Sandy Alderson was kind enough to field questions from a number of Mets bloggers earlier this evening and Amazin' Avenue participated. We would like to thank the Mets for putting this event together, and also Mr. Alderson for taking the time to connect with some of the most passionate members of the fanbase. The direct line of communication is much appreciated.
Eric represented AA on the call and asked a pair of questions about auditing the organization and whether or not Paul DePodesta would continue to blog as he did while working for the Padres. See below for highlights and click after the jump for the full transcript.
Quoth Sandy Alderson:
I wasn't hired to apply a Moneyball approach to the New York Mets. I would not have accepted the position were I required to run the Mets on a shoestring budget.
My business philosophy is that we want to be prudent under all circumstances but New York is not Oakland. As I said earlier, I wouldn't be here if it were. So, we do have a long term strategy but that long term is focused on being as good as we can be today but also putting an infrastructure in place that will make us as good as we can be down the road. In terms of identifying talent, I think that we try to use a combination of tools. We do use statistical metrics but we also rely very heavily on scouting information.
On the blogosphere
Actually, I'm very familiar with the blogosphere and understand how it makes connections with fans. The various platforms for communication these days are different, more varied. People are going to form their own opinions, you all will form your own opinions, but at least if you've heard from me you'll be able to do it on the basis of direct communication rather than something indirect or secondhand.
On his relationship with players
I try to maintain a professional but friendly relationship with the players so that the relationship doesn't create any misconception or becomes misleading in any way. No, it's not strictly business, but at the same time be very careful about having non-professional friendly relationships with players because it can send the wrong message and make it difficult when you have to make a tough decision.
On Met fans
I think my impressions [of Mets fans] as an outside observer have been confirmed largely. Passionate fans. Loyal. Baseball's important to them. I think New York is a baseball town, and I'm really happy about that. That imposes certain obligations and some demands -- fans are very knowledgeable. But that keeps us on our toes, and I think ultimately that's a good thing.
On media relations
It is possible for the media, particularly in this market, to become a distraction and a deterrent to actually getting other work done -- and I'm finding that out and have found it out over the last six weeks -- but it's also important that our message be understood, because perception is so important. For me to lock myself away for eight or ten hours a day and not talk to the media would be the worst possible thing I could do. Even if we were doing everything right, it might not be perceived that way because of a lack of communication. But with all the platforms that are available together with all of the outlets in a place like New York, it is something that one has to manage.
On Paul DePodesta's blogging future
Well, there haven't been any edicts from me [on whether Paul DePodesta can continue writing his blog]. I'm the guy that urged him to do it in the first place, when he was in San Diego. I think we'll probably be careful with that, but my suspicion is he won't have a lot time to do it, because he has a lot more operating responsibility here than he had in San Diego. Besides, you guys don't want any more competition, anyway. (laughing) As long as he keeps blogging about the San Diego Padres, I guess it's not a problem.
On the draft
I don't think [new scouting director Chad MacDonald] himself is wedded to any college versus high school, high-ceiling versus predictability, pitchability versus velocity. I think we're going to approach it from a wide-open and non-doctrinal point of view. We want the best players ... I do believe we'll be over-slot, maybe more than occasionally.
On player development
I've been in places where that jump is made, and the approach is very different at the major league level than it is anywhere at the minor league level, and it really does not do justice to the players. Because inevitably young players are challenged at the major league level, and if they don't have some foundation, some basic approaches to fall back on, it's easy to fail. With respect to the field coordinator and all our player development system, it's important for us to approach things consistently from top to bottom.
I think the way that I describe my approach, which probably goes back to the Marine Corps, is "Be agressive, with good judgment." I think that's what we're probably going to try to do.
Note: Alex Nelson and I transcribed the conference call. The audio quality was good but not great, so please pardon us if we got a word or two (or twenty) wrong. Additionally, I omitted the moderator's introduction of the individual bloggers but included one interaction in which she featured prominently.
Matt Cerrone, Metsblog: In large part to the book Moneyball, there are some fans who believe you were hired to run the Mets as a small-market team. Could you explain why those fans are wrong, and maybe sum up your business philosophy, how you identify talent, allocate payroll, and that sort of stuff, as it pertains to the Mets.
Sandy Alderson: I wasn't hired to apply a Moneyball approach to the New York Mets. I would not have accepted the position were I required to run the Mets on a shoestring budget. On the other hand, I did come in with my eyes wide open. I did recognize that there would be some payroll restrictions this year, keeping in mind that when everything's said and done our payroll will probably be somewhere between 130 and 140 million dollars. We'll probably be in the top four or five in all of baseball. So, the problem is not that we don't have resources, the problem is that we have limited additional resources to spend this year. So, what you see today or what you've seen over the last two weeks shouldn't necessarily be representative of what you see over the next two or three years. But we do have to get through a somewhat difficult period from a standpoint of our payroll because we already have most of it committed.
My business philosophy is that we want to be prudent under all circumstances but New York is not Oakland. As I said earlier, I wouldn't be here if it were. So, we do have a long term strategy but that long term is focused on being as good as we can be today but also putting an infrastructure in place that will make us as good as we can be down the road. In terms of identifying talent, I think that we try to use a combination of tools. We do use statistical metrics but we also rely very heavily on scouting information. I think that was evidenced over the last week in the winter meetings. We had several people from our staff who are primarily stats-oriented but also do field work as well. But we also had an equal, in fact greater, number who are more subjective in their approach. And in some of the things that we did, particularly in the Rule 5 Draft, I think that scouting probably played a dominant role. We'd hate to be typecast after a few weeks and under the circumstances we have facing us for 2011, but we do have a certain reality we're facing and trying to deal with it.
Michael Baron, Metsblog: First of all, congratulations on the role and I'm looking forward to many years of success with you. I just have a quick question about free agency, not specific to players in particular. You know, I've listened a lot to you over the last six weeks since you came on board about maintaining flexibility year over year. You even talked about it just now with Matt, about building an infrastructure. I kinda liked that. My question is, especially looking at free agents that signed this week. Whether they were overpaid or not, they certainly got contracts of great length. And if you intend to maintain flexibility, would you entertain signing free agents to contracts of that length, and if you and your group aren't interested in that necessarily do you think you can attract marquee free agents, beginning obviously with 2012 and going forward?
Sandy Alderson: Michael that's a good question. First of all, I think that a lot of the attention has been focused on the Crawfords and Werths over the last week. But there also have been the Konerkos and the Dunns and one or two others. So, not all contracts are of a six or seven year length. There are also free agents, maybe not absolute top marquee free agents, who are signing for fewer years and fewer dollars.
I think that where the infrastructure comes into play is discerning among all of the players and trying to figure out the best combination of players at the best prices to ensure consistent excellence and success on the field. I think everyone would have a preference for signing shorter rather than longer contracts. And I do think that these six and seven year deals are setting a dangerous precedent. But look, this is New York, this is where we are, and we'll have to address the reality of the market however it develops over the next several years. At the moment we're really not in that game and don't have to worry about it. But if this becomes a trend which establishes a new normalcy then we'll have to address it.
Kerel Cooper, On The Black: Just wondering if you could give us an update on filling the open coaching staff positions and how that's going?
Sandy Alderson: We have identified all of our coaches. We had hoped to make an announcement yesterday or today, but for a couple of administrative reasons we are not able to do that. But we have identified all of our coaches and expect to make an announcement on Monday or Tuesday. So that was all completed over the course of the Winter Meetings. It actually didn't require a lot of time, we had done a lot of preliminary work and just had to reach some conclusions. We're pretty much ready to go on that issue.
Steve Keane, Eddie Kranepool Society: When I look at the team as it's situated now, it seems that your starting eight, maybe with the exception of second base, is pretty much set. But the pitching staff, especially the starting pitching staff, is a big question. I'm sure you laid groundwork for either some deals or for signing some pitchers out there. Can we expect to hear about any signings of any pitchers or any kind of acquisition of any starting pitchers within a week, two weeks, or is there anything that you think if you wait long term, some guys may fall into your lap?
Sandy Alderson: That's a good question. First of all, we are concerned about our pitching. We had a number of conversations last week regarding starting pitchers. Some of our discussions were with doctors (laughs) as opposed to agents. Because some of the starting pitching that has the highest upside would be pitchers coming off of injury. Pitchers coming off of injury is not just about lower salaries, it's also about what their upside might be. Just as we did with the catching and the bullpen last week, we want to address some of our needs now and perhaps be willing to wait on others. But with respect to pitching, if I had my druthers, between now and the end of December we would add some pitching. Probably not fill all of our spots, and then after December 31, look at what happens in January and into February.
We don't want to simply wait for players to fall in our lap, we want to hedge our bets a little bit. But I do believe there will be a market out there late, for people that will be attractive, and in some cases will be better bets for us than players we can sign right now. Waiting is not just about money, it's also about ability, and inevitably in any market, at the end of the day, there's some people out there that you'd like to have that maybe are better than what you already have, but because of roster limitations you've already made commitments. So, we're going to hedge that and hopefully do something over the next couple weeks but will not fill all our needs.
Mike Silva, TheMikeFrancesa.com and NYBD: Hey Sandy, I realize that you probably don't pay a heckuva lot of attention to talk radio and this might tie into what Matt was talking about earlier, but the Mets flagship station WFAN had its two most popular shows spend the majority of the last couple days bashing I guess the offseason direction of the team, basically inciting fans not to spend money, not buy merchandise and my question is twofold: Do you have any reaction to that kind of media? And b) what would you say to those fans who are upset about the approach and may be unwilling to support the team in the short term?
Sandy Alderson: Well, a couple of things. First of all I expect to be on Mike Francesa's show next week, so I'll have a chance to have some dialogue or respond to some of his concerns. I don't think what happened over the last week should have surprised anyone. I think what we did last week, and what we foresee doing over the next few weeks, is pretty consistent with what I've said from the very outset. I'm not sure that the majority of Mets fans are disappointed with the direction we're taking. I think most Mets fans are pretty sophisticated, understand the situation that we face in the near term, and hopefully are supportive of it. I'm not foolish enough to think that when the bell rings and we don't play well -- if we don't play well -- people are going to be tolerant of that. I don't expect that at all. For the moment, I don't think anything we've done in the last couple weeks is inconsistent with anything I said over the 4-5 weeks before that.
We're going to keep our nose to the grindstone, keep working at it. As I said earlier, it's important for us to put everything that radio talk, etc., says into some perspective. I think we do have a plan. I think Mets fans have been disappointed probably for a long time, at least the last few years. I don't see any reason why the last couple weeks should have made them equally disappointed. We've still got lots of time before Opening Day. Who knows how the season - [indecipherable because of noise from some Einstein's phone].
Moderator: I don't know if anyone else is hearing that, but there's a lot of background noise. When you're not asking a question if you wouldn't mind please put your phone on mute. Thank you.
Sandy Alderson: Somebody may be outside.
James note: To bloggers participating in any future conference calls -- put your phones on mute! The sounds of fingers typing, throats clearing and wind blowing were prominent throughout the call.
Shannon Shark, Mets Police: Hey there, again, thank you so much for giving us your time of day. I guess that leads into my question. How are you finding dealing with this particular passionate fanbase and even to the point of having to deal with blogs. I can't believe you're listening to me ask you a question. Does that go through your head, why do I have to talk to this guy from the upper deck?
Sandy Alderson: Actually, I'm very familiar with the blogosphere and understand how it makes connections with fans. The various platforms for communication these days are different, more varied. People are going to form their own opinions, you all will form your own opinions, but at least if you've heard from me you'll be able to do it on the basis of direct communication rather than something indirect or secondhand.
I don't mind spending the time. I think that's part of what one buys into here in New York. In a sense, you guys probably reflect the most passionate elements of the fanbase. If I'm right about that, it's probably as important, or more important, to be in contact with you all than it is with any of the rest of the media.
Mike Donato, Optimistic Mets Fan: My question involves your comments about flexibility and maybe not being free to do things this year. If for whatever reason things turned out well and we went into the All Star Break in competition, maybe winning the Wild Card, maybe a game or two back of Philadelphia. What sort of flexibility do you have maybe, to make a trade or bring in a player, maybe for a stretch run. Maybe Santana's set back a little and we need another pitcher, what kind of flexibility do you have in terms of that?
Sandy Alderson: I would expect to have -- I would hope to have -- much more flexibility. I think any team that's in apposition at the All Star break to make a run, needs to take a hard look at what they have and what they need. Assuming we're in a position to make a run, one could also assume that attendance would reflect that. We'd be in a strong position to make a move. I don't think that the way we're approaching this offseason would necessarily be repeated at the All Star break. We want to be in that position. We want to be in that position where we can add a player or two and make a run. I definitely would think if we're in the hunt at the All Star break we'll be taking a real hard look at what we can add.
Greg Prince, Faith and Fear in Flushing: Curious, in light of some of the early decisions you had to make, specifically non-tendering Chris Carter, Sean Green, and deciding to move on from Pedro Feliciano -- how confident are you about moves like that considering you've only been in the organization for a few weeks and hadn't seen all that much of them. What did you rely on to make those decisions?
Sandy Alderson: That's a very good question. The decisions in each case were arrived at a little differently. Sean Green probably hadn't pitched as well as people had expected, plus there were injury issues. Chris Carter, a limited player, not someone that could, for example, play center field, not a great defensive player. We felt that we could improve ourselves and also clear a roster spot. Pedro Feliciano, a free agent, we offered him arbitration, he rejected it. We're still in that market place but realistically considering what he's going to make I think that was a relatively easy decision for us.
To go to the crux of your question, there are a lot of qualified people here. Also, those of us, particularly Paul DePodesta and JP, guys like Roy Smith, who were outsiders last year but are now insiders, also had a perspective on these players. I'm not terribly concerned about those decisions and didn't view them as any more difficult than they -- well somewhat more difficult because of my lack of observation than they will be in future years. Probably the toughest place for us, with a lack of organizational knowledge was adding players to our roster and preparing for the Rule 5 Draft. But again, we relied on a number of people here, whom I think are highly qualified, and we'll see where it goes. But we did lose a player in the Rule 5 Draft.
Greg Prince: If I could follow up real quick -- is it difficult to tell a player ‘you are no longer with this organization' and does it get more difficult the longer that you, a year from now, to tell a player you might have a relationship with that ‘you are no longer a New York Met' or is it just business as far as you're concerned?
Sandy Alderson: No, there's a personal element to it. I try to maintain a professional but friendly relationship with the players so that the relationship doesn't create any misconception or becomes misleading in any way. No, it's not strictly business, but at the same time be very careful about having non-professional friendly relationships with players because it can send the wrong message and make it difficult when you have to make a tough decision.
Jason Fry, Faith and Fear in Flushing: I'm curious about what your impressions were of New York fans before you came here and now that you are a few weeks in how, if they have, those impressions have changed.
Sandy Alderson: I think my impressions as an outside observer have been confirmed largely. Passionate fans. Loyal, passionate - baseball is important to them. I think New York is a baseball town and I'm really happy about that. That imposes certain obligations and some demands. Fans are very knowledgeable, but that keeps us on our toes. Ultimately that's a good thing. I haven't walked around the concourse during a game yet -- I haven't seen any fruits and vegetables -- but, and I'm sure that firsthand contact will become even more real when the season starts. New York fans haven't disappointed me yet, I know they're passionate about their teams, particularly baseball teams. And that's one of the things that drives us. We want the fans to be proud of the organization. That's going to come from winning, that's going to come from winning the right way, ultimately. So that puts a little pressure on, but that's what it's all about really.
Caryn Rose, MetsGrrl: My question to you is about how media has changed over the years and how exponentially it has changed concerning baseball. For example, when Jayson Werth was traded, I knew what your comments were about the trade probably within 30 seconds of you making them down in the lobby in Florida. What's your approach to managing the speed with which media now moves, to make sure that it doesn't become a distraction to the team?
Sandy Alderson: Good question. First of all, you probably heard my comments before they even reached the lobby, because I made them in a hotel room with a number of reporters and by the time that information got to the lobby, you probably already had it, which I think underscores the point you were making. It is possible for the media, particularly in this market, to become a distraction and a deterrent to actually getting other work done -- and I'm finding that out and have found it out over the last six weeks -- but it's also important that our message be understood, because perception is so important. For me to lock myself away for eight or ten hours a day and not talk to the media would be the worst possible thing I could do. Even if we were doing everything right, it might not be perceived that way because of a lack of communication. But with all the platforms that are available together with all of the outlets in a place like New York, it is something that one has to manage.
To give an example, one of the things that has been an issue for me is dealing individually with the beat writers from the print media. There are so many that it is difficult to have individual conversations or e-mail exchanges with any one of them without creating an appearance of favoritism or what have you. On the other hand, I'd like to promote access. So right now it's a balance that I'm trying to maintain. I'd like to be as accessible as possible, because I think it's important that people hear my point of view. At the same time, it does have to be managed, particularly in a market such as this. We want to be transparent, we want to be accessible. But inevitably the size of the market and the multitude of platforms and outlets means we have to somehow manage the time. I'm figuring that out with a lot of help.
Eric Simon, Alderson Avenue: Can you describe the process of coming to a new organization of which you really have only a surface level of understanding and auditing it from top to bottom? Where do you start? How do you prioritize things? Does it ever get overwhelming?
Sandy Alderson: Well it hasn't been overwhelming, but it definitely has required a good deal of time and concentration. The first thing I did coming in was try to hire a couple people in whom I had great trust, and those are JP Ricciardi and Paul DePodesta. But also in the interview process, I became aware of other people. John Ricco I've known since his days at Major League Baseball. At least with respect to a core of people -- two that I brought in, John was here -- I began to get a sense of where we needed to begin to re-evaluate. Over the last four weeks, I've gotten to know quite a few people, and I've at least made some preliminary judgments. We have made a few changes. Some of those have been necessitated just by departures, some have been necessitated by shifts in role. For example, Terry Collins being named the manager required us to hire a new field coordinator.
But I've actually gotten quite comfortable over the last six weeks, and I think the key is just getting to know people, to talk, and just interact with them in the process of roster additions, non-tenders, a variety of things that come up on a baseball calendar that give you greater and greater insight into what you have. Right now, I'm pleased with where we are. Now, we've had some additional issues to deal with. You don't typically come in as a new general manager and have to hire a new equipment manager, but that's the case here. So we've had some initial things to do that have required some additional time. I'm fortunate that I've been around awhile, so I know a lot of people, and that's been helpful.
Eric Simon: One quick follow-up: Is Paul DePodesta going to be allowed to continue writing his blog?
Sandy Alderson: (laughing) That's a good question. You know, I wasn't even sure he was still doing that. Is he still writing it?
Eric Simon: Sporadically, I guess. I'm hoping he can maybe get it fired up again.
Sandy Alderson: Well, there haven't been any edicts from me. I'm the guy that urged him to do it in the first place, when he was in San Diego. I think we'll probably be careful with that, but my suspicion is he won't have a lot time to do it, because he has a lot more operating responsibility here than he had in San Diego. Besides, you guys don't want any more competition, anyway. (laughing) As long as he keeps blogging about the San Diego Padres, I guess it's not a problem.
Joe Janish, Mets Today: You hired a new field coordinator and a new scouting director. Do you bring any kind of special philosophy in terms of scouting amateur talent and developing it through the minor league system?
Sandy Alderson: Good question. We have hired a new scouting director. Chad MacDonald is not somebody that I knew before; Paul interviewed several candidates and decided on Chad. I talked with him, and I think he's going to be excellent for us. He comes from not only a domestic scouting background but also an international background. I don't think he himself is wedded to any college versus high school, high-ceiling versus predictability, pitchability versus velocity. I think we're going to approach it from a wide-open and non-doctrinal point of view. We want the best players. I do think it's important when you're scouting and signing players that you think of both your domestic draft and your international signings in the aggregate, in terms of the types of players that you're getting, the youth of those players, the development timeline and so-forth. I don't expect us to be focused predominantly on college players, for example. I think we're going to go for the best player.
I do believe we'll be over-slot, maybe more than occasionally. I think that a big-market club such as the Mets can only dominate through a successful player-development system. Nobody can sign 25 players for 150 million dollars over six or seven years. We need to take advantage of our resources in all areas of player acquisition, including amateur scouting. As far as the field coordinator is concerned, there are some basic philosophies, especially on the hitting side but also in other areas, that we want to make consistent throughout the entire organization, including the major leagues. So one of the things about the field coordinator is it is important for him to be not only sound on the field but also sound administratively, because we need to maintain a standard of excellence across the entire system. I think that's really important.
We need consistency among our teams, not only in terms of how we do cutoffs and relays, but also in how we approach pitching, approach hitting, so that the expectations from level-to-level are roughly the same, and the accountability is the same, so there are no surprises as you move up the chain, particularly as you jump from player development to the major leagues, where the pressure is the greatest and the foundation needs to be the strongest. I've been in places where that jump is made, and the approach is very different at the major league level than it is anywhere at the minor league level, and it really does not do justice to the players. Because inevitably young players are challenged at the major league level, and if they don't have some foundation, some basic approaches to fall back on, it's easy to fail. With respect to the field coordinator and all our player development system, it's important for us to approach things consistently from top to bottom. To help with that, not just quality people, we'll have a field manual, we'll have other things that make it clear how exactly the Mets intend to approach things.
Joe Spector, Metsmerized: How does your background, being a marine, play into the person you are today and the decisions you have to make on a day-to-day basis?
Sandy Alderson: That's a good question. There's no question that all that training and experience had some impact on my personality and the way I approach things. I try to be structured. I try to be disciplined. I try to keep my eye on the goal, what the mission is here. But at the same time, I try to be pro-active, take the initiative, think aggressively about things, and try to make good decisions but do so with action in mind.
One of the first questions tonight was approaching this like Moneyball. Believe me, I love to make big splashes. We made, years ago, some of the biggest trades at the deadline that had ever been made in baseball history, basically. I think it's great for the fans, I think it's great for teams, I think it's what we ultimately like to do, because this is entertainment. But at the same time, you can only do so in situations that warrant it. Anyway, I think the way that I describe my approach, which probably goes back to the Marine Corps, is "Be aggressive, with good judgment." I think that's what we're probably going to try to do.
For thoughts from other participants, check out posts at Metsblog, On The Black, Kranepool Society, Mets Police, Optimistic Mets Fan, Faith and Fear in Flushing, MetsGrrl, Mets Today, Metsmerized and Always Amazin'.