As the tarp was unfurled following the second inning of last night's game between the Mets and the Padres at Citi Field, Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson (SA) made his way to the SNY booth for a 15+ minute interview with Gary Cohen (GC) and Ron Darling (RD). What follows is the full transcript of that interview, during which Alderson touches on:
- The decision to keep Ike Davis with the big league team instead of demoting him to Triple-A.
- The performance of Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
- The outfield and first base picture once Jason Bay returns.
- Of course, my friend Mike Baxter here.
- Jon Niese's contract extension.
- The Mets' pitching prospects: Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jeurys Familia, and Jenrry Mejia.
- The team's surprisingly cromulent first quarter of the season.
GC: The number one topic of conversation this last week has been about Ike Davis and the decision made today not to send him down. Take us through what the factors were, both for and against sending him down.
SA: This has been an ongoing issue for probably a couple of weeks, heightened by the fact that some other clubs had sent prominent players down. Lind with Toronto, Gaby Sanchez with Miami, so it was coming to a head. Ike was being asked about it on a daily basis, Terry was being asked about it, there was speculation in the media, so we felt coming off the road trip, and to some extent we created this ourselves because we had talked about giving him some more time, let's see what happens on the road trip with some of the pitching that we were going to see, a lot of right-handed starting pitching. So in some sense this situation had been created by ourselves, but we felt it was necessary to resolve it one way or the other, and of course we had two choices: send him down or keep him here.
So I came over last night, the team arrived, we had a meeting among the coaches and Terry, myself, John Ricco, and talked about it at length. In some ways, the easy thing to do was to send him down. In fact, there was some discussion about the bold move is to send him down, and frankly I don't think the bold move was to send him down, I think the bold move was to keep him here. But Ike means a lot to this team. He's well-liked by his teammates, they're pulling for him, he hasn't burdened his teammates with the situation that he's had to endure, he still helps us defensively, and the upside is pretty significant for us. So really the question is, "How do we best get that upside?"
In talking to all of the coaches and Terry, I think everybody felt that this is a guy who is making some progress, and we felt it was important to alleviate this burden of the jury being out, and that he might be sent down tomorrow or the next day, this is his last at-bat, this is his last start, etc. So rightly or wrongly we said, "Look, we've got confidence in you, Ike, and we want you to stay here, we want you to work it out here." Dave Hudgens felt strongly about it, and from my standpoint he's an integral part of the team, there's a big upside, and there's no guarantee that he goes down and, even if he does well, he's got to come back up here and re-establish himself, so given the fact that we're playing pretty good baseball, and we're starting to see some signs, at least, that Ike is getting back, and hopefully won't throw away at-bats as perhaps he's done over the last two or three weeks, and we'll see where he goes. But I think it was important to try and give Ike some confidence that he's going to be here for a while and get a chance to work it out.
GC: When you look at Ike, and when you talk to Dave Hudgens, what do you see as the biggest issue?
SA: Well, I'm a non-player, so I never played, I'm not speaking as a former player, but just as an observer I think what I've seen is that teams have pitched him pretty consistently the same way, and that very often that pitch on the outside part of the plate — sometimes it's on the plate, sometimes it's off — gets called a strike and that's the end of the at-bat. I think one of the things we tried to impress on Ike last night was that, to some extent here it's not about the results, it's about the process, and if you can focus from at-bat to at-bat and not give them away and not get discouraged, perhaps those results will change.
RD: Some things are bad, but some things have been good. You had to maybe rush a young player, Kirk Nieuwenhuis. What do you think about the job he's done so far?
SA: Well he's done a great job for us in a position where we really needed some help. [Andres] Torres was out. Nieuwenhuis was a guy that was certainly on the radar, but we had hoped that he would get more time to play at Triple-A and that Kirk was perhaps a long-term solution to the situation in center field, but he came up after, what, a day or so, of the regular season and has played very well. And when you see that he might be fading a bit, he turns it around. He's been a great addition and one of the key reasons why we've been able to perform as well as we have in the absence of some of our players and in the absence of the performance of some of our players.
GC: You're probably a week to ten days away from making a decision til Jason Bay comes back, but obviously you're going to have a logjam at first base and your outfield spots. Have you guys had internal discussions yet, do you have an idea about what you're going to do when Jason comes back?
SA: Well, we're always thinking about these things, but you can't anticipate what will happen over the next ten days. Something always comes up that changes your set of options and requires you to take a look at it from an entirely different perspective. We understand that we may end up with a number of outfielders and taking the outfield and first base in the aggregate may squeeze some playing time, but we'll figure that out. If we've got five or six guys that are really going well, that's a nice problem to have. We haven't had that problem so far this year.
GC: Well sometimes it's the guys at the margins who can change your mind. If the season were just starting today you'd say, well, Mike Baxter's the guy who goes, but look what you got out of Mike Baxter.
SA: Well Mike is just a great illustration of what can happen with an opportunity. A lot of people said early in the year and in spring training that we had no depth, and by traditional standards they were absolutely right. Who the heck is Mike Baxter? But here's a guy that got an opportunity, has had great at-bats, whether he's done it as a pinch-hitter or in the lineup, and he's really been a big factor for us so I'm thrilled for him and I just think it emphasizes the importance of preserving opportunities for people. Sometimes those opportunities arise out of necessity; sometimes you go out on a limb and take a chance on a guy, and I'm really pleased that Mike has taken advantage of his opportunity.
RD: Coming off of yesterday's start by Jonathon Niese, just an outstanding start, I was thinking about the Padres, too, with Cameron Maybin, who's had kind of an up-and-down start to his career with a larger contract. Jonathon, of course, under a large contract now. How hard is it to identify those guys that you want to get in the mix and tie up for a few years, and what's the percentage? What if you have three young players you tie up, can you afford one not to be exactly what you wanted him to be?
SA: Well I think it depends on for what and how long you tie them up. In Jonathon's case, he was looking for some security. In our case, we had to project what he would be, and you start with a basic profile. Here's a left-handed starter early in his career, and predicated on what he has done to this point, how valuable will he be to us going forward, even if that performance doesn't improve. So in his particular case, we felt with the baseline that we had, with the numbers that we were guaranteeing and the upside that he possessed, and the control that would result from the contract based on the options and so forth, that this was definitely something that we wanted to do. We expect Jon to be a great pitcher for us, but the contract isn't based on the fact that he will be a great pitcher, and at some point you have to take some risk in order to ensure some control, so we're looking at Matt Cain vs. [Madison] Bumgarner in San Francisco. On the one hand, you can play it out and allow that risk to be assumed by the player, but at some point it can cost you a lot of money. I think first of all you have to start with a basic profile, and then you go from player to player.
GC: Jeremy Hefner making the start tonight, the third different pitcher that you've plugged into that spot that was vacated by Mike Pelfrey's injury, and Jeremy's looked terrific so far, but all every Met fan wants to talk about is Matt Harvey, Jeurys Familia, Zack Wheeler, Jenrry Mejia. Give us an update on the young pitchers and give us, if you can, some kind of timetable for what you guys are thinking about with them.
SA: We've got actually three of those pitchers will be in Triple-A as of tomorrow. Jenrry Mejia will be going up there and continuing his rehab stint. He pitched in Binghamton today, so we'll have Harvey, Familia, and Mejia all at Triple-A, and, of course, Zack Wheeler is at Double-A. What I've tried to say in the past is that, not of all four, but certainly Harvey, Wheeler, and Familia at this point, their development is independent of anything that we may or may not need at this level, at least at this stage. Their development right now is more important than any short-term benefit that we might get. Harvey's pitched well, hasn't pitched great, we'd love to see him pitch more consistently and well over time. Familia has had some command issues. Mejia is just coming back. You know, I could see Jenrry, perhaps, in the bullpen later this year, just depending on what our need is because I think that if we handle his injury right that he could probably benefit us in that way potentially down the road.
Wheeler was lights out yesterday, apparently. J.P. Ricciardi was there and said he was major league caliber yesterday, but he's still at Double-A and I would not expect him to move anytime soon. But in Wheeler's case, I think we'd be doing well if we were to get him a month or two months of Triple-A ball if his performance warrants it, and then we'll see what those guys at Triple-A do, and if they're able to string together some solid performances and depending on what our needs are here, we'll see. But I want to emphasize that those are cornerstone players, potentially, and we don't want them to fill roles in the margin for us just because of a short-term need here.
GC: Now it's interesting what you say there because if you get later in the season — I mean, you're two games out of first place right now — you get to August or even late July and you're in a similar spot, does that mean that you might consider pushing them a little faster than you otherwise would?
SA: Well I think it's going to depend on how they perform between now and then, and, again, I think what you try to do is maintain some independence between what's going on here and what's going on with them. But if there's a merger and it's not rushing them, it's just recognizing their further development, then so be it.
RD: Does David Wright's start make the organization think a little beyond the club option for next year?
SA: I think we've been thinking in those terms beyond his great start. There's no question that he's had a great start and in the minds of Mets fans and certainly our front office has further established, not re-established, but further established his role on this team and what he means to the team, so I think we're all very hopeful that long-term David will be here and at this point I don't see any great impediment to that occurring as long as he's interested in that result, too.
GC: Let me ask you a question about offensive philosophy, Sandy, because it seems as though this team as a whole has really bought into what Dave Hudgens has been preaching and what you guys as an organization have been preaching: making pitchers work, high on-base percentage. And it obviously has paid off for you. You guys are four games over .500, but the one thing that's missing in this offense, clearly, is power, and I'm wondering how much, if at all, that concerns you at this point.
SA: It concerns me a lot. You've got power on the one end. Usually, the choices are power or speed. Guess what: We don't have either one! [Gary, Ron, and Sandy all laugh] But we're doing the things in the middle that make everything else less important. They're still important but not critically so. We're fourth or fifth in the league in batting average, but the walks help us because of the selectivity and so forth. The two-out hitting, situational hitting, is also very important. But over time, without the power it's very difficult because you don't run up the big numbers. When you've got to string a bunch of singles together, ultimately you don't have the big inning unless somebody's wild or you get fortunate, especially in the National League with the pitcher, it's just tough.
The second inning is a perfect example. You get something going, and then you run into a stop sign because of the bottom of your order, and that's why power can be very important. A great stat that people can check: If your team, Gary, hits two home runs, and Ron's team hits one, the team that hit two home runs wins 75% of the games. You really don't have to know anything else. So that's not that it's the single-most important thing, but it's a very critical factor, so we're cognizant of it, but to this point we haven't seen the power. If you go around our lineup, we just haven't seen it. We've been talking about Ike Davis, and yet he leads the team in home runs, so that paints a pretty stark picture. But I'm really pleased with the way the guys have approached it because they've approached it the best way they possibly can under the circumstances, but long-term we definitely want to see more power out of the lineup.
GC: Overall, coming out of spring training without high expectations from outside, and with the team not playing great during the spring, and with your bullpen kind of inconsistent, and not getting production in some spots, and Mike Pelfrey getting hurt, are you thrilled with 24-20? Are you pleased? How are you looking at four games over .500 right now?
SA: Well, we're two out of first, we're a game or a half a game out of a Wild Card if things were to end today, we're four games over .500. If you extrapolate that out, four games over at the quarter mark, you're sixteen over at the end, that gets you to 89 wins or so, you're right there in a Wild Card contention. On the other hand, as you mentioned, with the inconsistency in certain areas, there are a bunch of games we gave away. Of course, we forget about the games that somebody else gave away! I don't count those! [laughter all around] Look, we're four games over, and to really my sense of well-being is a function of how we played the day before, and what we've done over the last couple of days. It's not about four games over, it's okay, how are we going to play tonight or tomorrow, or what's coming, what are the issues we face, and we've got to get through some games with Bay and Tejada and Thole out, it's going to be another week or ten days and I'm really pleased with the way this group has kept it going in their absence.
GC: Sandy, thanks so much for taking the time with us.
SA: I appreciate it, thanks guys.