Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE
The Mets' GM is a straight-shooter with upper-management written all over him.
The most pitch-perfect moment of Office Space's satire of American corporate life has to be the protagonist Peter's meeting with the consultants auditing the company. At this point in the movie, Peter has stopped coming into work, but drops in one day just long enough to explain to the consultants — in very calm and rational terms — exactly how useless he is to the company and how poorly mismanaged he is. This meeting leads the consultants to famously deem Peter "a straight-shooter with upper-management written all over him," to the shock of Peter's boss, who hasn't seen Peter clock in for several weeks.
The scene, besides being hilarious, does much to win the audience on Peter's side, as it's nice to see someone rewarded for speaking truth to power. In fact, it's pretty easy to sincerely believe some justice is being done and Peter deserves the job. It's easy to forget the premise of the joke: Peter's finally getting rewarded, but for obstinately refusing to show up for work.
Mets fans are fawning over Sandy Alderson for being a real-life Peter Gibbons. And in the process, we've forgotten he's not showing up for work very often.
The two quintessential quotations of the Mets' offseason both came from Alderson. From his recent interview with Mike Francesa:
Do we have the right pieces in the bullpen now? I have no idea.
And from the season ticket holder hobnobbing:
I can speculate the outfield wont be a strength for us this year.
After years of having Minaya's roadkill roster served as filet mignon, honesty is refreshing. But if we're going to laud Alderson for his truthfulness, maybe we should take him on his word on this point too: He, not the Wilpons, is the reason the Mets' payroll continues to dip, making him — not the Wilpons — the reason the Mets' roster has gaping holes.
Now, the Wilpons' financial woes are undeniably the primary reason for the downward payroll trend. But is it at Alderson's behest or the Wilpons' that this season's payroll as low as it is? If you believe that the Mets are completely bankrupted by the Wilpons' debt and that Alderson is a charismatic older man they hired to put on nice suits and spew patent falsehoods for the sake of the team's image, you are one of those Mets fans whose view of the team is skewed by your pathological hatred of the Wilpons. (If that sounds accusatory, I don't mean it to be — pathological hatred of the Wilpons is perhaps the the most natural reaction to Mets fandom.)
It seems clear to me that Alderson chose to punt this offseason and apply any savings toward next year's likely spending spree. Consider: He apparently laid out some plan to David Wright that convinced him that the team would be both competitive and spending in the short term. He made substantial offers to R.A. Dickey and Michael Bourn, while being very unwilling to budge off his valuations. The Dickey trade, in particular, seemed to encapsulate the strategy: save money, while grabbing a few high-end prospects who will be ready in the next year.
And here's where the Peter Gibbons narrative gets applied: Most Mets fans see Alderson as this smart guy doing what he can to effect piecemeal progress in spite of considerable limitations from upper- anagement — which is true, sort of. But really, Alderson is attempting to pull off a very specific, unusual, and risky strategy.
Alderson could have done the most possible to win in 2013, without significantly mortgaging the future. R.A. Dickey is old, but he'll be around for a while. Michael Bourn's contract is a tough pill to swallow, but he'd help. Justin Upton's only three years older than Zack Wheeler. Alternatively, he could have really rebuilt the team and traded Wright.
Instead, he's counting on those four kids to be players around the time Santana's and Bay's money come off the books. It's not crazy — there's a sense that Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Travis d'Arnaud, and Noah Syndergaard are unlike anyone the Mets have developed in a while. Fans generally overestimate the closeness of farm systems in baseball: everyone's got ten prospects worth being on a list! — which is, of course, a lie propagated by Baseball America to sell books. I can't name ten prospects the Mets have had in the last decade who were worth a damn.
But that's the risk, too. The Mets are positively counting on a handful of players who have little-to-no major league experience. Trading Wright for another handful of prospects would have diffused that risk. Keeping Dickey would have, too, insofar as Wheeler and Harvey wouldn't have been as needed in the short term.
Andrew Friedman positively identified it as the Rays' model: believing wholly in totally unproven high-end talent. As far as teams to copy, the Rays aren't a bad choice. Ideally, the Mets will be able to combine the Rays' cost-controlled stars with David Wright and a bunch more payroll.
If things don't break the Mets' way, though, it could easily mean five more years in baseball purgatory and they would have sacrificed the outfield this season for naught. It's not a bad plan, and the team could easily still compete this year. But if you're going to whine about the Mets being ill-prepared for the season, at least blame the man responsible.