Last night, Mets GM Sandy Alderson spent about an hour on a conference call with Mets bloggers, answering questions with plenty of detail in the process. First, a few highlights:
- Asked if there were any moves he would go back and change if he could, Alderson said he doesn't spend time dwelling on past acquisitions gone wrong but acknowledged some have and said he tries to learn from them.
- There was no way the Michael Bourn negotiations werent' going to become public so he didn't mind speaking openly about them.
- He hasn't been tempted to trade any of the Mets' lower-level minor league starting pitching depth for position players — be they prospects or big league players — yet, but that time is forthcoming as those young pitchers move up the minor league ranks.
Michael Baron: Sandy, I have a question about your tenure here with the Mets. You’ve been here now two plus years, this is your third camp. There’s obviously been a massive undertaking in getting this organization going in the right direction. What are some of the things, looking back over that time that you would like to have back and do over again?
Sandy Alderson: Part of what we’re trying to accomplish here is a culture shift, if you will, so that the organization as an institution has a direction, and philosophy, and an operating plan over the next several years. The only way to really implement anything like that is through education or re-education of personnel on the baseball side of the organization, so it’s involved bringing some other people in, but also it’s been a matter of getting buy-in from those who were here. So I think we’ve made some progress in that regard. Obviously, only the passage of time eliminates the overhang of certain contracts. In the meantime, we’ve made progress on the player development side, both in terms of how we approach things and the actual personnel we are developing. I think we’ve made some nice acquisitions of young talent that have not just given us depth, but have also given us top shelf talent. Obviously one would like to accomplish positive results as soon as possible and it’s been nice that we’ve played well for roughly half a season in each of the past two years, but, of course, not very well the second half. You can always argue you might do this, you might do that- that there are some things we haven’t done well. The bullpen has not been very good … (feedback) … It’s easy to look back at the acquisitions we’ve made and say "Well, I won’t do that again," or shouldn’t have done that. Collectively the bullpen was not very good last year, but I think they’ll have a better shot at it as more of our pitchers are able to pitch in the pen as they give us more flexibility. We’re seeing it now in spring training, hopefully we’ll see it through the course of the season as well. Otherwise, you certainly have to learn from past mistakes and each individual event that occurs so that we can inform what we do in the future. Other than that, I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about what I can’t change in the past. But obviously there are some things that have gone poorly and we’ll try to not make those mistakes again.
Greg Prince: Hi Sandy, thanks for joining us tonight, I was wondering… need to be open and honest with the media and sort-of feed the media beast with maybe the need to exercise discretion, I’m thinking mainly of the Bourn negotiations which seemed to take on a life of their own as they were being reported, even though they weren’t really coming to fruition- at least as far as the Mets signing him. How do you manage that?
Alderson: That’s a good question. I think one of the things you have to do is first you have to realize that it’s next to impossible to keep the transaction of that type confidential. It’s just not going to be possible with the number of people involved from our side and the number of people involved on the agent’s side. But there are other teams that are involved. There can be communications with Major League Baseball. There’s just so many different entities that you just have to assume that these things are going to eventually become known and become public. Often that’s the value of trying to do something quickly. Because in the case of Bourn, as you point out, it was useful to use in hearing what people had to say and various points of view, but ultimately because of the debate I think the issue with respect to the draft pick- while it got fully vetted- also had an impact on Major League Baseball and their viewpoint. So it’s a tough thing. It’s also difficult to move something simply because it may become public. Some of these things just have a gestation period that can’t be avoided. So for example, in a player transaction, Michael Bourn or otherwise, an agent is trying to get the best deal for his client. He may not have an incentive to do something quickly, unless there’s something we do on a preemptive basis. And in our situation with Bourn, we didn’t feel it was so integral to what we’re doing long term, that it warranted something preemptive on our part. So it is an issue. It has to be anticipated. Interestingly, in the RA Dickey trade, I think Alex Anthopolous told people in his organization that the public reaction would probably not be good, but he was prepared for that because he’d anticipated it, and as a result, the debate about the trade once it became known didn’t alter the outcome. But it could have. And that was one of the things we were concerned about with the three day window- that if it became public it would alter the perception of the deal from the Toronto side. So, it’s difficult to avoid and at the same time- in terms of how I deal with it- in dealing with the media, sometimes I’m just not available rather than no commenting. Even a "no comment" conveys a certain amount of information, probably being unavailable does too, but rather than provide misinformation, sometimes I just go radio silent. That way it’s just the best of, possibly, several bad options.
Scott Mandel: Hi Sandy, thank you for doing this again tonight. I’m thinking about your job and the challenges you face because of the dichotomy between being a market where it’s really based on "What have you done for me lately?" and "Why isn’t the team winning today?" versus looking at the makeup of the roster and looking at the makeup on the farm, and you needing to go into the owner’s office every so often to explain why patience is really crucial in this whole process of building this franchise back. So you’ve got these two dichotomous points of view here and how do you balance that?
Alderson: Well, you have to balance it in any market, but you’re right to point out that in the New York market it’s particularly difficult if you come down on the side of long term rather than long term. I think the only way you can deal with it is, you have to come up with something that is- with a plan, with an approach- that makes sense, and in your particular set of circumstances. I think if you go back two years or a year and a half, while people were not happy with the direction we decided to take, I think they were able to understand why we were doing it and that it was probably if not the best option it was one of the only viable options- that is, waiting for the contracts to expire, waiting for some other issues to get cleared up, improving the farm system, and being somewhat disciplined about what we were doing from day to day or from season to season. So once we come up with that approach, then we measure everything we do against it. And that doesn’t mean we’re constrained by it, but we do think in terms of that strategy and everything we do and how that fits with that strategy. And if it doesn’t fit, at least recognize that it doesn’t. As a result, it may have to be explained. So in some ways it’s really good because it does keep us focused on what we’re doing, but it also- not that it makes it easier for us to, or more difficult for us to diverge- but it does keep us somewhat disciplined.
Mandel: Does it make you think in terms of force feeding some of the kids by a month or two or three just to see what you’ve got and just to show your fans what you’ve got.
Alderson: Well it doesn’t do you any good to force feed a player or two who ultimately fail. I think that while that’s the temptation, it doesn’t do us any good to pitch Zack Wheeler on the first day that we televise from spring training if he’s not any good that day. So there’s risk in everything you do, whether you force feed or if you wait, because people are probably going to judge based on the results and not on the process. I’ll give you an example with Matt Harvey last year, we kept him down until probably August, July I guess it was, there was no reason to do that because we were going to save an option or preserve his free agency, the arbitration issue at that point was not relevant. It was really about whether he was ready and whether he should first pitch at CitiField or somewhere on the road. All those things came into play. Ultimately he’s going to have to pitch. He’s going to be out there and first impressions are important. I think you have to keep in mind it’s ultimately about how the player does not when he does it. And so we’re faced with the same issue this year with a couple of players. The nice thing is it seemed to work with Harvey last year. We pitched him in Arizona and we had a lot of debate about that- it’s a hitter’s ballpark, should we do this, is he better off pitching at CitiField? I think that’s given us a little room for this year so if we were to do the same thing most people would accept it. Had he not performed well, we’re looking at it again from square one. Ultimately it’s about whether the player performs. While the temptation may be to throw somebody out there a month of two early, it doesn’t do us any good if that player doesn’t ultimately perform and has to be sent down. That’s the worst of all possibilities. In our case, given our long term perspective, or longer term perspective, it’s a little easier to wait.
Steve Keane: The question I have is about the way you reloaded this roster from last year. You’ve had a nice turnover in personnel and the guys you brought in like Colin Cowgill, Andrew Brown, Brandon Hicks, and Jamie Hoffman, when you look at their numbers they seem to be similar in that they were all career minor leaguer guys who got caught up in log jams in the organizations that they were in. And the organizations that they started in seem to stress very strong fundamentals. All the players that I mentioned have pretty good and strong walk rates and isolated power percentages. They also are aggressive ballplayers and play pretty good outfield defense. Is this the prototype player that you’ve been looking for? During the offseason, and even now during the season, is this the prototype in the players that you’re looking to add to the Mets?
Alderson: Well you listed off a lot of positive qualities. And to the extent that the players you mentioned are aggressive defensively, aggressive on the bases, command the strike zone, have some power, can run the bases a little bit. Yes, I would say that these are the kinds of players that we would like to have. Offense plays. You can be a great defender, if you can’t hit you probably can’t play anywhere. I’m not talking about the Mets exclusively. And also, it is possible that there are players that just don’t get an opportunity in certain organizations because they may be deeper at certain positions than they are at others. The minor league free agent market, or the fringe 25 man roster guy, playing for a club with a strong roster, given the opportunity may turn into something valuable. Mike Baxter is another example of this from previous years. Not that Mike has great power, but he’s a very valuable piece and part of the team. There’s no question that we value on base percentage, walk rates, isolated power is important, but as we’ve emphasized with a number of guys here in camp on base percentage, command of the strike zone is important. And look, it’s important on offense, it’s important on the pitching side. If you don’t walk anybody and keep the ball in the ballpark you can win games. Today was a good example of what can happen when you walk seven and give up a number of home runs. The same thing happened yesterday- we out hit the Marlins yesterday 9-5. They beat us because they had 14 total bases on 5 hits and we had, I think, 9 on 9 hits. So right, I think that these are the kinds of players were looking for, that we think can make a contribution at the major league level, and we’re going to find out given some opportunity here in the spring what we have. And, of course, we should have most of them going into the season and so we’ll get a chance to look at them again. You have to look for players wherever you can find them, particularly when you’re weak in that area in your own system.
Ed Marcus: My question for you is, I know we’re early in spring training, but what you’ve seen so far from the outfield positions, you think it still may be a glaring weakness at the beginning of the season?
Alderson: Well the outfield is definitely a question mark, collectively. I think we’ve liked what we’ve seen from Cowgill. I don’t think that Brown and Hoffman have had much of an opportunity to play at this point. Nieuwenhuis, den Dekker, still have some work to do offensively. Marlon Byrd is what he is. Mike Baxter is certainly in that mix- expect him to be on that team. The classic outfield offensive player, we don’t have at this point. We don’t have... We think Lucas Duda, offensively, is going to be fine. He defense is a question mark. The balance there is difficult to maintain. He really has to produce offensively. Center and Right, we have to see. I wouldn’t eliminate Valdespin as a potential outfield candidate either, that’s how open things are.
Chris McShane: Given the Mets’ depth, particularly at starting pitching at the lower levels of the minors, how tempted have you been this offseason and how tempted might you be in the next few months to trade any of that depth for either an equally promising minor league hitter or perhaps an outfielder to fill a hole if things are going well in the middle of the season?
Alderson: That’s a good question, Chris. The nice thing is, we haven’t really been put to that test yet. This offseason was all about the RA Dickey trade. We did try and get involved with Justin Upton, some other outfield trade possibilities. Those never came to fruition, in part because we weren’t prepared to trade any of our front line prospects: Harvey and Wheeler, for example. What’s interesting is that below that group we have a number of our prospects, and of course you’ve been down here wandering around and have seem some of them throw in the pen, and we’ve got some outstanding young prospects and they’re a little under the radar now. In fact, I’ve just listed a lot of them, these pitching prospects taking Wheeler out, you got: [Noah] Syndergaard, [Luis] Mateo, [Rafael] Montero, [Michael] Fulmer, [Jeurys] Familia, [Domingo] Tapia, [Cory] Mazzoni, [Jacob] DeGrom, [Hector] Robles, [Gabriel] Ynoa, [Tyler] Pill, [Logan] Verrett, [Steven] Matz. That’s about fourteen I’ve put up and I’ve just kind of arranged them by age. And what we need to be doing is figuring out "Okay, of that list, how do we rank them and who might be available?" Because many of them are at the stage now that you’re going to have to deal with a certain amount of projections, and you’re not always right about your projections. Sometimes you under project, over project, what have you. The nice thing is: we haven’t been tempted yet. But that time is coming because a number of these guys who are at Brooklyn, or Savannah, or maybe even Port St. Lucie are going to begin pitching at higher levels and begin to emerge on a more national scale. I think that temptation to trade some of these players to shore up some weaknesses elsewhere will be forthcoming and we need to be ready for that.
Mike Silva: Hey Sandy, knowing that this could very well be a rebuilding year, what do you need to see out of Terry Collins to make you feel comfortable in extending him after the season?
Alderson: Well I think there are two things upon which a manager is evaluated. One is wins and losses, and the other is the improvement of the players on the team. And regardless of whether you veteran dominated team or a younger team, players have to improve. And more importantly, they have to be motivated to improve, and that’s really partly where the manager comes in. I think that Terry will be evaluated on both of those bases, with the understanding that the wins and losses are not an absolute- to some extent they are relative to the talent that we have. So part of this whole analysis is having a good feel for the talent level that we have and the success that we have and how those two correlate, as well as some of the other less tangible aspects of leading a team over 162 games.
Ian Bauer: Sandy, I’m hoping you can clarify something. You’ve described the 2013 outfield as "not a strength," among other things you also told the season ticket holders in January that the decision not to spend this winter was yours and not ownership’s. I understand you were hoping to land Justin Upton in a trade and you’ve said that precluded you from signing Scott Hairston, specifically. But that’s one spot, while three of the outfield spots that could have been improved with short term free agents like Ludwick or Gomes who wouldn’t have required long term deals or cost a draft pick and spending on drafting international talent cap, what reason do you have for not using more of the money you say ownership made available to you to improve the 2013 squad?
Alderson: I think the simple response, Ian, is in any case where we sign players, we want to have some reasonable relationship between cost and value and if that doesn’t exist then we’re not going to pursue that transaction. Now I understand that not every deal you’re going to make is going to be a great deal from an efficiency standpoint, or from price to value. At some point you’re going to have to "overypay." The question is how much and how it relates to your current state of baseball affairs. And there are times when it makes sense to overpay and there are times when it doesn’t make sense to overpay. That decision also has to be made from a player to player. And that’s true, Ian, not just in terms of payroll cost but also in terms of talent cost. To acquire Justin Upton, should we have traded Zack Wheeler or Matt Harvey? Well some people might say we should have, but we weren’t going to do that. That was the value proposition, but it comes up in every transaction and at some point- look, it’s easy to say we’re not going to do that because it would be overpaying for a player. At some point, you do get in situation where overpaying is the appropriate thing to do because it may be the last piece or a weakness. I don’t think though, given where we are and given what we’re trying to do in 2013, as well as in 14, it may sense for us to overpay Jonny Gomes. And inevitably there are other things that happen that it just didn’t work out. One of the other people on the call talked about the turnover we had on our roster. To some extent, turnover was something we were looking for. I happen to think fans like continuity, but they don’t like continuity to the point of boredom. And what they’re really looking for is continuity among a core of players. That core may be three, it may be five, it may be ten. But like the rest of our lives: change is inevitable. In some cases, embraced. And people like to see that in their teams as well. So I think what they want is continuity, but they also like change; that’s why they like free agents, and things of that. We’re mindful of that. I think there’s a point at which overpaying becomes a reality, and if you’re going to play with the big boys, you’ve got to step up like the big boys. But that’s not true in every case, and it’s not true at every juncture of a team’s development.
Michael Donato: There’s a hesitation to trade some of these younger players or overpay for the right free agent. Is that based on the team itself, or obviously if the team gets better you’re going to be tempted more, but let’s say the plan doesn’t work out quite as drawn up, is there temptation to do that to push the team in the right direction when it seems to be stagnating a little or is it purely a next level type of thing?
Alderson: What I have said once or twice this offseason is that we’re not that far away. And I hate to deal in speculation, but let’s just say for example that we had signed Michael Bourn or we had traded for Justin Upton if things had fallen and we were able to keep Wheeler or keep Harvey, we’d be having a very different conversation. Those two things didn’t happen, and I’m not trying to suggest that "Shucks, they didn’t happen," they didn’t happen! Okay I get that. But they could have. And we were close enough that they could have happened. And if you were to plug those two in, and you guy scan do the analysis, we’d be having a very different conversation. People would be looking at the Mets very differently. They’re looking at the Indians very differently. I don’t know what starting pitching they have, but… I don’t think we’re that far away. Are we a couple of moves away? Maybe. I don’t want you to think that this is an exercise in an elongated process where everything has to be methodical, and everything has to work out perfectly, and we’re not going to do anything unless we look like we’re smarter than the other guy. No. But right now, we have to be careful before we pull that trigger. And yet, I really don’t think we’re that far away. We have the currency. The financial situation is very different today than it was two years ago for a lot of reasons, including contracts coming off the books. We’re in a different situation development-wise, we have players to trade if we desire. There are things we can do. So where we have weaknesses- I understand people look at the outfield- things just didn’t work out there, and I certainly take responsibility for that. Could we have jumped earlier and gotten someone who was a marginal improvement over what we have? Yes, probably we could have. But marginal improvement as opposed to something significant.
John Delcos: You spoke several times tonight about on base percentage, and walk ratio, and plate presence, yet you have four guys on this roster, if they start, who would strike out over 100 times in a season: Wright, Davis, Duda, and Nieuwenhuis. Nieuwenhuis struck out 98 times last year. From the production you’re getting out of these players is their strike out ratio acceptable? And what is an acceptable strike out to walk ratio for these guys?
Alderson: Good question. Let me say this, the walk-strike out ratio is overrated. If someone has a one to one ratio and walks ten times a year, they’re not very useful offensive players. If they have a one to one ratio and walk 100 times and strike out 100 times, those players are going to be highly valuable generally speaking. So that gets me back to your original analysis to the players who are striking out. Putting it simplistically, if someone has a .400 on base percentage, while it’s important to put the ball in play and move runners over and so forth, it becomes less and less important the higher the on base percentage is. In that sense, we have to be careful about strike out rates. I had a conversation three or four days ago- one of the players we have in camp- and the conventional wisdom is that he strikes out a lot and has to cut down on his strike outs. So the reason I brought the player in is so that he understood it wasn’t about the strike outs, it was about the on base percentage. This is a player with power, a high strike out rate, and a too low on base percentage. The idea of commanding the strike zone is more about improving the on base percentage than it is about cutting down on the strike outs. We teach a two strike approach, so that certainly is something we take into account. But if you’re going to get on base and you do work the count, you are going to put yourself in jeopardy and you may increase the strikeout rate. So what is an acceptable strike out rate? From my standpoint, it’s really a function of everything else a player does. As I said, if a player gets 100 walks a year, and gets 40 home runs and drives in 120 and scores 120, I don’t really care how many times he strikes out.
Delcos: Does Nieuwenhuis contribute enough to justify his 98 strikeouts last year?
Alderson: Rather than commenting on a particular player, I would just refer to the rest of his statistical package and your conclusion might be similar to mine.
Joe DeCaro: It’s been reported that Kirk Nieuwenhuis will strongly be considered as a leadoff candidate this season despite a 31 percent strikeout percentage, low contact rate, on base, and even a poor batting eye. Assuming he could improve his contact and strikeout rates, and even his on base, his batting eye still is what it is and it doesn’t fit the mold of an ideal leadoff man, even if it’s just against right handed pitching. What’s troubling for me is that Kirk was at his worst when he worked deeper into counts last season. Are there some positives about Kirk that we don’t see that you could shed some light on or is this simply a case of not having any better options right now for the leadoff spot?
Alderson: That’s a good question. I think Kirk would be the first to admit that he’s got some things to work on this spring. And in his case it’s not so much, again cutting down strike outs, improving on base percentage- these are all goals, but they’re not solutions. Really the question is how do you improve on those things? So Kirk and a few others are working on a variety of things that will contribute to a lower strikeout rate, a higher on base percentage, more power. And that comes from a better command of the strike zone, and a better command of the strike zone comes from better pitch recognition, and a better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. So if you think about Kirk from last year, you might say, "Well, what are his weaknesses?" Breaking balls, down and in; fastballs, up and away. So in trying to get him to improve in these areas like on base percentage and strikeout rates it’s really a matter of looking at those areas like pitch recognition and having a plan as to what exactly he’s going to try and do with those pitches. So I think there are a number of candidates for that leadoff spot and we’ll just have to see how the competition goes. Nieuwenhuis needs to improve, den Dekker needs to improve, we’ve got Cowgill but he’s a right handed hitter. Where to Baxter and Valdespin fit in? Again, it’s not a perfect scenario, but you’re right to point out that under current circumstances and as we would evaluate Kirk and some others right now, they’re not ideal candidates- keeping those basic leadoff characteristics in mind. Vaccaro: Ultiamtely, do you see the leadoff spot being filled in house with the candidates that we have, or are you on the lookout to find a leadoff hitter? Because it seems we’ve struggled to find a good leadoff hitter since we’ve lost Jose Reyes. So how do you see this moving forward?
First of all, I wouldn’t focus exclusively on the leadoff position. If you go back to the 2011 season, our run production was pretty good. Now we had Jose all season, so the leadoff position was well filled. Last year, we didn’t score as many runs. It wasn’t simply a result of doing less well in the leadoff position. Tejada, his walk rates dropped pretty substantially from the year before and from the first half to the second half. One of the reasons that we went after Bourn was that we didn’t see a lot of good solution in-house. Bourn’s not the perfect… We didn’t view him as the perfect free agent addition for us, but he did a lot of positive things: defense, leading off, speed, et cetera. There’s a guy who strikes out a lot, by the way. So we recognize that they’re hard to find and when they come up you need to take a hard look at it. I just think realistically you’re not going to find the perfect leadoff man in a spring training trade, it’s probably not going to happen. You’re going to have to take a shot on somebody and hope that they grow into it, or recognize the limitations of the people you have and hope that you can emphasize with them the importance of doing certain things. For example, with Rueben , it’s about getting on base. He’s not going to steal bases, but if we can get him back to a .360 on base percentage, we’ll take it.
Matthew Artus: I wanted to ask about the news that came out earlier today regarding Terry Collins saying that Travis d’Arnaud was being instructed not to block the plate. I was wondering if you could elaborate on the organization’s position on whether his injury history played a factor, and also your general feelings about the idea of catcher blocking the plate?
Alderson: This particular issue has gotten some coverage in recent days. I think that Mike Matheny with St. Louis was suggesting there should be a rule change about collisions at home plate. I think that you have to be sensible with this, catchers themselves have to be sensible about this. At this point the rule is what it is, and it’s really something we’ve only begun to address publically over the last couple of days. For example, I wasn’t aware that Matheny had made this suggestion until this morning and I’m the chairman of the rules committee, so eventually that will come to us, I would think. And there’s some justification for this sentiment in a general sense. With the concern that all sports have concerning concussions, putting aside how valuable a catcher can be and whether he can be lost for the season, just general physiological well being is something that has to be taken into account. But as far as d’Arnaud is concerned, we also had to take into account his injury history and his value to us going forward for the future, and really need to think about it in terms of all of our catching prospects. But d’Arnaud brings it up in particular focus because of his prospect status and because of his injury history. And it’s something we have to take a look at. Now, do we want d’Arnaud to block the plate in a spring training game and be taken out for spring training and maybe two months of the season- absolutely not. He’s got an injured left knee where he suffered the injury. That leg is the leg that normally you would block the plate. So there’s some specific issues that we have to take into account and right now, just as a temporary matter, Terry has said, "Look, get out of the way." Whether that will be permanent with him or permanent with all of our catching prospects of something John Buck will adopt, or the spike tag will becomes standard for catchers in the big leagues- I don’t know, but I think it’s an issue we have to address globally, rather than just in the case of Travis d’Arnaud. And to some extent we have an obligation to treat everyone the same way. "Travis, you’re really valuable to us, don’t do this, don’t do that, everybody else take the risk, because you’re not that good." I don’t think that’s an organizational approach we want to take.
Shannon Shark: Thanks Sandy, a year ago I asked you about TV and well before it became the "it show" and well before the Emmys you recommended Homeland which I watched just so we would have something to chat about- and it was awesome! So I want to know what else are you watching?
Alderson: That’s a good question. I hate to admit this, but I’m watching Downton Abbey at the moment, or I have been- the season just ended. And what I like about it is the historical and sociological implications that it presents from that period, pre-WWI, post- WWI, in Europe and by extension everywhere in the world. And obviously it’s a whole different genre from Homeland, but that’s the one that comes immediately to mind. That’s the one I’ve been watching. I don’t generally get on FX or some of the others, I should because there’s some great series there too, but that’s the one I’ve been watching.
Once again, we're considerably grateful to Steve Flanagan for transcribing this interview on short notice and with astonishing accuracy and grace.