherent and coldblooded manner to turn the team into a profitable and successful franchise that can spend money to fill holes, but also has players who were developed internally or are unappreciated foundlings that come through.

This is where they are. Stop complaining about it. If you don’t like the product, don’t go to the games and come back when the team is deemed worthwhile for you to spend your money to watch.

Perhaps the Mets would be better off is Alderson was that straightforward about the team. Maybe then the armchair analysts would shut up.

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Logic, Reality And Madness

Hot Stove

Let’s say you’ve got a friend who claims to have a foolproof system to win at blackjack. He’s got other people involved with him who are giving him money to play at the table, he’ll take a small percentage of the winnings and you don’t have to do anything other that front him to the money with which to play.

You give him, say, $100.

He takes that $100, plays blackjack, doesn’t appear any more skillful at the game than any of the other hacks sitting around the table and the dealer has a 20. Everyone loses. This continues for most of the night; he wins some hands; loses some; doesn’t appear to be doing any better than anyone else. There’s no pile of chips in front of him at any point.

But your friend comes to you at the end of the night and hands you $175. You got your money back plus an extra $75.

“How?” you ask. “I saw you losing.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he replies. “I got a system.” Then with a wink and a knowing smirk, he walks away.

You shrug, don’t ask questions and continue giving him money to play with. Hey, you’re making money; why ask questions?

Logically, shouldn’t you know that something shady is going on? That maybe he’s not “winning” at all; that maybe he’s giving you money he got from someone else and is playing and playing and playing and playing with other people’s cash, accumulating volume without any realistic profits? A false gain?

You probably would know if you have any common sense at all, but given the nature of the situation, that you’re not hurting anyone directly and you don’t have implicit knowledge of his scam, what’s the difference? But you’re complicit. You’re benefiting. And you’re leaving yourself wide open for consequences if the well runs dry and he can’t find people to continue fronting him cash.

Sounds like Bernie Madoff, doesn’t it?

Let’s try another, baseball-related analogy that has to do with ridiculous gains during tough times—a hallmark of the Madoff scheme and his “always win” results.

Tony La Russa is a true baseball innovator; as close to being a genius as there is in a manager. That said, he’s taken advantage of his reputation for knowing what he’s doing to try things that might get another manager fired. If the inexperienced Don Mattingly comes up with some basis for batting the pitcher anywhere but ninth, his bosses are going to scream, “What the hell are you doing?!?” La Russa does it, and it’s an innovation based on research. He gets away with it because he can.

It was the same thing with his conscious decision to compartmentalize his bullpen and have defined roles for his pitchers. While it’s been suggested that La Russa was the originator of the concept that the closer only pitches the ninth inning (inaccurately), it was his alteration of the way bullpens are used that spun into the Jeff Torborg-type of manager who became an automaton with no room for nuance, thought or differing viewpoints.

But La Russa has made his mistakes—some of them of the gigantic variety.

Rick Ankiel is one such mistake.

Starting the then-21-year-old phenom in the opening game of the 2000 NLDS may have been a good idea on paper, but it showed a lack of judgment on the part of the manager. Could La Russa, experienced baseball man that he was, have sensed that Ankiel was so tightly wound that he was eventually going to implode from the pressure? Pressure placed on him by the manager in starting him in a game of that magnitude—the opening game of a playoff series?

Maybe.

But the mistake was made, Ankiel blew up and lost any and all command of where the ball was going and his career as a pitcher collapsed into dust under the weight of expectations, demands and pressure.

It didn’t happen all at once.

Ankiel made it back as an everyday player and has been useful. He has power; speed; and, naturally, a great arm in the outfield. He won’t ever be a commensurately gifted hitter as he could’ve been as a pitcher; there won’t be any MVP candidacy; but had he maintained his composure as a pitcher, he was a Cy Young Award candidate.

He’s built a career for himself where there wouldn’t have been one had he not been able to hit.

And it took seven years for him to make it back to the majors as a hitter. He didn’t give up pitching until 2005; didn’t get back to the big leagues as a hitter until 2007.

Equating this to the Madoff scam, in a best case scenario and considering the gains his investors made, it was as if Ankiel failed as a pitcher in game 1 of the 2000 NLDS and the Cardinals made him into a hitter in time for him to bash his way through the NLCS two weeks later.

As seamless transitions and fantasy stories go, it’s wonderful; but use your intelligence. Does it make sense? Would you believe it if someone suggested it to be possible? Casual baseball fan or not, you know about the history of the game and how difficult it would be to make such an early-career switch. It’s transferable to any career whether it’s sports, financial or whatever.

In the Bernard Malamud book, The Natural, it took Roy Hobbs years to make it back to baseball after being shot. He couldn’t pitch anymore because of his wounds and came back as an outfielder. The book was a nihilistic morality play on how fate can touch the most gifted of us.

The savviest scouts don’t nail every prospect; the best manager makes mistakes; the “genius” GMs gaffe in a bunch of trades.

No one hits on everything he does.

They don’t.

The Wilpons had to know what was going on with Bernie Madoff.

There’s no other explanation for people who are seemingly so smart that they were able to amass these fine fortunes to have been taken in by a clear swindler.

It was unrealistic (at best) to think that during economic downturns the profits would keep on coming in regardless of markets and failure. Sometimes prospects, like Ankiel, don’t make it for one reason or another. It’s the same thing in the stock market. There could be a terrific idea that, for one reason or another, fails.

How could those investing and profiting from Madoff not realize what was happening? Even the most obtuse and hands-off among us would’ve spotted the oddity of his consistent success.

No one is right 100% of the time.

Do you mean to tell me that Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz—the Mets current owners and we don’t know for how much longer—didn’t smell something fishy?

Really?

Whether they were directly complicit in the scheme is beside the point. I don’t know if they were or weren’t; but like Madoff’s family claimed to not have a clue that what they were doing was a giant Ponzi scheme, use your common sense. Simply because they didn’t “know-know” doesn’t absolve them of responsibility.

If an advantage is being taken and they adhere to the old standby of “it’s not hurting anyone” and “we’re all profiting”, they’re still part of the plot by indulging and accepting benefit.

I’m not a financial person and I’m a pragmatist. There’s no moral high ground with me. There wasn’t much for those who were making money with Madoff to do aside from pulling their assets from his operation and who in their right mind is going to do that while they’re making more and more money year-after-year?

Blowing the whistle wouldn’t have done any good. With the intricate way the Madoff scam had wormed its way around the entire world and the people involved, nothing would’ve been done to stop it.

They understandably turned a blind eye and stayed silent. But the truth came out and the “money” that wasn’t actual currency is gone. What has to be understood is that when someone is called a “billionaire”, they most likely don’t have a billion dollars in the bank; what they have is assets and credit. It’s elusive and floating in the air and, as the Madoff case proved, it sometimes doesn’t exist as anything other than a whisper in limbo uttered by a ghost.

The Mets are trying to sell a share of the club.

They’re saying it’s 25% without a controlling interest so the Wilpons can maintain their command. A cash infusion is needed. The media and fans are in an uproar over having been misled or “lied” to by the Mets owners who said that the Madoff mess would not affect club operations; the estimate of how much is being sought in the government’s recovery lawsuit—for the Wilpons who gained in the scam—is said to be in the area of as much as a billion dollars.

Now the sportswriters and commentators are questioning why anyone would pay the nearly $200 million pricetag to have no voice in club operations for a quarter of the franchise. Without any knowledge of this process, I would think that some wealthy person would be interested in a deal to purchase part of the Mets with either a chance to buy out the Wilpons by a fixed date or to sell out and earn a percentage markup of what they put in.

That could be worked out in some way to make it attractive to a potential investor.

This is neither here nor there.

For a long time, it’s been suggested that the Mets owners were damaged severely by the collapse of the Madoff house of lies. This too is irrelevant in the context of worldwide damage.

They had to know subconsciously that something was wrong. Any denial is just as unbelievable as the above analogies.

Certain fantasies have no place in objectivity; any normal-thinking person who can examine a series of insane tales and spot their sheer unlikeliness; unprecedented success is unprecedented for a reason. Whether they’re willing to admit it to themselves or not, they had to know.

Was it due to greed? Ignorance? A silent contract between a schemer and his beneficiaries?

Does it matter?

The end result is the same. The Mets are a financial morass right now in part because of Bernie Madoff; and in part because the red flags of his crimes were shrugged off because everyone was “winning”.

The Mets are not winning anymore on or off the field and the madness is spiraling.

The Mets are for sale because the Wilpons don’t appear to have a choice. They’re paying the price for their involvement with Madoff, directly or otherwise.

This is the only way it could end.

It’s unavoidable.

The inevitable is becoming reality.

As it always does.