Earlier today, Sandy Alderson took part in a lengthy interview on WFAN about the team's direction and the recent GM/Owner Meetings.
- Matt Harvey's recovery from Tommy John surgery doesn't change the Mets' focus on accumulating talent, maintaining payroll flexibility, and being competitive without sacrificing the first two.
- The Mets have seven free agent outfielders and nine trade-target outfielders on their internal discussion list.
- The Mets have 25 free agent starting pitchers on their internal list.
- He is pleased with Travis d'Arnaud's defense, though admits his hitting was inconsistent.
- The Mets definitely want to see someone other than Ruben Tejada at shortstop.
- He likes Juan Lagares and thinks his approach at the plate improved during the season.
- He would make young pitching available "in the right deal."
- No one is untouchable, but the closest thing to it is Noah Syndergaard.
- There are no minor league position players who are close to making a big league impact.
- He wouldn't be comfortable starting the season without adding position players (via trade or free agency).
- He'd be very surprised if there weren't two or three new faces in the lineup.
- He'd be surprised if we don't see both Syngergaard and Rafael Montero in the majors at some point next year.
Mike Francesca (MF): Sandy, welcome, how are you?
Sandy Alderson (SA): Hi Mike. Doing well, thank you.
MF: I appreciate the couple minutes, we've had a lot of discussion this week. First Sandy, I want to get to—you infuriated Mets fans, and I tried to say it was just meant in jest, I don't think it was anything to annoy them—but, the $5 bill thing seemed to really get under their skin.
SA: [laughter] Well I've made a few attempts at humor in the past that have gotten under peoples' skin. I try not to do it too often, but I think it is sometimes important to reflect on the relative importance of all of this, and try and put it in some perspective. I know it's become a sensitive issue with Mets fans, it has been for a few years. I myself am sensitive to that, but in any event my humor comes and goes. It's gone for a while. It won't be back any time soon [laughter].
MF: Hey, you know what, I understand it. Again, I think you know the sensitivity. Sandy, tell us where are we in the process. What would you say after kicking the tires and chatting with people? Where are we in the free agent process?
SA: Well I think it's fairly obvious from our lack of activity and the general lack of activity, that it's very early in the offseason. A lot of things don't happen until well after the Winter Meetings. We didn't trade R.A. Dickey until well after the Winter Meetings. We didn't sign Marlon Byrd until well after the Winter Meetings, as I recall. Lots of stuff can happen, and often happens much later in the offseason. I understand people are anxious to see what we do, and I'm anxious to see how everything develops. We have lots of holes to fill, but the nice thing about that is that it gives us a lot of different combinations. While there's obvious weaknesses, there are some areas with obvious strength that we can further strengthen.
Right now, it's not a matter of strategy, we understand what our priorities are. But right now, we're trying to determine what realistically is available in those areas we feel we can prioritize, but also what else is out there that might be able to help us in a more creative way. You know, we use the general managers' meeting to talk with clubs, talk with agents, we've done a lot of that, we'll do more of it as we get into next week and into the week after. I think things will start to happen—start to happen with us, and with all the clubs. At this point, I think two free agents have signed, Marlon Byrd and Nick Punto. There's a lot to come.
MF: It usually happens after the Winter Meetings, and before Christmas. That's usually the really active time. About the 12th through the 25th is usually a very active time.
SA: Yea, I think that there are always some players who want to do something early. For example, it's not surprising that Marlon Byrd signed early.
MF: Were you surprised how much he got?
SA: A little bit, but I wasn't overly surprised. I was much more surprised with some of the other signings—you know, [Hunter] Pence, [Tim] Lincecum—that happened before the free agent market even commenced. I thought those were somewhat surprising.
MF: And Byrd had a great season. 24 [home runs]/88 [RBIs], he slugged, had a wonderful postseason. He did have a wonderful postseason, he really did.
SA: He had a good season, and it's a two-year deal, but there's some clubs—maybe Philadelphia's one, I don't know—that like to do things early, and sometimes doing things early works out really well, and sometimes they don't. But you know, Marlon was in a situation where he had to wait quite a bit last year before he knew he had a place to go for spring training, so I'm not surprised he jumped. Jumped at something he found attractive.
MF: Hey, if I'm him, I would've jumped at that too. Last year he couldn't get a job, this year he's making $16 million over two years, I would've done the same thing at his age.. It was a smart move.
SA: Yes, I'd say so.
MF: Would you say now, though, anything's changed? Now let me go and backtrack, I think the Met fan needs to go through this and hear this, because I think everything they may have thought has been wiped away by people taking shots at the Mets, [Scott] Boras taking shots at the Mets, all the different things. The [Matt] Harvey thing has not changed your direction or approach at all, right?
SA: Well, I mean, moderately.
MF: I mean you're not trying to build, because Harvey...
SA: No, no, no.
MF: The point is, it has changed who you can trade, but has it changed your approach to the 2014 season as far as improvement goes?
SA: No, we're still committed to improving. If you go back over the past three years—I've said this more than once—we wanted to accumulate talent, we wanted some more payroll flexibility, and we wanted to do well along the way without compromising the first two goals. Now we're reordering those goals, Harvey or no Harvey. So no, we're not changing anything. The mindset of the average Mets fan, I'm sure is very different today than it was on August 26th before it was announced Harvey blew out his elbow. Psychologically, I know it had an impact on Mets fans because it had an impact on me.
MF: No question, it did everybody
SA: It doesn't alter our fundamental approach for this season. Will we need some more pitching? Yea. It would be nice to have quality pitching to fill that hole. The bottom line is that we're about improving the team, improving the win-loss record, and we've achieved the payroll flexibility. I think we have improved our overall stable of talent, and as I said, we've got other priorities now.
MF: Do you think there was more interest in certain players? Or was it what you had gauged?
SA: Yea, I don't think we were surprised at what we found. I do think that, as it becomes clearer—that power, as it becomes more expensive, and as it becomes more scarce—well, someone like Ike [Davis] or [Lucas] Duda becomes more attractive as options disappear, or realistically are not attainable. I don't think we found out anything unique while we were there in regard to potential trade partners. Even with what we know from the meetings, I expect there will be further conversations with other teams. For example, I'll be talking to a team after we finish with whom I didn't have any conversation at the meetings. But, I think the general byplay, whether it's in the media, in the lobby, or among teams, whether you have direct conversations or not, leads to other conversations later. I expect we'll continue to talk to not just clubs we had conversations with in Orlando, but other teams as well.
MF: Is it more likely you add a premium bat through trade, or through free agency?
SA: [sighs] I think it's hard to tell, Mike, at this point. I'm staring at my board right now, and I got guys divided into two camps, free agents and trade candidates.
MF: Are they fairly equal?
SA: In the outfield category, I've got a line through Byrd so, I got seven guys on my board who are free agents. You know, varying degrees of quality. In the trade category, as an example, I have nine. Now that's not the entire universe, but those are guys we've talked about internally, and those range from A+ to C+.
MF: Is there a limit in payroll flexibility where you don't want to commit too much to one player? Or could that change based on the talent and availability of a given player?
SA: I think the latter. I think we have to be flexible. People like to refer to what Boston did last year. Look, they went to Stephen Drew, they gave him $9.5 million on a one-year deal, [Shane] Victorino, they gave him $13 million times three. [Mike] Napoli they tried to give a longer contract, it ended up being one [year] because of some health issues. Still, significant dollars but shorter term.
MF: They got knocked for the Victorino deal, but look what it produced.
SA: The Victorino deal was interesting because I think it was an overpay, based on the market. But it's never an overpay if you win the World Series.
MF: Absolutely. The guys they brought in really energized the core, or the core was ready to be energized. One or the other, because the core really perked up, and everybody contributed. They went down the line and have everybody contribute.
SA: Yea, it was a perfectly orchestrated and executed season.
MF: That's right, everything worked. Everything worked, including a guy like [Koji] Uehara. You have to consider that like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Amazing what he ended up being.
SA: Yea, that happens. It happens from time to time, and it happens to six or seven guys like that. It doesn't happen often but when it does, it can have great results.
MF: Is there a position, Sandy, you would like to fill but you don't have candidates, either via free agency or trade, that you could use to fill?
SA: No, I think we have candidates across the board. If you look at shortstop there are candidates but not many, if you look at the outfield there are candidates but not perfect candidates. I think that'll happen in every market. We can't expect candidates to be perfect for every market, or for the right price.
MF: What do you think of the starting pitching market?
SA: I think the starting pitching market is fairly deep, free agent wise. Not with aces, but guys who are going to pitch for you for a year or two. 150 to 200 innings. I've got 25 guys on my board. Starting pitchers.
MF: How about the bullpen?
SA: I've got options there too from the right side, and from the left side.
MF: So for the pitching there's a pretty decent field to work through?
SA: I'd say so. Yes.
MF: Do you feel committed to [Travis] d'Arnaud. Can you give him the job and feel comfortable based on what you've seen?
SA: Look, I don't think we're in a position to argue with d'Arnaud.
Photo: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
MF: So just give him a chance?
MF: Did the hitting disappoint you?
SA: A little bit, we saw flashes. I thought the approach was inconsistent. I think anytime you get below the Mendoza Line, especially in a young guy, you panic a little bit. But, I think given what we saw in spring training, what we saw in [Triple-A Las] Vegas, and what we saw in his minor league career, we have to assume that's going to improve. Actually, I was pleased with his catching.
MF: Yea, the catching was better than I expected. So at that position, you're okay?
SA: Yea, we're okay. We're better off that his defense proved viable at the major league level and now we've got to prove that he can work through the offense.
MF: Is there anywhere else you have to live and just roll the dice? It sounds like you have to do that at first base, is that accurate?
SA: Yea, I'd say that's accurate.
MF: Well be honest, you like Duda. You just like him as a player.
SA: Well I like them both in terms of profile. There's things we like about Duda, some things we like about Ike—he's hit 30 home runs, something Duda hasn't done.
MF: and plays defense.
SA: Yea. There are different things we look at, not just from a scouting standpoint, but things from an analytical standpoint. Sometimes you just gotta make a choice, and we're getting to that point with these guys.
MF: Did you find the market more pronounced in terms of one guy or the other.
SA: [clears throat, pauses] Um, well, I'd say no. [laughs]
MF: That surprises me, I thought there would be more of a market for Ike to be honest. I thought people would be more likely to cover him. That surprises me.
MF: Shorstop for a second, I think we all have gotten the idea that you would like to see a new face, is that a fair statement?
SA: Yup, I think that's a fair analysis. The problem with that position is that there aren't a lot of quality free agents. It was widely reported we spoke to Jhonny Peralta down in down in Orlando—we didn't confirm that—but it was widely reported. You know there just aren't that many solid candidates.
MF: How many candidates are there that you would be comfortable with? More than a couple?
SA: Well if you're looking to really upgrade, a couple plus, maybe. You've got Peralta, Drew, Rafael Furcal is coming off a serious elbow injury, it's not even clear he's throwing yet. It's just a small group.
MF: So really Peralta and Drew are the market since we don't know where Furcal stands right now?
SA: Yea, I think I've said there are a lot of combinations that could work for us, and you're not going to be perfect at every position. When you start to compromise at two or three, that's when you get in trouble. We've only got eight guys hitting, plus the pitcher. Like center field for example. We got great defense from [Juan] Lagares, but at some point you have to get offense at that position, or at the shortstop position, or at the corner outfield position. You just cannot have holes in your lineup or have two or three guys be holes in your offense and not get production from that position.
MF: Do you like Lagares?
SA: I think he's terrific defensively.
MF: Do you see things that give you hope he's going to give enough offense to be an everyday player?
SA: Yea, I see two things, actually. One is that he is trying to adapt. It's very important to look at things below the surface. A lot can be predicted about a hitter based on when he hits in the count, early in the count or late in the count. You probably remember from last year, he was behind in the count all the time. He's trying to make adjustments, mentally. It's not about drawing walks, it's about getting into hitter's counts. Another thing is that he does have a knack for making contact, even behind in the count. There's not a lot of power there right now, but he definitely made an improvement as the season went on. He definitely makes up for that lack of offense with his defense, baserunning, and arm. If he can improve his offense somewhat, we'll have an everyday player.
Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
MF: We've heard a lot about the pitching in the pipeline, whether it be a year away, or current guys that people would be attracted to. Guys like Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, Zack Wheeler, any of them. You're probably hearing that everywhere you talk. You're probably hearing about prying pitching away?
SA: Yea, people have definitely inquired about pitching, and pitching is something we want to conserve, but in the right deal pitching is available.
MF: You will trade pitching for power, right?
SA: If the right deal is there, yes. Pitching is available. We'd have to make a decision between the pitching prospect or the guys we have currently on the roster. That's always a tough decision. We have one guy on the roster we wouldn't talk about in any regard and that's [Noah] Syndergaard. Again, never say never.
MF: Would Wheeler be untouchable?
SA: Well, never say never, no one is 'untouchable,' but we're not shopping our pitching.
MF: Will it be easier to get the outfield power you need and then replenish the pitching? Or will it be easier to replenish the outfield?
SA: Well, I think one of the things that can be done is, and you see this with teams like Tampa Bay, they maintain the quality of their pitching. Everything revolves around their pitching.
MF: Yup, they elevate their pitchers and then trade them for position players. Do you think you could do the same thing? Do you have enough in the pipeline, pitching wise? Enough that you feel comfortable with three or four of your starters in the next couple of years coming up?
SA: You know, I think if everything else went to hell in a handbasket, pitching wise, and we didn't get anybody—we've talked about Gee, Neise, and Wheeler being the guys, and filling out the other spots, we could fill those spots from within. We've got guys with enough talent in Triple-A or even Double-A that we could fill those spots. I think that's evidence that we've got pitching, and we've got pitching that's close.
MF: What would you say about your position players in the pipeline?
SA: Not close.
MF: Nobody close?
SA: Nobody close that's going to have an impact. Unless something happens and [Wilmer] Flores steps up, or somebody steps out of the shadows—in terms of impact players—they're further away. I wouldn't be comfortable if we don't add any position players. 'If we don't add any position players we'll be fine,' no that's not the case. So, pitching wise, yea, we don't want to start the season with young guys from our system. For position players, that's not the case.
MF: Sandy, is there a minimum where you would say there's certain things, even if people don't like the individual, and people will quibble over the individual, there will be two or three definite new faces added to lineup?
SA: Yea, I think that's fair. I'd be very surprised if that weren't the case.
MF: So you believe there will be new faces in the starting lineup?
SA: Yea, I believe that. Now, obviously, everything could blow up. Absolutely, that's our whole goal.
MF: So you don't see a scenario where you'll go into the season with a bunch of kids?
SA: [emphatically] No! No way! [laughs]
MF: Some people fear that you're going to bring in kids, and say 'see you next year.'
SA: No, we're not going to do that. Why would we want to do that? I've got to watch all those games too! [laughter] You know, Mike, I was getting home from the airport yesterday, so it was three or four o'clock getting back into the city, and I was really surprised, and gratified that most of your questions were about the Mets. You know what, that's a good thing!
MF: The last couple of days 80% of the baseball talk has been about the Mets
SA: Yea, I know that. I view that as positive. It's not always positive in tone, the questions and conversations.
MF: Can I tell you why that's the case? They know the Yankees are going to spend money, and are wondering if you are.
SA: Yea, right, and that's fair. That's fair based on recent history
MF: They know the Yankees will go shopping, they know they have a history of going shopping, they're worried if you're going shopping.
SA: Right, and as I said, based on recent history, that's fair.
MF: And you have a lot of fans out there who want you to get this team turned around, they're dying to come back to your ballpark.
SA: And that's why I found it exciting. I understand, while people want us to do this, and that, and they wanted to do it yesterday. The fact that they're calling, the fact they're demonstrating their passion...
MF: They care. You know when you made that remark the other day, they were angry. They were like 'we were waiting for 2014!' They view 2014 as a threshold, and they're waiting for you to go out and do it. They want you to do it. [laughter] What would you say about this market? Is it competitive? Weaker than you expected? What would you say about the group of players?
SA: I'd say it's thin. I'd say it's only going to get thinner, as clubs tie up their younger players at an earlier time in their career. I think clubs have realized that, if you look at various player markets, that retaining your own players—a very specific type of player market—is the best thing to do.
MF: Do you agree with that?
SA: Yea, I definitely do. You're signing a player to a long-term contract at a younger age, at a time when the money isn't nearly as big as the second time around, and the performance is more predictable because guys are still on the uptick, and not the downside. We did it with Niese, and we're prepared to do it with other players, under the right circumstances.
MF: Is the Alderson outfielder a player where on-base percentage comes first or power comes first, or both?
SA: Well, it would be nice to have a combination. If I could only have one, I'd give a slight nod to on-base percentage, but power is very important. Critically important.
MF: So you like the home run?
SA: Yea, because baseball likes the home run.
MF: Okay, some guys don't like the home run as much.
SA: Have I quoted this stat to you before? If your team out-homers my team, you win three-quarters of the games. That's all you need to know.
MF: That's big. You obviously won't win a shutout, but you won't win other kinds of games too.
SA: Among the pretty basic principles is you want pitchers who don't give up home runs, and you want players who hit home runs.
MF: Is your ballpark a detriment to players who hit home runs?
SA: I don't think it is now, no. You know our pitchers gave up more home runs at a higher rate at home than on the road?
MF: That's surprising. Wow. So you don't find people saying, 'I'm not going to play in that place!'
SA: No. I don't think that situation exists any longer because those who have played here since it was reconfigured view it as a pretty fair ballpark. When we're talking to somebody, or we have David Wright talk to someone about the ballpark, they have a whole different description of it now than they did three years ago.
MF: Let me ask you a crazy question. You ask 10 people you might have three different answers. Who is your best pitcher next year? Wheeler, Gee, or Niese? Do you have one that is superior to the other?
SA: I don't have an opinion, but I wouldn't voice it if I had one.
MF: Do you have a guy who is a leader next year? Niese based on rep? Gee pitched great after Memorial Day. He was one of the best pitchers in the league after Memorial Day. You've seen great things from Wheeler. You've seen great things from Niese. They're all accomplished pitchers. I just want to know if you would rate one more above the others.
SA: Yea, Gee was great. But no, I wouldn't want to do that publicly.
MF: Your ace is Harvey, we know that. You don't want to put a guy behind Harvey yet?
SA: I think that would be premature. There are reasons why any of the three...Niese opened the season for us, Gee was terrific.
MF: It showed where Gee came from. If you go to his start in Yankee Stadium, he was about to be in the minors or out of the rotation. He pitched sensationally, starting that night.
SA: And Wheeler has great stuff, and he has a big upside.
MF: I thought Wheeler was really impressive last year, more impressive than I thought he would be. I thought Wheeler really grew up last year.
SA: Harvey pitched so well, people said no way Wheeler could pitch comparably. Now that's not to say he pitched as well as Matt, but people saw last year what scouts have seen in him for years. So we just need to see him get more innings.
MF: And stay healthy.
SA: Yes, stay healthy. Especially after seeing Harvey go down.
MF: What's the plan for Syndergaard and [Rafael] Montero next year? Will we see them in the major leagues?
SA: I'd be surprised if we don't see them both. Even if neither is in the rotation to start the season, there will definitely be times when you need to go to your 6th, 7th, 8th guy. That's where those guys fit. Not in terms of fit, but in terms of experience as well.
MF: Would you give Syndergaard a chance to make the team out of training camp?
SA: I'd say he's in the same position as Wheeler was last year, and Harvey was the year before. There was a lot of attention being paid to them, but realistically they didn't have a chance to make the major league roster at the end of spring training.
MF: Is Syndergaard ahead of Montero, or is Montero more polished?
SA: I'd say Montero is ahead of Syndergaard, if only because of his experience at Las Vegas last year. You think about what Montero did. He pitched great at Double-A, as did Syndergaard, then he went to Las Vegas, and pitched great not just in Vegas, but in that whole division, including places like Reno and Tuscon, and pitched really well and that's an accomplishment. So I'd say Montero is ahead of Syndergaard.
MF: In closing, what would you say to a Met fan about the next couple of weeks, and what his expectation should be as he sits and waits everyday for news?
SA: Well I would say this: we're working on it every day. The fact that something doesn't happen immediately doesn't mean we're not working at it and preparing for the eventuality that moves will be made. It's not like we're testing the market to see if we want to do something. No, we want to do something but we have to go about it in a way that makes sense, so that the mix of players we bring back, at least in our judgement, gives us the best chance to succeed. We'll get there.
MF: I thank you for giving us the time and coming on.
SA: Okay, bye bye.
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