In October 2010, the Mets fired embattled General Manager Omar Minaya following a string of disappointing, playoff-less seasons with large team payrolls. After a month-long search, the club came to an agreement with Sandy Alderson, who would become the 12th general manager in team history.
At the time, the announcement triggered a great deal of excitement from the Amazin' Avenue community. Many of us reveled in the hiring of Alderson, as the appointment of a more progressive GM (along with the arrival of well-known assistant GM Paul DePodesta) seemed to signal a major shift in philosophy for the New York Mets. Finally, we would be treated to rational, well-planned out maneuvers that would serve to build the Mets up and keep them sustainably competitive for years to come. Our Mets would be moving into the future, instead of being stuck in the past, calling paperwork "false hustle" and going with our "guts" when making trades based on inanities like RBI and Win/Loss record. The future was exciting and though we realized it would take some time to turn things around, there was a lot to look forward to.
Fast forward to September 2012, nearly two years from the date Sandy took the gig and for many Mets fans, it seems as if the shine has come off of the apple. On the surface, it's easy to see why. The team won 77 games in 2011 and it looks like they'll win less than that in 2012, despite surprisingly strong first halves both years. At the moment, the team doesn't have a legitimate full-time starting outfielder on its roster, the catcher position is in a state of flux and there's not a whole lot in terms of help on the offensive side in the high minors.
Without a crystal ball, it's downright impossible to figure out what Alderson & Co. will do this offseason to add talent to the organization (and that's what AAOP season is for!). But what we can do is evaluate the job they've done so far to see whether criticism is warranted and if we can gleam anything out of what they have done. So how do we evaluate the Sandy Alderson regime?
To start, we have to come to some basic understandings. First of all, I imagine that we all realize that the team has been incredibly low on free cash thanks to their dealings with the Bernie Madoff lawsuit combined with the hundreds of millions of dollars of debt racked up in payments for Citi Field and SNY, among others. Certainly, this is not the fault of the current regime.
Next, the big league team and farm system were left in shambles by the previous regime and there was a great deal of money tied up in aging/unproductive players. Yes, there were some useful and valuable players left over, both in the majors and in the farm system. But in terms of star level or even just average to above average controllable assets, the Mets were shorthanded and the on-field results ultimately reflect that (i.e. they'd be a better team if they had more good players). Again, not the fault of the current regime. Naturally, if the Mets had more money to spend and more talent on the roster, they'd be in much better shape. Obvious, right?
So let's go backwards and take a look at what the new regime has accomplished in the two years since taking over, strictly in terms of talent acquisition:
Key Free Agent Signings/Departures
Granted Free Agency to Pedro Feliciano
Released Hisanori Takahashi
Signed Ronny Paulino to a 1 year, $1.3 million contract
Signed D.J. Carrasco to a 2 year, $2.4 million contract
Signed Chris Capuano to a 1 year, $1.5 million contract
Signed Taylor Buchholz to a 1 year, $600,000 contract
Signed Willie Harris to a minor league contract
Signed Scott Hairston to a 1 year, $1.1 million contract
Signed Chris Young to a 1 year, $1.1 million contract
Signed Tim Byrdak to a minor league deal
Signed Jason Isringhausen to a minor league deal
Released Luis Castillo & Oliver Perez
Signed Miguel Batista to a minor league deal
Released Ryota Igarashi
Granted Free Agency to Chris Capuano
Granted Free Agency to Willie Harris
Granted Free Agency to Jason Isringhausen
Granted Free Agency to Jose Reyes
Signed Jon Rauch to a 1 year, $3.5 million deal
Signed Frank Francisco to a 2 year, $12 million deal
Signed Omar Quintanilla to a minor league deal
Signed Ronny Cedeno to a 1 year, $1.2 million deal
Released D.J. Carrasco
The Alderson regime was spotty in their first offseason on the free agent side, hitting on the Capuano, Hairston, and Byrdak signings, while missing on the Paulino, Carrasco, and Harris acquisitions. Isringhausen was also a decent arm in a mediocre bullpen. The Buchholz and Young signings both started out promising before Buchholz was lost to a battle with depression and Young to shoulder surgery. With $120 million already locked in prior to the start of 2011, the Mets had little leeway to add big money free agents, so they were forced to sift through bargains. Overall, a split on these signings is not bad, as it's tough to get a whole lot of value for so little money. Unfortunately, Carrasco was atrocious in his year plus with the club. Personally, I liked him as a rubber-armed middle reliever, perhaps in the Turk Wendell mold, but a 2 MPH drop in velocity seemed to doom him from the get-go. Even so, at $1.2 million a year (essentially the cost of two MLB minimum salary players), it didn't hamstring the team (though they did keep him on the 40-man roster last offseason for some reason over more deserving players like Fernando Martinez, but we'll discuss him further down). Another somewhat overlooked positive of the offseason was the decision to let Pedro Feliciano walk away. In return for him signing with the Yankees, the Mets received the 44th pick in the 2011 draft (used to select top pitching prospect Michael Fulmer), while Feliciano ended up spending two seasons on the Yankees' DL with a shoulder injury.
The 2012 offseason saw some more bargain signings, though they did spend some bigger chunks of money and focused a lot of their efforts on improving the bullpen. Letting go of Jose Reyes was the biggest move on this list. It's tough to speculate exactly what happened here without more background (whether it was a case of the Wilpons' money woes not allowing them to pay up, Sandy Alderson not being convinced or what have you) but the bottom line is Reyes walked away in exchange for two picks in the 2012 draft. Hindsight says the Mets probably should've dealt Reyes but it is reasonable to doubt whether they would've been able to get enough talent in return for their shortstop, who was fresh off of a DL stint at the trade deadline. Late season ticket sales, a batting title for a homegrown player in a Mets' uniform and the first dibs to re-sign Reyes are somewhat legitimate reasons to have held onto him and of course, the period of time from the trade deadline to December is very long (for what it's worth, talks with potential investor David Einhorn broke down in August). Without getting inside a time machine and visiting the Citi Field offices last year, we'll likely never know the whole truth of why they never made an actual offer to him, so this goes into the "uncertain" bin.
Beyond that, the club had moderate success with the Rauch and Cedeno signings, players who gave the team adequate performances on one year deals. Rauch, surprisingly, was very solid from June through the end of the year despite his signing being openly questioned by many and Cedeno put up the best offensive season of his career off of the bench. Unfortunately, Francisco suffered through a dreadful season, pocked with injuries and control issues. With another year on his deal, he has a shot to add value in 2013 but 2012 was mostly lost for him. Quintanilla served as adequate shortstop depth while Ruben Tejada and Cedeno were injured early in the year. We can also add the re-signing of righty Chris Young to a minor league deal here, as Young proved a very serviceable back of the rotation pitcher for the club and somehow managed to stay healthy for 20 starts and over 100 innings. Of course, it should be noted the team did not acquire a legitimate backup catcher until August, though that seems like more of a "lack of payroll" issue rather than an actual strategy employed by the front office. Perhaps that comes down to budgeting but looking at the needs, it seems reasonable to say that bullpen help was more dire a need than a backup catcher.
Summary: The Alderson regime has been hit or miss with their free agent signings thus far, though it's important to remember that they've been given very little money to spend and buying bargain basement players is always a tricky game to play. They've found some very useful players on the cheap, they've missed badly on some others, and the Reyes saga will likely always be an open question. Another point: spending most of the offseason budget on relievers like they did in 2012 may well be a questionable strategy, considering how flaky relief pitching can be from year to year. At the same time, they needed relief pitching and most would probably complain if the team had just signed guys to cheap deals (ignoring his huge turnaround this year, who honestly would've been comfortable with Fernando Rodney as the closer going into 2012, as an example? Not me). Given the payroll limitations, it seems like they've done an adequate job here filling in at the margins and adding minor league depth but it'd be more informative to see what they could do with some more leeway and the freedom to reel in better players on more lucrative contracts.
Traded Omar Quintanilla to the Orioles for cash considerations
As far as the trades go, this regime hasn't made all that many. I suspect a big reason for this comes from Alderson and Co. wanting to evaluate all of their young big leaguers before looking to swap them with other teams' players. Of course, that makes some sense: you don't want to deal guys away before you have an idea of how their talents translate. In 2011, Alderson started off dealing fringe lefty starter Michael Antonini to the Dodgers for Chin-Lung Hu, a slick fielding shortstop who was once a top prospect in the Dodgers' system but hadn't hit a lick in the majors. After making the club out of spring training as the backup infielder, Hu went 1-20 with 11 strikeouts before he was cut. Likely a PCL mirage, Hu was just not a big league quality hitter and hasn't resurfaced in the majors since. Of course, the deal ultimately cost the Mets little and was at least a creative attempt to fill a hole that the previous regime had spent $2 million to inadequately fill. Decent idea, poor result.
The big deals came before the 2011 trade deadline. Hours after the All-Star game ended, the Mets shipped Frankie Rodriguez and his ridiculous vest to Milwaukee for a pair of relievers and, most importantly, a sigh of relief as we'd never have to hear about "vest watch" again. Of course, the deal was made quickly because Rodriguez' now former agent never sent in his client's no-trade list to MLB, allowing the Mets to exploit a loophole and deal Frankie wherever they wanted to. Herrera, meanwhile, tossed some innings for the 2011 Mets before succumbing to TJ surgery early in 2012, while Rosario showed some promise as a reliever in St. Lucie before hitting a wall in a promotion to Binghamton. Either way, the shedding of the vest was the most important accomplishment here.
Days before the trade deadline, the Mets agreed to deal future free agent Carlos Beltran to the Giants for top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler. Immediately, the deal was lauded as brilliant for the Mets, even more so when Beltran's Giants missed the playoffs and Beltran defected to St. Louis in the offseason. However, it seems like fans have almost started to discredit this deal, likely because Wheeler has yet to make a big league impact and that seems wrong to me. I've seen the sentiment (not at AA but in other places) that "this was a deal any other GM could've pulled off" and to that, i say why haven't other GM's pulled off a steal like this? A lot is made of the pressure that Giants' GM Brian Sabean was under to acquire offense for the stretch run before July 31st but the Mets' front office was under just as much pressure to get something good in return for pending free agent Beltran, a guy who would return them nothing after the season. With an offer apparently in hand from the Texas Rangers for a package of prospects, the Alderson regime used that to their advantage by waiting out Sabean in order to steal away Wheeler, who had been the apple of their eye throughout the entire process. The deal seemed so great for the Mets that baseball analyst Peter Gammons tweeted back in July of 2012 that one GM predicted Wheeler would be "the best player acquired in a deal the last two Julys". That's pretty high praise. Certainly, Wheeler still has to pitch effectively in the majors but even if something downright terrible happens, this is the sort of impact deal that doesn't happen often. Acquiring six years of Zack Wheeler for two months of Carlos Beltran is something for Alderson's regime to hang its hat on and the fans will begin to appreciate it once Wheeler joins Matt Harvey in the team's rotation.
Sadly, the Giants quickly got the Mets' front office back the next winter. At the time, the Pagan for Torres/Ramirez deal seemed to make some sense. Pagan was coming off of a disappointing 2011 on both sides of the ball and there were some whispers that he would be non-tendered. That wouldn't have been smart but at the same time, there were real questions about Pagan's defensive and offensive decline. Meanwhile, the thought was that Ramirez and Torres could adequately fill two holes for the Mets at the combined price of what Pagan would likely make in arbitration in 2012, important considering how little the Mets had to spend. Unfortunately, this one quickly blew up in the Mets' collective faces. In San Francisco, Pagan was rejuvenated and enjoyed a great year offensively with a career best 124 OPS+. Meanwhile, Torres put up a bad offensive season and has played inconsistent defense in center field, while Ramirez seemingly lost his ability to pitch effectively. The process behind it was understandable but the results ended up pretty close to awful and the saving grace here is that this is probably not a long term negative, as all three players involved seem likely to hit free agency (assuming the Mets non-tender Torres, which wouldn't be shocking).
Beyond those, the Beato for Shoppach deal was a small one that allowed the Mets to audition Shoppach for the 2013 backup catcher job. Beato has pitched to a 7.27 ERA in a small sample between New York and Boston but he was buried in AAA with the Mets and seemed a likely 40-man roster casualty in the offseason anyway.
Summary: The Beltran for Wheeler deal is the big win for the Mets, almost regardless of what Wheeler does in the majors. A top-50 prospect for two months of a player who can't net his team compensation is a no-doubt win and the Alderson organization should be proud of that one. The potential of having 6 years of Zack Wheeler under team control should be incredibly exciting. The purging of Frankie's vest was also a positive, even if it didn't return much talent to the organization. The Hu trade cost the Mets a fringe pitcher and 20 at bats, so there was really little harm done there. Finally, the Pagan trade ended up a large loss, considering the disappointments of Ramirez and Torres and the fact that the 2012 Mets have struggled to cobble together an actual outfield all year.
Waiver Claims/Rule 5
Drafted Brad Emaus (Blue Jays) and Pedro Beato (Orioles) in the Rule 5 draft
Returned Brad Emaus to Toronto
Nationals return Elvin Ramirez to the Mets
Lost Rhiner Cruz to the Astros in the Rule 5 draft
Lost Fernando Martinez on waivers to the Astros
Lost Josh Stinson on waivers to the Brewers
Surprisingly, there's not a whole here, as you'd assume there would be more with a team low on funds and trade assets. Of course, there are also 40-man roster issues that likely hinder the team from adding many more waived players. There are no real difference makers in this group, but a couple of useful pieces. Mike Baxter and Jeremy Hefner have seen the most success and likely end up parts on the 2013 club (Baxter as a bench outfielder/pinch hitter, Hefner as a swing man or AAA starting rotation depth).
Emaus lasted all of 42 plate appearances with the big club in 2011 and while it seemed like a possible quick hook at the time, his work at AAA Buffalo this year didn't do all that much to make pulling the plug in late April look like a mistake. As an essentially free player, it was a decent gamble that didn't work out and didn't do much harm. Beato showed off a solid fastball at times and stuck around for all of 2011 but his inconsistencies ultimately earned him a ticket to Buffalo and eventually out of town. Another decent gamble on a free player that didn't work. The losses of Cruz and Stinson haven't hurt much yet, as both had ugly 2012 seasons. As marginal prospects in the system, both seem to be fringe relief guys, though Cruz has a big fastball that he obviously can't control yet. We've seen Ramirez a bit in the majors this year and while he hasn't pitched well, he's shown some promise in AA and AAA.
The biggest loss is the loss of Fernando Martinez, the former top prospect who was known as the Teenage Hitting Machine. The move was a bit surprising, considering some of the names that were stashed on the team's 40-man roster at the time Martinez was waived. Perhaps they thought they could slip him through waivers, though that seemed to be wishful thinking (and I'll assume they looked to trade him and found little interest). Overall, the 23-year old Martinez still hasn't hit at the big league level (.218/.286/.386 with Houston this year) and his years of leg injuries have combined with physical growth to erode his defensive skills. While I don't think we should wring our hands over the loss of a guy who seems to be a pretty one-dimensional prospect, it is a little strange that an outfield starved organization like the Mets would just wash their hands of a cheap, under-control asset.
Summary: Nothing terribly exciting but at least they grabbed a couple of useful depth players in Hefner and Baxter. It would've been nice to have held onto Fernando Martinez but he still hasn't hit in the majors and he's going to have to hit to have value.
Signed R.A. Dickey to a 2 year, $7.8 million deal with a $5 million option for 2013
Signed Tim Byrdak to a 1 year, $1 million extension for 2012
Re-signed Scott Hairston to a 1 year, $1.1 million deal
Signed Jon Niese to a 5 year, $25.27 million extension with team options for 2017 & 2018
Easily the most successful area for Alderson's regime, all of the team's recent contract extensions have worked out well. At the time of signing, R.A. Dickey's contract extension seemed to be relatively decent risk considering the low price but it's turned into a downright steal for the Mets. While making $2.75 million in 2011, Dickey was worth $11.2 million to the club and it's gotten even better. In his masterful 2012, R.A. has been worth well over $20 million, while being paid a mere $4.25 million. His club option for 2013 worth $5 million looks to be another steal, though it wouldn't be shocking to see that figure bump up through another multi-year contract extension.
The other major extension was for lefty Jon Niese, who signed on for 5 years in April in order to bypass his arbitration years and gain some stability. For the Mets, the deal couldn't have come at a better time. After showing some promise in his first two seasons, Niese blossomed into a rotation stalwart in 2012 by limiting more hits against than ever before. Also key was the fact that he stayed healthy and effective over a whole season for the first time in his career. In 2012, Niese made $769,500 in the first year of that extension and was worth $11.6 million. Not only is the deal great for the Mets but it could very well make Niese more attractive to other teams as a trade chip since his salaries are locked in at what looks to be well-below market rates for a few seasons. Whatever the Mets ultimately decide to do with Niese, his contract extension likely only increases his value.
The other two extensions -- Tim Byrdak and Scott Hairston -- were just one-year extensions but both players held key roles on the team. Hairston put up a career year in close to 400 plate appearances, crushing lefties and serving as one of the Mets' best power threats. While making $1.1 million, Hairston was worth nearly $10 million. Meanwhile, Byrdak served as a serviceable LOOGY for most of the season before succumbing to a shoulder injury. He limited lefties to a .154/.260/.277 line and was ultimately worth his $1 million salary.
Summary: Big win for the Alderson regime. Dickey and Niese have performed well and provided outstanding value to the team, and Hairston and Byrdak performed admirably on inexpensive one-year extensions.
Amateur Draft Notables
1st Round OF Brandon Nimmo
Supplemental Round P Michael Fulmer
2nd Round P Cory Mazzoni
15th Round SS Phil Evans
1st Round SS Gavin Cecchini
Supplemental Round C Kevin Plawecki
2nd Round 3B Matt Reynolds
Judging a draft a year or two out is an exercise in futility but we can at least look at how things are shaping up at the moment without putting firm labels on anything yet. The 2011 draft featured a refreshing change in philosophy under new scouting director Chad MacDonald, as the team shifted away from the college players that the previous regime focused on almost exclusively and instead brought a great deal of prep talent into the system. They also opened up the wallets and signed a number of picks over the commissioner's slot guidelines, a new development for this organization. The club's first two picks Nimmo and Fulmer were both highly touted prospects and each one has only raised his stock with a strong 2012. Both players should find themselves firmly on top 10 Mets prospect lists this offseason. Those seem to be the gems of the class, though picks like Mazzoni, Logan Verrett, Tyler Pill, Jack Leathersich, Danny Muno and Phil Evans among others seem to have some sort of a big league upside. As of this writing, the 2011 draft looks to be one that could end up being quite fruitful for the organization in terms of producing big leaguers.
It's obviously tougher to judge the 2012 draft, considering that it just happened nearly 4 months ago and that the new draft rules have sort of clouded how we look at the draft strategy the Mets employed. Cecchini, despite some unnecessary hate from fans, was a reasonable pick for where the Mets drafted and it's always valuable to have strong "up the middle" depth in the organization. While he's not the "sexy" upside pick, like a Courtney Hawkins or Lucas Giolito, he'll conceivably have plenty of value as a guy who can actually play a legitimate big league shortstop, as long as he hits. Plawecki, meanwhile, is a catcher who can hit a bit, control the strikezone, and play some defense. Again, not a huge upside guy at the moment but he fills a major organizational need (and the Mets absolutely needed to invest in some catching). As a whole, the 2012 group seems less flashy than the 2011 crop and it's tough to tell whether this was the result of the new draft rules, a lack of cash due to debt/Madoff issues, the new scouting director Tommy Tanous or a combination of all three.
Summary: Way too early to make final judgements but it seems like both drafts are promising, though the 2011 class looks to have the more high upside players with Nimmo and Fulmer at the top. Both drafts featured some interesting later round prep picks who bear watching as well.
What do we make of this regime though their first two years on the job? It's been a mixed bag on the personnel side, as they've mostly been forced to stand pat with many of the square pegs for round holes that the previous regime left behind, while complementing that with some inexpensive speculative pickups. The free agent signings have been perhaps a touch under 50/50, certainly not a bad rate when you're dealing in mostly one to two year deals with minimal amounts of money. Unfortunately, ownership's money woes have greatly handicapped them, though you shouldn't need this long article to realize that.
They got the job done and then some on the Beltran and Frankie deals, though the Pagan trade turned into a disaster, albeit likely a short term one at that. They've cleaned up on contract extensions, signing Dickey and Niese to well below market value deals and while the Jose Reyes saga featured a disappointing ending, there are so many questions surrounding it that it's tough to put it all on the front office. They also have some promising talent entering the pipeline via the 2011 and 2012 drafts. It should be mentioned that they've also implemented a clear offensive strategy from the major leagues all the way through the bottom of the minor leagues, something that has had success in the majors and should pay greater dividends down the road as prospects become big leaguers. Considering the circumstances with ownership, I think they've done an acceptable job. Certainly not excellent or even great but there's nothing really detestable with regards to the job they've done, unless you give them more credit for Jose Reyes' departure and that's something that I can't do without more evidence.
I think it's important to separate this front office from the previous group's failings. Yes, the Mets haven't made the playoffs in six years and we'd all love to see them in there this year. The issue is that it takes time to tear things down and to build back up and they've only been on the job two years, all while being weighed down by money issues. This was always going to be a major rebuild. Things may look uncertain now but there seems to be reason for some cautious optimism, especially on the pitching side. And remember: one of the greatest things about baseball is its unpredictability. Who saw R.A. Dickey becoming the favorite for the Cy Young award a year or two ago? Who saw the Athletics or Orioles making the playoffs six months ago? Who knows what happens next year or the year after but I like our chances with the people who are in charge.