Transcript Of Sandy Alderson's Mets Offseason Checkpoint Interview With Mike Francesa

Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE

Mets GM Sandy Alderson was on WFAN with Mike Francesa this afternoon to rap about the team's offseason so far, the outfield, the pitching, Travis d'Arnaud, and plenty more. You can download the audio here.

If you don't have time for the whole thing, I've included the highlights below. The full transcript follows afterward.

  • Travis d'Arnaud has an invite to big league camp and has a chance to make the team out of spring training. Given that he hasn't played since June, he'll most likely start the season in the minors, but a shot at a big league roster spot isn't out of the question.
  • Regarding the outfield, Alderson concedes that it's "not a strength at this point, there’s no question about that." It's looking like Lucas Duda in left, Kirk Nieuwenhuis in center, and Whoknows in right.
  • The Mets are still talking to Scott Hairston, and the lack of a deal so far has to do with price as well as playing time considerations.
  • The Mets are looking at other outfield options, and Alderson says there's a "50-50" chance of one of them working out.
  • The R.A. Dickey situation took a while to unfold, though the trade with Toronto came together pretty quickly. Alderson praised Dickey's handling of the whole ordeal.
  • Dillon Gee and Johan Santana should both be fine. Gee had a relatively non-invasive procedure to remove a "clot in the shoulder artery." Santana feels well enough to pitch in the World Baseball Classic.
  • Santana was shut down at the end of 2012 not due to any specific injury, but owing to fatigue in the surgically repaired shoulder.
  • Alderson feels "uneasy" about the bullpen, but says the Mets have a lot of live arms and surprisingly decent left-handed depth.
  • Brian Wilson threw only twenty pitches when the Mets saw him, and he seemed a good ways off from being ready.
  • The Mets were willing to trade Dickey to a mystery team for two prospects, but that team balked. After the Mets got d'Arnaud from the Jays, Alderson got a call from the mystery team offering those same two prospects straight-up for d'Arnaud.
  • Zack Wheeler will almost certainly start the season in Triple-A.
  • If he stays healthy and pitches well, Matt Harvey shouldn't have any real innings limit this season.

Mike Francesa: All right Sandy, where are we now? How do you feel about where you are in the process of putting this year’s edition together?

Sandy Alderson: Well I’d say right now it’s an incomplete. But there’s still time in the semester, to give an educational metaphor. We’ve been watching the market, we know what’s available, we’ve known what’s available. We reconvene and review periodically, meaning every couple of days. There are a number of things that we’re currently involved in pursuing. But we’re hopeful we’ll have some additions before spring training starts, and I expect that we will have some additions, but at this point to say we’ve been patient is probably an understatement but that’s what we’ve been.

Francesa: All right, let’s talk for a second about your newest addition, which is the young man who was the key to the Dickey trade —obviously, a catcher who people give rave reviews of as long as his back and his knee are okay. What would you say about where he is? Let me ask you this way, what are your immediate plans for him this spring?

Alderson: Well, the only immediate plans are that he’s on the 40-man roster, he’ll report to spring training on February 10th, and we expect to get a good, long look at him over most of February and the games in March. What happens from the beginning of the season will, at least in part, depend on how he performs in spring training.

Francesa: But he can make the club? It’s an open invitation for him to make the club if he can?

Alderson: Yeah, I think it would be unfair given his situation, the level of his development to say, look, he can’t make the team out of spring training, but we had a somewhat open situation with Matt Harvey last year, too, and he had a fairly good spring training, and yet he opened the season at the minor league level. I just don’t want to rule anything out. At the same time, I don’t want to create false expectations on the part of our fans or any sense of pressure on Travis himself. But look, he hasn’t played since last June, he was out all the second half of last season with the knee injury. He would have been in the big leagues last year had he not been injured. Had he not been injured and played last year, I doubt he would have been available to us in a trade. So you take the good with the bad. But as far as Opening Day is concerned, he could be with us, but we do have a very capable veteran in John Buck as well.

Francesa: Right, but it is up to him to see if he comes fast enough — and would that be defensively for him more than offensively because of what we expect from his bat? Would you call his bat a given and that it’s defensively he has to show you he’s a major league catcher?

Alderson: No, I couldn’t sit here and say, Mike, that his bat is a given. Again, he hasn’t played for a while. Any time you move from the minor league level to the major leagues there’s almost always a period of adjustment with the bat. From everything we know about Travis, he’s going to be an outstanding hitter and a very good catcher, and somebody we can rely on for a long time. To a large degree, whether he’s with us April 1st or July 1st, in the overall scheme of things is probably immaterial.

Francesa: But I don’t know if it’s immaterial to a Mets fan from the perspective of early season excitement. You know what I mean? He’s something that really you could sell to the fans if he’s ready to go.

Alderson: Well, I understand that, and I think that that level of excitement probably will exist during the course of spring training and the average fan following spring training will probably develop a pretty good sense over that period of time whether he’s going to be with us in April or not, but I hope that what happens over the course of February and March, that Mets fans do develop a healthy appetite for him as a major league catcher. And again, we’ll see what happens on April 1.

Francesa: Would he have to be the [number-one catcher] to come up, Sandy, where you wouldn’t bring him up to be the two, right? He’d have to play every day . . . He’s got to be the one, right? He’s not going to learn in the first year as a backup. He’s not gonna do that.

Alderson: No.

Francesa: Didn’t make sense. So he’s got to win the job.

Alderson: He’s got to win the job, and in the meantime if he hasn’t won the job, getting at-bats given his absence the last half of last season will be a positive thing. Ironically, if he does go to AAA he’ll be playing in the same ballpark that he played in, and was injured, last year — which is in Las Vegas.

Francesa: Right, we forget that the Mets now are calling Las Vegas home. So that is the Mets' new affiliate. And do you now have to take some of those numbers out there with a grain of salt because that is such a good offensive league?

Alderson: Yeah, I think you do have to make league adjustments, park adjustments, for what happens out there. When I was with Oakland, we actually played several regular season games in Las Vegas while the Oakland Coliseum was being reconfigured for the Oakland Raiders. So it can be an adventure there. It depends on how the wind’s blowing and so forth. For Mets fans who want to see d’Arnaud at a minimum, they can join me for the Las Vegas opener in Las Vegas on April 4th. And my guess is you might have Zack Wheeler pitching to Travis d’Arnaud.

Francesa: So the Mets' future might be in Vegas on April 4th is what it comes down to?

Alderson: Hopefully the near future, yes.

Francesa: All right, outfield, right now without telling us what you have on the horizon, what would you say about the outfield and what your hopes are for the outfield?

Alderson: Well, the outfield is not a strength at this point, there’s no question about that. There’s a need for an upgrade at almost every one of those positions. Some of it could come internally. We may see Lucas Duda substantially improve defensively and offensively.

Francesa: And we’re looking at him in left field this year? Is that where we’re looking for him?

Alderson: We’re looking at him in left. Center field right now is probably [Kirk] Nieuwenhuis and a player we obtained from the A's, Colin Cowgill, who I think will be an interesting player to watch in spring training.

Francesa: What would you say about him?

Alderson: Sort of a hard-nosed, dirt player and a little bit of speed. Should be very good defensively, hits left-handed pitching pretty well. I think he’s kind of an under-the-radar addition who might be fun to watch. And then right field is, at this point, we’ve got a couple of people there, but nobody that would be a headliner for us at this point.

Francesa: You expect to have a Hairston back or another player in the mix before the season starts?

Alderson: Oh, we’re working on it. Yeah. And I think there’s been speculation about Scott. I think that...

Francesa: That he asked for too much money...

Alderson: You know, money’s always an issue and I wouldn’t deny that, but it’s also a question of playing time and he wants to play — we understand that — and one of the things that exists for us right now, the dynamic is, that in order for us to sign Scott we want to be able to commit a certain amount of playing time. This is where you balance two or three things going on at the same time. If one or two other things were to happen, it might affect his playing time. So it’s not just about the money, it’s also about playing time and what we can readily commit to Scott.

Francesa: You want to see what you can pull off before you commit to him?

Alderson: [Pause] ... Uhh, yeah.

Francesa: Okay, that’s fair. I think that’s fair. I mean, it is fair. I mean, so it’s not a case of it just being a price, it’s also a situation of a couple other things actually can still happen or not.

Alderson: Yeah, absolutely.

Francesa: Okay. We understand you can’t talk about those, but you’re still in the mix for some other moves that could be considered bigger moves in the outfield?

Alderson: We are, yeah. Now, how would I handicap the possibility of those happening? It’s difficult.

Francesa: You want to take a swing at it?

Alderson: A handicap? Probably 50-50. That doesn’t really tell you anything, but...

Francesa: Well, it’s better than 90-10.

Alderson: Yeah, it think it’s definitely better than 90-10. I think 50-50 is a more accurate estimate because there are a couple of things going on. They don’t both have to happen. So yeah, 50-50.

Francesa: Did you have any frustration over the Dickey process? Or are you content with how things unfolded and the way the trade developed?

Alderson: I didn’t have any frustration over it. It was the pace of the negotiations with R.A. was inevitably affected by the pace of the trade discussions. And it was sort of unavoidable that things would slow down a little bit because the trade didn’t really solidify until after a couple of other players had signed or they were traded. On the one hand, the trade percolated for a long time, came together pretty quickly. In the meantime, we had a very good idea of what R.A. was looking for — that, again, we fully understood. And things, I think, again slowed down, not because there was this great chasm between him and us on value, but rather a desire to see what was out there on the trade front — all with the view of trying to make the team better. So, I actually think R.A. handled the whole situation very well. There was a hiccup at the end where he said some things, and there were some reports about us being unhappy, but in some ways a little frustration on his part was inevitable and I thought he handled it really well, and gave us the opportunity to make the trade, for better or for worse.

Francesa: Before a trade is made, or anything along that line which would change the face of your rotation, which I'm sure could still happen, Gee and Santana obviously are enormously important to your competitiveness. What would you say about both their statuses as far as the comeback from injuries and what you know about it?

Alderson: Well, first of all, we’re very optimistic and don’t have any reason not to be. I haven’t had a lot of communication with either one over the course of the winter, but Dillon made a pretty quick recovery from his surgery. It wasn’t terribly invasive. It didn’t involve any sort of muscle damage or reconstruction. It was about a clot in the shoulder artery, which sounds terribly serious — and probably is for a life and death standpoint — but not from a performance standpoint. So I think that he should be fine, and everything I know points in that direction. Interestingly, Johan apparently feels good enough to want to pitch for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.

Francesa: Oh! Do you have any problems with that?

Alderson: Well there’s some hurdles to be...

Francesa: I wouldn’t be thrilled with that if I were you.

Alderson: Well, the technical situation is that because he was injured for the last half of the season and various other things, he’s not currently eligible to pitch. But it’s encouraging, I think, that he feels he can, and wants to, and has that motivation. There’s no other reason to think that he won’t be one-hundred percent and ready to go.

Francesa: So you consider it a positive that he feels that good?

Alderson: Yeah, I take it as a big positive. The other thing is that when he shut it down last year, it wasn’t because of a significant injury. It was as much fatigue from the reconstructed shoulder that was as much as anything else. It wasn’t a new injury that had to be addressed and rehabilitated.

Francesa: And the bright part of that is, when he got himself going he had a stretch there where he was dominant. I mean he pitched a no-hitter, he pitched a shut out, he pitched two or three great games in a row before he got fatigued. So we did see him come back and pitch at a pretty high level.

Alderson: Yes, and that’s often what scouts are looking for. They know it’s in there somewhere, it’s a question of how often it presents itself and whether you can do it consistently over time. I think we have to be optimistic that all that he’s done over the last two years which includes about 120 innings or so for us last year, that he’s primed to take off. And the other added factor that I would ascribe as necessary in Johan’s case, but he is in the last year of his contract. So all directions point up.

Francesa: Right, there is a motivation there, no question, for any player. Do you look at this... I mean, is it fair to say you have one eye on ’13 and one eye on ’14? I mean, is that actually fair to say about this team, and about your plan here?

Alderson: I’d say that’s accurate, except I’d say that I would only add that my dominant eye is on ’13, if that makes any sense. But you’re looking at both — no question about that — but the stronger focus is on ’13. I know that doesn’t really corroborate with what we’ve done this offseason, but let’s see when everything is said and done where we are. And I can assure you that where we are now is not where we want to be opening spring training. I mean, it’s conceivable we could be in the same position, but it’s not where we want to be.

Francesa: How do you feel about the bullpen right now? I know you looked and dabbled at [Brian] Wilson and looked at some different people. What would you say about your bullpen situation right now? Do you have enough live arms from within that you are comfortable?

Alderson: How do I feel about the bullpen... well, let’s say uneasy. There’s some positives, we’ve got a lot more young guys who are candidates for the 'pen this year certainly than we’ve had in the last couple years — which means we’re not going to get locked into some low-ceiling stopgap possibilities. Well, there are fewer of those anyway. If guys are not performing we want to be in a situation to move them out. And at the same time we think we’ve got some talented young guys who are sort of on the cusp. We saw Josh Edgin last year at the end of the season — well, before September certainly, but towards the last part of the season. We like our left-handed depth, actually, in the 'pen. We’ve got [Robert] Carson, we added [Darin] Gorski to the roster. We’re bringing in Scott Rice. [Tim] Byrdak ought to be available to us. Sometime during the season we may have one other lefty come in. So the left-handed depth is much better than it’s been in the past. Closing the game is still critical, and we think Frankie’s going to be healthy when spring training starts, but you can’t be sure.

Francesa: But you’re still shopping around? And is it fair to say you didn’t like what you saw from Wilson?

Alderson: Well, given where he is in his rehabilitation, I think we liked what we saw, but the day we were there he only threw 20 pitches.

Francesa: Oh, okay, I wasn’t aware of that. I didn’t know he only threw 20 pitches.

Alderson: Yeah, he threw 20 pitches and there was no real issue about velocity — it wasn’t there — so he’s got a ways to go. So we saw him throw, I saw someone else throw earlier this week in the Southeast, so we keep looking. And when we do convene periodically, it’s always that day there’s a decision to make and that is: if X comes off the board, are we okay with that? If we’re not okay, let’s move on him. So, we’re not just monitoring the pulse, we’re all over it.

Francesa: When you look at it, and you look at it Sandy, inside your division and you see some of the moves that Washington has made, is it fair to say everyone’s just saying “Wow!” as they look at this team Washington’s put together? Now I know you don’t win a pennant on paper in January, but my god, that team looks very strong.

Alderson: Yeah, they’ve done a great job. And Atlanta’s strengthened themselves to some extent also. I mean, they’ve lost [Michael] Bourn, but they’ve added [B.J.] Upton, strengthened their bullpen a little bit, Chipper’s not there. With the exception of maybe Miami, nobody has really gotten weaker in the division. But the other thing is they’re in a slightly different position from ours, and I’ve been in that position before, they’re filling a niche. They’re not reconstructing, they’re not having to add major pieces, they’re fine-tuning.

Francesa: Yeah they are, and with two young stars, too.

Alderson: Yeah, so we need to be in a position where we’re fine-tuning, and we’ll get there, but we’re not in the fine-tuning business right now.

Francesa: No, let’s be honest, so far this year you’re still in a subtraction stage. You took 21 wins off a 74 win team. That’s hard to do.

Alderson: [both start laughing] Well, like I said, we hope to do some other things before the offseason ends.

Francesa: Yeah, that math doesn’t work that well.

Alderson: I hear ya.

Francesa: Yeah, I mean that’s scary stuff. I mean listen, I want to see the catcher too. I hope he’s as good as everyone says. And I hear he’s a little cocky which I like; I mean that’s good for New York if he’s a little cocky. I think that’s good. The only thing that scared me about that guy was I heard he had a bad back. That’s the only thing that scares me, when I hear players have bad backs.

Alderson: Well the back actually hasn’t been an issue for some time. Before we made the trade, we snuck Travis into New York and had him examined. So our doctors got their hands on him and took a hard look.

Francesa: They felt pretty good about his back?

Alderson: Yeah, they felt pretty good about his back and they had long conversations about his knee and, you know, he didn’t have surgery on his knee which is typical for that posterior cruciate ligament. Surgery is almost never indicated, and it’s not the most critical of those ligaments. So we felt comfortable. There’s always a risk associated with somebody who’s been hurt, but we were comfortable enough to make the deal and there’s enough upside there for us to take on that risk.

Francesa: And he’s been traded for two Cy Young award winners right in a row, so, I mean, that’s quite a start to his career. He’s been traded twice for Cy Young award winners, so he’s got some value that’s for sure.

Alderson: Well, I’ll tell you what’s interesting, Mike. We had been talking to two or three teams about R.A. Dickey, and we had an interest in a couple players from one team and we were prepared to make a trade to that team for those two players. After we made the deal with Toronto, we got a call from that team — they wouldn’t give us the two players for R.A., but they called us and said, “We’ll give you the two players for Travis d’Arnaud. Straight up.”

Francesa: Really? Interesting.

Alderson: Now at that point everyone had fallen in love with Travis, so we weren’t going to do that. And we’d fallen in love with the guy too.

Francesa: So you turned down those two players you wanted for Dickey, for d’Arnaud once you got him.

Alderson: Yeah, so we could have ended up with those two players plus all the other players we got from Toronto, but that’s not how we’ve plotted it out.

Francesa: Right. So you have big plans for him. You hope he’s a middle of the order catcher. I mean that’s a nice thing to have if you have that.

Alderson: If we have a solid everyday guy with some power who can hit 5 or 6 in the lineup, we’ll be happy.

Francesa: And Wheeler, has anything changed or we’re looking for him to start in AAA, right? You already said for sure, right? He’s going to start in AAA, right?

Alderson: Well it’s unlikely that he starts at the major league level, but look let’s hypothetically — let’s say we don’t add anybody between now and spring training, we don’t add a starting pitcher. Okay, well now you’re looking at [Jeremy] Hefner, [Jenrry] Mejia, [Jeurys] Familia, you know Wheeler pops up in that group. So that’s not our preferred result by any means, but...

Francesa: Do you put that out there as a carrot to him in spring training though?

Alderson: Not really. I don’t think he’ll need a carrot. You know, Matt Harvey certainly didn’t need a carrot last spring.

Francesa: Does Harvey now become the guy already in this rotation? Does that happen this quickly or is that too much to ask?

Alderson: I think that’s way too much to ask. And we’ve got Johan, we’ve got Niese.

Francesa: But I mean Harvey, everyone talks about in such special terms that I watched that, a long time ago, that Tom Seaver do that right away, and I’m not trying to compare them. But I did see him do that by his second year, and I don’t know if this guy could maybe do the same thing.

Alderson: He’s got the personality, he’s got the demeanor, he’s got the professional commitment, certainly. But what’s got to precede that is performance. And if he performs out of the gate this year the way he performed for us at the end of last year then he’ll rise to a position of dominance.

Francesa: Is he on any innings situation this year or is he free to pitch?

Alderson: No, he shouldn’t be. The reason he was on a more limited schedule last year was because he came so quickly through the system. Usually guys take three years, four years, they build up those innings over their minor league seasons so when they jump to the major leagues it’s from maybe 140, or 50, or 60 innings to 180 or 200. In his case, he went from one full season in the minors which was, I think 140 innings or so, and boom! Now he’s not only pitching a full season at the minor league level, but he’s pitching into September, which is a lot of additional innings. But if you were to add on 25 or 30 innings or so to what he pitched last year — which was a nice progression — he’s at the 200 level. So, there shouldn’t be any issues with him this year.

Francesa: You were honest with the fans when you came on at the end of the season and you talked about Wright and Dickey. You said “One of them will be here, I can’t tell you both will be here.” So Wright is here, which was probably your plan all along, Dickey was probably 50-50 as you said if you got the right offer you’d trade him — you did. But right now, you gave up Dickey, d’Arnaud will have to wait on — maybe at the start of the year, Wheeler — still waiting on, Harvey’s here to get them excited, I think Ike’s here to get them excited, and based off last year Ike could hit 40 home runs if things break right. I think it’s not inconceivable. What else would you say to get this fan base somewhat excited to look forward to in 2013?

Alderson: Again, and I’m certainly not promising anything, but let’s see what happens over the next three weeks before camp opens. And then when camp opens I think there are a lot of interesting storylines, a lot of exciting storylines that hopefully will come to fruition in ’13. But at the same time, what I hope is that our fans... Look, there’s no substitute for winning, I’m not suggesting there is, but hopefully our fans who are really, very knowledgeable see what we’re doing and hopefully recognize that we’re not dismissing ’13 by any means, but this is a path that we’ve got to follow.

Francesa: Would you say your long-term plan from the day you got here is on track, or what would you say about that?

Alderson: No, I’d say... me personally?

Francesa: Yes. For what you’ve envisioned for your franchise do you, and put the timetable in place as we begin 2013, are you where you thought you would be?

Alderson: Well, if you were to say on October 31st, 2010 when I took this job, are we where I thought we would be? I would say no. Because we’ve had a couple of good half seasons. We haven’t performed well over the course of a whole season, and we’ve won 70-some games.

Francesa: But you wanted to build a foundation, have you done that to your satisfaction?

Alderson: I think that we are well on our way to building that foundation. And I honestly believe that this doesn’t have to be a long-term proposition. That with the foundation that we have, both at the minor league level and at the major level — and when I talk about major league level I’m talking about young pitching both in the starting rotation and in the bullpen, which I think will be evident over the course of this season — with the infield that we have — which is very solid, with the improved catching that we have, and with the capacity to vastly improve our outfield as opportunities are presented, this doesn’t have to be a long process. In that sense, I’m happy with where we are. Now, we’re still confronted with 2013 and I’m not happy with where we are in preparation for ’13, but as you pointed out earlier we have one eye on ’13, one eye on ’14, but predominantly we’re looking at ’13.

Francesa: And reasonably you expect to have someone else in the outfield before the season starts, right? I mean, that’s a realistic expectation.

Alderson: Yeah, it’s a realistic expectation, but it might not happen.

Francesa: Okay, you’re not guaranteeing anything.

Francesa: Okay, thanks Sandy, we’ll talk to you closer to spring training.

We're considerably grateful to Steve Flanagan for transcribing this interview on short notice and with astonishing accuracy and grace.

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