During the fifth and sixth innings of this afternoon's woo-fest at Citi Field, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson spent some time in the SNY booth with Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez to answer questions about his surprisingly competitive ballclub, his plans as the July 31 trade deadline approaches, and the status of some of the organization's top minor league arms.
Huge thanks go out to Steve Flanagan (@stevetflanagan) for transcribing this interview for us so quickly.
Here are some highlights, and the full transcript can be found below.
On improving the team at the deadline:
[W]e have to be able to find people who will improve us, and not just hope they will improve us — we have to be more than incrementally better.
On team chemistry:
I don’t want to credit too much to the chemistry, but I think that certainly exists and is a factor for us now.
On upgrading at catcher:
Sure, we’d like to get more offense out of that position, but at the same time what’s really important is how they handle the pitching staff and being in sync.
On Jason Bay:
We have to hope that he comes back and can do, at least, against left-handers what he’s done in the past. And even last year when he didn’t hit particularly well, he had a very good season against left-handed pitching which is really where we need him.
On Zack Wheeler moving to Triple-A:
I think that’s possible. I think that we’d like him to dominate in a couple of additional Double-A starts before we move him. But I think it’s very possible he’ll move up soon.
Gary Cohen: Sandy, this has been a really, really fun first half to watch. What are your impressions overall heading into the All-Star break?
Sandy Alderson: I think we’re in a good position. I’m happy with where we are. I think we’re positioned well for the second half, but obviously there’s a lot of work to do and we need to be a little bit better, probably a little more consistent.
GC: I think every fan’s first question when you get to this point in the season is: "What are you going to do to make your team better?" And this is an interesting case, isn’t it? When you have a team that may be a little ahead of schedule in terms of performance, when you’re trying to nurture prospects through the minor leagues, you’re trying to retain the young talent that you have, to know how far to go to make a move. What are your thoughts?
SA: Well first of all, we want to try to field the best team possible. So, as we get to the deadline we look at where we think we have weaknesses and our assessment isn’t going to be much different than yours, or even the average fan. But at the same time, we have to be able to find people who will improve us, and not just hope they will improve us — we have to be more than incrementally better. I think there’s a lot to be said for the chemistry that we have currently, and to the extent that we begin to disrupt that, on a net basis we may not be any better off.
So, I don’t want to credit too much to the chemistry, but I think that certainly exists and is a factor for us now. But, we’ll be looking, we’re looking now. We’ve had lots of conversations and I don’t think there’s any urgency right now on the part of most clubs and so it’s difficult to really get anyone engaged. I think that will start to happen more, maybe even during the break, but certainly right after the break.
Keith Hernandez: I have to ask you, I’ve just been raving about your skipper down there. And that was your choice, Terry Collins. And there were a lot of people that wanted that job; a lot of people you had to interview. What was the deciding factor for you in your choice of Terry?
SA: That’s a good question. I think there were a number of qualities that stood out. I think the fact that he was experienced, but also had the player development background, and had familiarity with our system, but ultimately it was his personality — somebody who would bring the energy, but also some patience in light of his recent history.
GC: As we move toward the trading deadline, and you’ve got 23 days now, clearly you’ve got internal options for some of the needs that you have. Jason Bay is coming back from the disabled list. You’ve got guys like Jenrry Mejia and Josh Edgin sitting in the minor leagues. Now we know that we’re gonna see Bay. Are you going to make a concerted effort to look at those minor league relief options before you make a decision about whether you go outside the organization?
SA: Yeah, we’re going to try and do that. We’ll have ten days or so after the All-Star break to be able to do that, and that’s our intent, at least with a couple of guys. So, I think you’ll see a couple of new faces between now and the end of July, and we’ll take a look at them, see what we think, and at the same time be evaluating what else is available to us. But I think it makes sense for us to take a look and see where we are as we get closer to the end of the month.
KH: [Jordany Valdespin] is a very talented young man with a nice swing — with power.
SA: Yeah, he brings a lot of things to the game. And some of the things we don’t have in the rest of the lineup. So he’s forced Terry to take a look at him in left, a little in center, he’s played second, he could in a pinch play shortstop.
GC: You know, you brought up chemistry before, Sandy, and I know one place where this organization — not only at the big league level, but really throughout the organization — would like to upgrade is at catcher, but catcher is such a chemistry position. Even if one were presented to you, how difficult would it be to make a move at that position mid-season?
SA: Well I think you have got to be very careful. I’d certainly want to take into account what the pitchers and the pitching coach would have to say, but again, it’s one of those places where you have to be careful because, for example, if you’re looking for an offensive upgrade there, that’s fine, but you never know what the impact might be on the other side. And what I’ll say about our catchers is that they work hard. They’re in early, they’re working on game plans, they follow the plan, they’re in sync with Dan Warthen, and I think that’s a real hidden quality we have that isn’t fully appreciated.
Sure, we’d like to get more offense out of that position, but at the same time what’s really important is how they handle the pitching staff and being in sync. And I’ve been in situations where we’ve added a catcher mid-year, and it did not go well; hoping to get some offense, didn’t get the offense and really was a downgrade defensively. So you really have to be careful.
KH: Jason Bay, starting to begin rehab after the second concussion, when he’s ready to go... Obviously you need a right handed bat. He would be a godsend if he could come back to form.
SA: Absolutely, Jason is our hole card right now. We have to hope that he comes back and can do, at least, against left-handers what he’s done in the past. And even last year when he didn’t hit particularly well, he had a very good season against left-handed pitching which is really where we need him.
GC: Certainly, you have to be more than thrilled about the starting pitching you’ve gotten so far this year.
SA: Yeah, starting pitching’s been great, very consistent and really the strength of the club. Today, a little unusual giving up so many runs in the first inning, and actually we’ve done that over the past couple of days, but generally speaking the starting pitching has just been terrific — very deep across the entire rotation and the kind of quality at the top end that would bode well in a short series if you had the opportunity to play one.
GC: The first part of [my] question is, with R.A. Dickey having had such a phenomenal first half, and with the questions about Johan Santana’s health and Chris Young’s health, can you expect the same level of performance? And the other question is: If you did have a need at this point in the season, or within the next month to six weeks, is Matt Harvey at the point that he would be the next option if you needed to go down and get a starter?
SA: As for the depth of our rotation and whether we can expect the same performance out of Dickey in the second half, I think it would be unrealistic to rely on that. But I do think that it’s possible Johan will get stronger, it’s possible that Jon Niese will continue to develop, and the bottom end of our rotation will get a little bit better. But if we have a need, I think Matt Harvey’s getting closer, and I think we may see a convergence between his development and our need at some point. I think the fact that he’s pitched so well over the first part of the season, and we haven’t had the need at this point bodes well. But at the same time, I think if we get a month down the road he certainly could be a viable option for us.
GC: What is the last step for Matt, and where would you characterize the development of your other young pitchers, Jeurys Familia, and Zack Wheeler who’s pitching in the Futures Game today?
SA: I think for Matt it’s consistent results and then his willingness to use, and his command of, all of his pitches, particularly the off-speed stuff. And that — based on the reports we’re getting — is coming along.
As far as the other guys are concerned, Wheeler’s been very good, and starting to throw his pitches in all counts. So everything is looking very good with him. Familia’s had a little more trouble — he’s just not finding the strike zone consistently. He had a very good game, really his best game of the year the other night. But it’s probably going to be a little bit longer period of time with him. And Jenrry Mejia has pitched a little better out of the bullpen, and we could see him sometime in the future.
GC: Do you anticipate Wheeler moving up to Triple-A anytime soon?
SA: I think that’s possible. I think that we’d like him to dominate in a couple of additional Double-A starts before we move him. But I think it’s very possible he’ll move up soon.