Reading Between Sandy Alderson’s Lines

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Sandy Alderson was a guest with Mike Francesa on WFAN in New York yesterday and said a lot without going into great detail as to what his true intentions are. This is nothing new. Alderson is cautious and makes it a point to give himself room by not saying anything that could later come back to haunt him. But if you read between the lines of what he said, you can come to a conclusion as to where he’s heading for the Mets in 2014 and beyond.

Matt Harvey – surgery or not?

According to Alderson, by next month there should be a plan in place on what to do about Harvey’s partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. While Harvey’s determination to avoid surgery to help the Mets is admirable, it was clear from listening to Alderson that he and the Mets want Harvey to get the surgery done, have his elbow repaired and be 100 percent for late 2014/early 2015.

Alderson is essentially saying what the self-educated “experts” in the media and on social media should say: “I’m not a doctor and we’ll do what the doctors’ consensus is.” If I were Alderson, I would speak to Harvey’s dad, Ed Harvey, who is a notable high school coach and make certain he understands the ramifications of Matt not getting the surgery and express that to his son.

Ike Davis and Lucas Duda

Alderson sounds as if he’s unsure about Davis and likes Duda much better. I agree. The bottom line with the two players is that Duda’s a better hitter. He’s got more power; he’s got a better eye; he hits lefties; he’s got a shorter swing that will be more consistent in the long run; he takes the game more seriously; and he can play a similar defensive first base to Davis.

Alderson brought up Duda’s struggles but made sure to point out that in spite of them, he still had one of the highest OPS’s on the club. Davis improved in certain aspects when he returned from his Triple A demotion, but his power is still missing. He’s walking more, but unless Davis is hitting the ball out of the park, what good is he?

The strained right oblique that Davis suffered in Washington has all but ended his 2013 season. This is a positive and negative for the Mets. It’s a negative because they won’t be able to get a look at Davis over the final month to see if the improved selectivity yielded an increase in power over the final 30 games. It’s a positive because they can play Duda every single day at first base and get a gauge on whether they can trade Davis and trust Duda without it exploding in their faces.

Joel Sherman came up with a ridiculous series of scenarios for Davis including trading him for the likes of Chris Coghlan, Gordon Beckham or Jeremy Hellickson. Coghlan is a possible non-tender candidate after this season and Beckham and Hellickson have done nothing to warrant being traded for a player who hit 32 home runs in 2012.

It’s almost as if Alderson is pleading with Duda to give him a reason to hand him the job in 2014. Alderson clearly wants Duda to put a chokehold on first base so the Mets can trade Davis.

Ruben Tejada

The Mets had implied as far back as spring training 2012 that Tejada’s work ethic was questionable. It’s not that he doesn’t hustle or play hard when he’s on the field. He does. It’s that Alderson came right out and said that Tejada has to be dragged onto the field for extra infield, extra hitting and any kind of after-hours instruction. Whereas players like Juan Lagares can’t get enough work, Tejada doesn’t think he needs it. They’d never gone as far as to openly say it, but now it’s out there. Unless Tejada shows that he’s willing to go as far as he needs to to be the Mets’ shortstop, he’s not going to be the Mets’ shortstop. In fact, it’s unlikely that he’s going to be their shortstop next year whether he suddenly finds a determination similar to Derek Jeter’s. He doesn’t hit for enough power to suit Alderson and he can’t run.

The status of manager Terry Collins

Collins is going to be the manager of the Mets in 2014. While there has been a media/fan-stoked idea that if the Mets tank in September and come completely undone that will spell doom for Collins, it’s nonsense. That might have been the case had David Wright, Davis, Harvey and Bobby Parnell been healthy and if they hadn’t traded Marlon Byrd and John Buck. Now that they’re without all of these players and are on the cusp of shutting down Zack Wheeler, they’re playing so shorthanded that a September record of 10-19 would be expected. If they go 14-15 or thereabouts, Collins will get the credit for overachievement.

How can anyone in their right mind hold Collins responsible if the team has a poor September when they’re going to be trotting Daisuke Matsuzaka and Aaron Harang out to the mound for a number of starts just to get the season over with?

The upcoming winter and spending

I’m not getting into speculation on the Wilpons’ loan payments due in 2014. So many have already done that and the vast majority of them have been completely wrong every step of the way since the arrest of Bernie Madoff and the financial meltdown. From the outside, I’m going to say that the banks are going to let the Wilpons renegotiate the debt. In truth, considering the amount of money they owe, what it will cost to sign a few players – even expensive players – is relatively negligible. It’s not in Alderson’s DNA to pay $150 million for a free agent because as Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Carl Crawford and so many others have proven, it’s just not worth it in the majority of cases. The Mets will be in on the likes of Bronson Arroyo, Carlos Beltran and Jhonny Peralta whose prices will be “what’s the difference?” outlays. Alderson said they have financial flexibility and they do. The Mets are going to spend this winter because they’re out of excuses and they can’t afford not to.




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Bet On the Wilpons Surviving and Thriving

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I’m ambivalent about the Wilpons settling their part in the Madoff lawsuit.

All along, I was relatively disinterested in the entire episode. The circumstances were what they were and once the trial was completed, then the direction of the Mets would be determined. Because they were so badly hurt by the Madoff Ponzi scheme, the money that was once available to the Mets to pursue players was no longer there; they were forced to scour the bargain bins and deal away veterans Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran while sitting by haplessly and avoiding any bidding war for big free agent names that, given their on-field state, likely wouldn’t have come to the Mets under any circumstances apart from the Mets being the highest bidder. (See Jason Bay.)

Now that the lawsuit is over (and you can find details of the settlement here on NYTimes.com), it’s become clear that the supposed experts didn’t know any more about the nitty gritty of these types of deals than the media/social media would-be experts who were lending their opinions regarding issues about which they knew nothing.

Yes, the sources and “experts” might have information and insight about the law and the financial world, but that information and insight stemmed from personal experience and not from what they were privy to in terms of information as to what the Wilpons’ strategy was going to be to save themselves.

In the end, the Wilpons chose to settle and for now they’ve bought themselves time with what wound up as, by all accounts, a very favorable deal considering the alternatives.

What we’re presented with from those who provide commentary to the reporters telling the story is something to the tune of factoids that are kindasorta true, but only true from their point-of-view. These are not absolute facts like in a math/science problem that’s been solved; they’re interpretations.

I don’t recall reading or seeing anyone suggesting that the Wilpons were going to be able to settle the case and save themselves. Every outcome ended with them having to sell the franchise because their financial footing was no longer viable.

Look where they are now.

As much as the context is provided that the case was settled and their creditors are off their backs for the time being, there are ongoing doom and gloom revelations about the bonds that funded the building of Citi Field; the loans to the banks due on the club and SNY; and how the Wilpons are still in dire financial straits.

“X loan with Y bank of $400 million comes due on <THIS> day.”

“The bond interest payments must begin late in the year <BLANK>.”

“They’re still going to put a subpar product on the field because they don’t have the money to pay for players.”

Don’t buy it.

The Wilpons didn’t get rich being stupid.

Guilt, innocence or willfull blindness no longer matter because they settled the case and put themselves in a great position to end up retaining control of the franchise.

I said long ago that the Wilpons and Saul Katz had to know what was going on with Madoff, but there might’ve been a “don’t tell me what I don’t want to know” aspect of the gains they were making with the disgraced swindler.

They didn’t ask. Madoff didn’t tell. And everyone rolled merrily along.

Then Madoff got caught and the Mets were in the middle of the cesspool.

What the chroniclers of the case and the Wilpon-bashers have failed to account for is how smart the Wilpons are. They didn’t get rich being dumb or lucky and they’ve hired lawyers whose specialty is extricating their clients from situations just like these and helping them maintain their businesses and positions.

What I find funny (ha-ha and sad) is that a bunch of non-financial, non-lawyerly reporters felt that they were somehow qualified to provide commentary on issues that they probably only had a baseline understanding of and were simply regurgitating what they were told by “experts” and believed everything that was said because they had neither the aptitude nor the education to question what was being offered as what “would” happen in this lawsuit.

The settlement was pragmatic and smart and you can bet that the Wilpons are going to figure a way to keep control of the franchise when the loan payments become onerous by refinancing and extending the timeframe in which they have to pay.

What this means to the Mets and how they’re going to move forward remains to be seen. Will Sandy Alderson stay? Will the Mets examine a contract extension to keep David Wright past 2013? And what’s going to happen if and when all the decisions they made due to financial constraints wind up being seen as a net positive (a term that became familiar during the lawsuit) because the Mets couldn’t continue tossing bad money after bad money in a self-destructive attempt to placate angry fans and overpay for players who weren’t going to help them one way or the other?

They’ve cleared some players they no longer needed and are moving in the direction of paying players what they’re worth rather than giving them a large contract to keep pace with the big spenders in baseball. Letting Jose Reyes leave could eventually be seen as a smart and lucky baseball decision. They’re concentrating on development and giving their own young players a chance to play.

In a few years, we might one day look back at this and say something to the tune of, “The Madoff mess actually led the Mets back to prominence because of the seeds that were planted out of necessity because there was no money to buy ready made players.”

The Wilpons survived mostly because they, their lawyers and advisers are smarter than you.

Don’t think they’re not preparing to get their other financial ducks in a row, because they are.

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