Since Sandy Alderson was hired, it has been pretty clear what his mission needed to be. Cut costs. Forget what has been said publicly, any Met fan worth his salt knows that the Wilpons were hurt badly by the Madoff scandal and that there was an actual cash crunch. But I believe that storm has been weathered, and with the values of sports networks exploding all over the country, Fred and Jeff might just be able to put the tin cups away. The New York Times seems to agree.
But against that backdrop we get this factoid: The New York Mets are the only team in major league baseball NOT to sign any major league free agents. Zero. None. Nada. And these two items are hard to reconcile. One year ago we had enough money to sign Frank Francisco and this year it would break the bank to sign Cody Ross? Or Ryan Ludwick? When the team just improved its cash flow? Strange, no? Could it be that this time it is not totally the Wilpons? Is Sandy Alderson the problem?
Well, yes. But it’s complicated. In the (not quite) Emmy-nominated, one-act satire I wrote a while back, I had Fred complaining to Sandy how Omar used to always come in asking for money:
FRED: Did I ever tell you how Omar used to come into this office? I swear he used to pull some kind of voodoo magic on me. He’d start talking and I’d go into a trance . . . and before I knew it, I was writing checks to Third World countries. That’s why I like you so much, Sandy. You never ask for money!
And that was Omar’s gift: he could talk Fred into opening up his wallet. Into believing that we needed Beltran, we needed Delgado, in order to win — since that was the idea. Joe McIllvaine, on the other hand, loathed what he snidely termed, “checkbook baseball.” With Sandy, my perception is of a cautious, prudent man — the millionaire down the block driving the old Ford Sierra Hatchback with 120,000 miles on it. Just as there are transitional managers, and stopgap players, Sandy Alderson might be the Buck Showalter of General Managers. Okay, thanks; but now get out of the way.
With any organization, goals are important. Clearly defined objectives. Why? Because they inform all future decisions. That’s why some fans rightfully killed the Wilpons, years ago, over their stated goal of “meaningful games in September.” It was a joke. Because that’s a far cry from saying, “We want to be the World Champions.”
Since 1986 the Mets have had two playoff-caliber era of teams, 1998-2000, and 2006-2008. In both cases, our GM’s had the personalities of used car salesmen. Not coincidently, both of them left messes behind, just like the used car that is past its warranty. So, no, we don’t want another Phillips or Minaya.
But I fear Alderson is too cautious to work for these owners long-term. We can see Alderson likes building the foundation. Can he bear to “overpay” for the guys who can get us Championships. Billy Beane gets a lot of rightful credit for winning with a tiny budget. Well, he doesn’t win Championships, and I live in New York, not Oakland. I pay New York prices at Citifield. For that I want a full-out commitment to winning, and I fear sometimes that Sandy is more consumed by proving himself the smartest guy in the room.
Good point. With Sandy, it keeps coming back to perception. Is he a good guy or another liar? Do we trust him?
As Mets fans, we’re like that girl who’s been burned so many times in the past, it’s difficult to fall in love again. I’m saying: we’re that character played by Lili Taylor in Say Anything. She can write only bitter, angry songs about her broken heart. “That’ll never be me, that’ll never be me!”
Right now, unlike Lili Taylor, I still have a shred of trust in my breast. I’m not hopelessly embittered after all! So, yes, clearly, we have some money to spend. Jon Heyman tweets it as, “quite a bit.” Wright deferred money, we traded Dickey, Bay restructured, Fred refinanced. There is some money, no doubt, let’s not sweat the details. The problem is, where are the players? I don’t see how spending it on the wrong guys really helps the situation. I read this excellent piece, “Why the Brewers are Shunning Shawn Marcum,” and concluded he’s too great a risk for the reward. Likewise, I don’t think Cody Ross would have succeeded in Citi Field; his power would have evaporated. And I believe that cold-hearted, analytical Sandy is facing that same problem player after player after player. Nobody out there is really that attractive in a “building toward the future” kind of way. Regarding Scott Hairston, I think Alderson’s “waiting for the market” strategy might have backfired. We could have locked him up sooner, and cheaper, I suspect.
To date we have taken a complete pass this offseason. That is a very strange approach. On paper Cody Ross is an upgrade over our outfielders. As for his salary, that is the current market. I’m not expecting Alderson to bid against himself, but you also have to understand the marketplace or you are going to wind up right where we are today. With money to spend, but nothing to do with it.
By signing Ross for three years, you also have a major league outfielder under contract for 2014 and 2015. I don’t see why that is a terrible thing. You need 25 players under contract, that’s the rules, and right now we project precious few beyond 2013. So yes, Ross is not very special. Is the expectation that by waiting around until 2014 we can do better? I don’t see that, I see the opposite.
If we do nothing, we will enter next offseason again needing many position players. How many quality position player holes can we expect to fill in one offseason? Filling a couple with mediocre Ross types would allow for a slightly better team in 2013 and a better foundation for 2014. With Santana and a large amount of Bay rolling off the payroll next year, Sandy has Gumby-like flexibility anyway. I would hate that the thing holding us back is we don’t have enough complementary players. You can’t just decide when you want to spend, every season there is a finite group of players available in the market.
Being GM of the Mets is not like being GM of the Yankees. It is not the Royals either, and we need a GM who has intelligence but also has a little salesmanship in him. The last thing we need is more regime change, and I’m rooting for Alderson to be that guy.
I’m not so sure he is.
I actually think trading is the better way to go, but we can discuss that another day. First we need our pitching assets to appreciate. All those nice-looking arms in Brooklyn and St. Lucie last year need to get closer to the bigs. Plus there’s Fulmer and our new Norse God of Strikeouts, Syndergaard. Then I hope we can create a package to land a real-deal outfielder. Sandy is one patient dude — who is, apparently, quite willing to punt for a few seasons. Or maybe he’s just still masticating.