I can still remember my excitement when Sandy Alderson became GM of the New York Mets. After years of Omar Minaya incompetence -- publicly accusing sports writers of insane accusations after they expose your scout as a wannabe thug after the scout challenges an entire minor league team to a fistfight; giving up draft picks for the likes of an ancient Moises Alou, K-Rod, Billy Wagner, etc. -- there was finally a positive feeling for Mets fans. Granted, the Wilpons’ finances were a mess and the payroll was about to plummet, but even that didn’t seem to be insurmountable for Alderson. He was the pioneer of sabremetrics, the man who mentored Billy Beane, the guy we read about in Moneyball.
Yet as we enter season four of Sandy Alderson’s tenure with the Mets the suspicion creeps up more and more in my head that Alderson is very overrated. Certainly Alderson can hold up some successes: he landed Zack Wheeler for barely a half a season of Carlos Beltran, he got great value for R.A. Dickey, he signed Marlon Byrd and turned his unexpected season into Vic Black and Dilson Herrera, and traded Colin McHugh for Eric Young, Jr. Of course there were some failures as well: Frank Francisco, not trading Jose Reyes after already trading Beltran and K-Rod (in fact not trading Reyes may be symbolic of the problem with Alderson’s tenure), LOL-Bullpens, Collin Cowgill, etc. All GMs have their share of success and failure yet what does it say that its now 2014, the supposed year the Mets were to finally turn things around, and the team still has, as of this writing, a mess at first base, a hole at SS (in fact a whole infield leftover from the Minaya era), and a still quite questionable outfield.
The most troubling aspect of Alderson’s tenure is just how predictable and banal it has been thus far. For instance, Alderson certainly got more for Carlos Beltran than expected, and it looks like he fleeced Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos in the Dickey trade, yet every knowledgeable Mets fan would have bet serious money that those trades were going to happen. The return may have been higher than expected but the trades themselves were to be expected. For a GM who was known for innovation, besides getting high returns for chips left over by Minaya, it is hard to say Alderson has done anything that can be described as innovative.
It is true that Alderson has overseen the building of farm system that now lands in the top 10 of such lists. However the thing about farm systems and prospects is often they do not pan out in the major leagues. I’m sure all Mets fans remember the farm system from the mid-1990s (Alex Ochoa, Jay Payton, Bill Pulsipher, Paul Wilson, Juan Acevedo, etc.) not exactly working out as envisioned. The key to building a consistent winner is keeping the prospects who work out and hyping and trading the ones who don’t. Stick Michael and his successors for the Yankees in the 1990s kept Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Petitte, and Bernie Williams and traded Matt Drews, Eric Milton, and Roberto Kelly for greater value every time. Has Alderson shown any such vision up to now?
For a comparison of the same time period, take Alderson’s protégé Beane (who it seems has picked up some tricks since he was Alderson’s assistant). Coming off a 74-88 2011 season, Beane spent that December trading for Josh Reddick (for Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney), signing Brandon Moss, until then a player entering his age-28 season who had basically done nothing to that point, unexpectedly signing Yoenis Cespedes, and trading Gio Gonzalez for AJ Cole, Tommy Milone, and Derek Norris; the WARs (according to Baseball Reference) for Reddick, Moss, and Cespedes in 2012: 4.8, 3.7, 2.0, while Norris and Milone still provide some upside and depth. The following offseason Beane flipped AJ Cole for the useful John Jaso and parlayed Chris Carter into SS Jed Lowrie (who the Mets may target next offseason as a free agent for a lot more money when the As young stud SS figures to be ready). The results the past two seasons for the As: two division titles, plus another strong offseason that included trading Michael Choice, a prospect nowhere near the top of any list, for outfielder Craig Gentry, who turned in a WAR of 3.6 for the Rangers last season. Another interesting fact is none of the everyday players projected to start for the As this coming season were drafted by Beane. These were the kind of moves expected of Alderson.
Instead, in an offseason that was to jumpstart the turnaround, when the Bay and Santana contracts were finally expired, Alderson’s biggest move was the predictable, straight out of the Omar Minaya playbook: the signing of Curtis Granderson for 4 years/$60 million. While Granderson figures to improve the Mets in the short-term, he’s an aging outfielder whose strikeouts are astronomical even in the current age of strikeouts and is doubtful to be worth his contract by year three. It smacks of Jason Bay, which is probably why Dave Cameron of FanGraphs has the Granderson signing as the fifth worst of the offseason (Cameron: "the Mets could have gotten 90% of the production for 15% of the cost").
As for the rest of the so-called improved outfield, there is Chris Young (a player in decline three straight years), Eric Young (a 4th outfielder on a good team), and Juan Lagares (a plus defender with limited offensive upside). One wonders if Alderson even seriously considered any alternatives. White Sox GM Rick Hahn was able to land CF Adam Eaton, projected as a rookie of the year candidate last season before injury and who would have a good chance as solving both the center field and leadoff holes for the Mets for a long time, for Hector Santiago, a backend of the rotation starter. Alderson couldn’t offer Dillon Gee in a trade? AJ Pollock could have been available. At SS the Diamondbacks also have Chris Owings and a GM who loses more trades than he wins. Certainly more intriguing than a Stephen Drew signing would be.
We are now in year four of Alderson’s tenure and still we have not seen one smart, or unexpected, trade at the major league level. No cool twists or unforeseen moves for less noticeable value, just predictable free agent signings of limited value to fill holes. Perhaps a move or two is in the works as I write but at this point it wouldn’t be further acknowledgement of a brilliant, innovative GM, it would be a true surprise.