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Sandy Alderson talks about Johan Santana, spring training wrapping up, and Mets Opening Day

In an interview with Mike Francesa on Friday, Mets GM Sandy Alderson talked about Johan Santana's shoulder injury, the state of the team coming out of spring training, and the futures of Zack Wheeler and Travis d'Arnaud.

Mets GM Sandy Alderson was on WFAN with Mike Francesa Friday afternoon to talk about spring training wrapping up, Opening Day, Johan Santana, and much more. You can download the audio here.

If you don't have time for the whole thing, we've included the highlights below. The full transcript follows afterward.

  • Johan Santana is in New York weighing his options, but nothing has changed with respect to his re-injured shoulder.
  • Shaun Marcum is not 100%, but is expected to throw a simulated game on Tuesday and is scheduled to start for the Mets on April 7 against the Marlins. That could change depending on how he feels.
  • The Zack Wheeler-Aderlin Rodriguez brouhaha has been sorted out, everyone has been spoken to, and, in Alderson's opinion, everything was blown out of proportion.
  • If Marcum isn't ready to go, Aaron Laffey will probably get the start on April 7. Colin McHugh would be the next choice.
  • The Mets are looking for more consistency and a bit more experience against advanced talent before making a decision to call up Wheeler. However, Alderson conceded that long-term starting rotation injuries could change things in a hurry.
  • Travis d'Arnaud is expected to just play and stay healthy. There has been no discussion about moving him to another position.
  • If Buck got hurt tomorrow, d'Arnaud would be the Mets' starting catcher.
  • Alderson tries to remind Ruben Tejada that the most important thing for him is on-base percentage. A few extra home runs won't matter, but a thirty-point dip in OBP is a big problem.
  • The Mets were really impressed with Jordany Valdespin's time in winter ball this year. He started taking pitches and "his on-base percentage was excellent."
  • Marlon Byrd was essentially invited to camp as "a favor," so even Alderson admits that Byrd's performance this spring was more to do with luck than great scouting.
  • Alderson's expectation is that d'Arnaud and Wheeler will both be with the big club before August.

Mike Francesa: Okay. We know the news. Not good. Johan Santana. Not overly surprising, but again, could be the end for a great pitcher. Sandy Alderson joins us now. Sandy, welcome. How are you?

Sandy Alderson: I’m fine. Thanks Mike.

Francesa: Sandy, what’s the latest? Where are we with Johan?

Alderson: Well, there’s really no significant update from yesterday. Johan is still in New York. I think he’s considering various options. He’ll take the weekend to do that and make a decision on Monday or Tuesday. But certainly nothing has changed from the basic news yesterday about the re-injury to his shoulder.

Francesa: As spring training evolved, it was pretty clear that he wasn’t going to be ready early. Was it in the back of your mind that this was going to take a long time—if we’d see him at all this season?

Alderson: Absolutely. It was always our assumption, during the last two or three weeks at least, that it was going to be a while before he would be ready because he wasn’t able to hold a schedule. We’d talk about long tossing on flat ground up to a certain distance and then transitioning to the mound. He just wasn’t making a lot of progress from 75 feet to 90 feet. Every time he established a schedule, he just couldn’t hold it because of the reaction in his shoulder. So we got progressively more concerned about it, but never did we anticipate that he would have reinjured the shoulder to this extent.

Francesa: I know there was a lot of thought that he hadn’t done the requisite work on the rest of his body, or stayed in shape or kept his legs in shape. Does this, in most people’s minds in the organization, vindicate him to some extent?

He wasn’t ready to pitch, but that was as surprising to him as it was to anybody else. —Sandy Alderson on Johan Santana

Alderson: First of all, I don’t know that Johan needed to be vindicated. I think our sense was, based on a clinical exam early in spring training, that there wasn’t anything structurally wrong with his shoulder. He wasn’t ready to pitch, but that was as surprising to him as it was to anybody else. At the same time, we certainly expected that he would be able to progress from the starting point early in the season to where we are now. One would have hoped that he would gather strength. But the symptoms arose or persisted and got more significant as opposed to the other way around. Normally there are symptoms, and they dissipate over time and ultimately disappear, and the progression takes place. So first of all, I don’t think he needed vindication. And to the extent that this is something that happened recently or much earlier, it’s very difficult to say.

Francesa: All right. Unfortunately, everyone marches on. Johan, if he ever does pitch again, I think everyone wishes him well. But it probably won’t be in a Mets uniform, if he ever has a future. We’ll have to wait and let that play out. But now you have a season to play. As far as you’re concerned, the more interesting guy at the moment becomes [Shaun] Marcum because you obviously have a dire need to get him back into the rotation. What is his status right now?

Alderson: As of right now he is scheduled to throw a simulated game on Tuesday and scheduled to pitch in New York on April 7. And again, he is not 100%. At this point, anything could happen. We’re reasonably confident that he’ll be able to do that, but you never know. If he’s not able to go, then we’re looking at another several options. And inevitably this leads us to a discussion of Zack Wheeler.

Francesa: Which is where we’re heading next. So let’s go there. First of all, did something happen with Wheeler? Did he have some kind of incident over a home run? Can you clarify? There was a report that he got into some kind of altercation after someone hit a homer off him. Was there something that went on that was in any way important? Or was it not any big deal?

Alderson: I think any time you have any sort of dispute it can turn into a big deal. I don’t think that ultimately this did, but in a nutshell Zack was pitching on one of his first outings in the minor league complex and one of our big, young third basemen, Aderlin Rodriguez, hit a long home run off him. Zack, I guess, took exception to the way in which Aderlin went around the bases.

Francesa: Kind of Cadillac’d it a little bit.

Alderson: In a subsequent outing, Aderlin was hit on the hand by a Wheeler pitch. At some point, I think Aderlin and some others felt that it was intentional. Zack has never said it was intentional. Aderlin had, in the meantime, apologized to Zack for the way in which he had gone around the bases. As a result, given the fact that a home run was hit, there was an apology, and the subsequent hit, there was some unhappiness on Aderlin’s part and on the part of some other people who didn’t appreciate it, including other Latin players on the team and other American players too.

Francesa: Right, so this became a little bit “Was it in any way an ethnic issue?” or some kind of issue where now that’s brought into the equation, right?

Alderson: It, to some extent, factored in potentially, and we certainly didn’t want that to escalate into something. Nor do I think it was necessarily central to the original issue.

Francesa: Right, he just was upset the guy hit a homer off him, probably.

Alderson: Yeah. So in any event, we have had extensive conversations with both players—they have over on the minor league side and we think that it’s done. But inevitably an incident like that becomes known and has to be addressed. So that’s the big leagues in New York.

Francesa: Listen, you did a good job of explaining it. We’re talking with Sandy Alderson. Now let’s get to the primary issue, and that is you have this prospect who obviously is a very talented one and who people have talked glowingly about. Scouts have talked glowingly about [Zack Wheeler] as recently as this week’s issue of SI. So we know what kind of talent he is. You have a need for a starting pitcher. Does one and one equal two? Or do the economic reasons to keep him on the farm, the developmental reasons to keep him on the farm, outweigh that?

"I think we’re leaving camp realizing he only pitched two innings in major league camp."

Alderson: I think that the developmental reasons are paramount. We have a need. There’s no question about that. If Marcum is not ready to go, we will have to fill in with someone. The nice thing is that until the third week in April or so, we only need a fifth starter twice. So for us to make a move on Wheeler or anyone else on a long-term basis, it would, one, be dependent on Marcum’s continuing status. And number two, a need for a fifth starter every fifth day as opposed to every ten days based on the early April schedule.

Francesa: Right.

Alderson: But more fundamental than that is his readiness. Given what the expectations are for Zack, he needs to be ready so that when he gets here…

Francesa: Did you leave camp feeling he’s not ready?

Alderson: I think we’re leaving camp realizing he only pitched two innings in major league camp. And that those are his only two innings against major league hitters. He continues to pitch in minor league games, and I think what we’re looking for is consistency demonstrated over a period of time. That doesn’t mean two months. That doesn’t mean four months. But it does mean consistency over a period of time.

Francesa: How about the economic issue?

Alderson: It’s always there. There’s no question about that. It would be hard to say it isn’t a factor. But it’s not a controlling factor here.

Francesa: It’s not a barrier?

Alderson: No.

Francesa: It will not keep him out of the majors?

Alderson: The overriding question is ‘Is he ready?’

Francesa: Okay.

Alderson: I go back to Matt Harvey’s situation last year. Matt felt he was ready coming out of spring training. He may have been. He may not have been. But we felt that he needed more time. He stayed well beyond the deadline for six years of control. He stayed well beyond the deadline for Super Two status. He stayed at Buffalo until we felt he was ready and then, as you recall, we even, I don’t want to say agonized, but spent time trying to decide whether he should start in New York or in Arizona or some other place. We tried to set it up for success. Ultimately, the result is going to sort of color what went on before. In Harvey’s case, I think he was reasonably successful last year after he came up.

Francesa: Yeah, he sure was.

Alderson: Therefore, it appears we did a lot of the right things. If we were to bring up Zack at the end of April and he’s great, then great. Everything’s fine. If we bring him up at the end of April and he’s not so good, then we’ve rushed him. So we need to be careful. We need to be satisfied that we’re bringing him up for the right reasons. For me, the right reason is that he’s ready to pitch every fifth day and there’s little likelihood that he’ll end up going back to the minor leagues.

Francesa: But does he go to the mound in his first couple of starts thinking that he can pitch his way to the majors in the next couple of weeks? Or is that something he shouldn’t even put in his head?

Alderson: I think it would be impossible for him not to think, under the circumstances, with his ability and so forth, “If I pitch well for two, three, four weeks, I could be in the big leagues.”

Francesa: Gotcha. Okay. Now short term. When you do need the fifth starter, and let me give you a best case and then worst case: best case scenario is you do have Marcum, worst case is you don’t. Let’s go with you have Marcum. Then you have five with [Jeremy] Hefner. And if you don’t, you need a fifth. Who is your fifth if you don’t go to Wheeler?

Alderson: The probability right now, if we need a starter on the seventh, is Aaron Laffey. He’s a left-hander and was in camp, pitched well in camp, and is now at the minor league level. He’s not on the roster but I would say that he would be option number one.

Francesa: And [Colin] McHugh would be number two?

Alderson: McHugh is probably two.

Francesa: You went and looked at [Chris] Young. Have you now completely bypassed him?

Alderson: The problem with Chris is he’s not a short term solution for us. Ideally, Laffey and McHugh are short term solutions and Zack Wheeler is a long term solution—meaning if we get [through] April, May, that sort of thing, we’re looking at long term solutions. We don’t want to get ourselves in a situation where we’re boxed in. So I would say that through April, depending on what happens, we would anticipate that if Marcum’s not available, Laffey or McHugh would pitch for us. After that, if we see some demonstrated consistent performance from someone like Zack…

Francesa: You’ll make your call there.

Alderson: We’ll make a call at that time, yeah.

Francesa: What message did you give [Travis] d’Arnaud on his way to the minors? What is in his head as he starts his minor league campaign? What does he have to do to get to the big leagues?

Alderson: I think what he has to do is play as he has and stay healthy. Those are really the only two things. Continue to work on his game defensively—and that can always be a work-in-progress for catchers. Work on blocking pitches.

Francesa: Does he just need to log some time and continue on his merry way, and he’s going to be here because he’s that good?

Alderson: Last year at Las Vegas, he was phenomenal offensively. From what I’ve heard from our staff and others, he’s gotten decidedly better behind the plate just in the course of spring training.

Francesa: Is there any talk at all of him not being a catcher in the future?

Alderson: No.

Francesa: No talk, okay.

Alderson: No.

Francesa: Okay. That’s a positive if it’s true. So his skills are enough that you don’t even have those conversations.

Alderson: No, no.

Francesa: Okay good. All right. Would you put a timetable on him for the Mets fans? Or no?

"If Buck were hurt tomorrow, d’Arnaud would be back, and he would be our starting catcher."

Alderson: The key factor for him in addition to being ready, and perhaps more important, is that we have John Buck.

Francesa: Who’s a solid guy. Yeah.

Alderson: A solid guy. He’s made a big contribution to our pitching staff just because of his experience, his knowledge, and his personality. He’s developed a real rapport with our pitchers. I think with Buck behind the plate early in the season we have a chance to see a material improvement from our pitching staff, just by virtue of who’s behind the plate.

Francesa: Sure.

Alderson: And of course we have a big investment in [d’Arnaud] as well. If Buck were hurt tomorrow, d’Arnaud would be back, and he would be our starting catcher.

Francesa: That quickly?

Alderson: Yes.

Francesa: So you think he’s ready to play in the majors now? If necessary, he’s ready?

Alderson: If necessary, yeah. Would we like him to be at Las Vegas for a period of time catching every day and getting four or five at-bats every day? Definitely, we’d like that to happen. But if Buck is hurt, then he’ll be back.

Francesa: Talking with Sandy Alderson. Sandy, a couple of things around the diamond for your team as we get ready for Opening Day. Number one that has come up that was a little bit surprising, at least to me, was [Ruben] Tejada and reports that there was unhappiness in the hierarchy about Tejada—his approach at the plate. We know he had a miserable spring. He hit .080. But were you upset enough with him that you actually were contemplating either putting him in the minors or chastising him in some way, because you were unhappy with his performance at the plate that much?

Alderson: I don’t know what conversations Terry [Collins] has had with him. I’ve not had any conversations at all with Ruben about his play. I think that Terry may have had a conversation with him about various topics, as he does with other players. I don’t think we ever contemplated sending him to the minor leagues. He’s still a very young player. Has a lot of talent, notwithstanding a difficult spring, certainly offensively, but to some extent defensively. He’ll be out there Opening Night.

Francesa: Yeah. Terry said that his defense had been good in the spring. His offense was obviously not what he would hope for. He said he’s hitting too many fly balls.

Alderson: Yeah.

Francesa: So that report is inaccurate that you guys were contemplating anything with him.

Alderson: No, not seriously. Not significantly. Look, anytime a guy goes 0-for-25 or whatever it is, you have kibitz about it. But no, we never had any serious thought of that.

Francesa: Did you think he got a little homer happy? Is that what happened with him?

Alderson: It’s a good question. To some extent, it’s possible. This can happen from time to time—that some young players get mixed messages. You say, “You’ve got to go get stronger.” Well, that means, “I’ve got to go out and try to hit home runs or I just have to get stronger, more durable, et cetera.” I think that what I’ve tried to remind Ruben about when I talk to him, and that hasn’t been recently, is that what’s most important for him is on-base percentage. That if he goes from one or two home runs in a season to five, it isn’t going to make a material difference to us. But if he goes from a .360 on-base percentage down to a .330? That’s a big deal. And that his game has to be about getting on base and hitting line drives. Hitting in the gaps? Doubles, et cetera? Sure, that would be nice. But ultimately he’s not going to be a home run hitter. He’s not one now; he’s not going to be one. We need to have him as a guy who gets on base, whether he’s leading off or batting second or batting eighth. We need him to be able to get on base.

Francesa: Talking with Sandy Alderson, of course, the Mets’ general manager. The roller coaster ride that has been Jordany Valdespin, has taken, obviously, a very different turn this spring. Are you surprised? Perplexed? Amazed? How about this idea of him now basically bursting into the lineup?

Alderson: Not totally surprised. He’s always had the ability. It hasn’t always been channeled the right way. But what was encouraging, Mike, was that he went down to winter ball, he was in the Dominican Republic, and amazingly because this almost never happens, he started taking pitches. His walk rates went up. His on-base percentage was excellent. He was hitting the long ball. He had an outstanding winter ball season all the way to the Caribbean Series, and was actually selected for the Dominican team that went to the Caribbean Series based on his performance for another team. It was a real turnaround of approach. He’s always had the ability, but it seemed to be more focused. Believe me, we congratulated him. We tried to tell him how great we thought that was. In fact, we had someone actually go down there, not strictly for that purpose, but to go down there from the Mets and say “Hey, this is fantastic. You’re doing a great job. It’s a real change.”

Francesa: Right.

Alderson: So coming into spring training he had played winter ball as recently as the Caribbean Series. He’d done very well so a continuation of that wasn’t all that surprising. Now, his on-base percentage. He’s still not walking much currently, but he’s getting better pitches to hit. He’s been more selective and everything else about his game is a little bit toned-down. He’s been great in camp, but not a total surprise. Let’s see how long this continues into the regular season. He can be a very valuable player to us because he can play all three outfield positions. He’s a second baseman. He could play shortstop if we needed somebody for two innings.

Francesa: And he hits off the bench.

Alderson: Hits off the bench.

Francesa: Good pinch hitter, yeah.

Alderson: So yeah.

"I don’t want to sit here and tell you it was great scouting on our part. We did it almost as a favor." —Sandy Alderson On Marlon Byrd

Francesa: Now how about [Marlon] Byrd? He’s given you what you wanted, right? He played winter ball. He showed you.Aand he has hit all spring. So he did exactly what you wanted him to do, right?

Alderson: Yeah, he’s been great. And I have to tell you, we brought him into camp almost as a favor. So I don’t want to sit here and tell you it was great scouting on our part. We did it almost as a favor. But look, you’ve got to be in position to get lucky, and this is a situation where he came off a great winter ball season and he carried it into the first part of spring training. He’s sustained it right up until the end.

Francesa: And he’s got a resume. He’s got a track record.

Alderson: He’s got a track record. He’s done it. And there’s something to be said for that, definitely.

Francesa: Are you content with what you’ve seen from [Lucas] Duda?

Alderson: I think we’re satisfied at this point that it was rough going early on. But he was making some adjustments, and I think some of those adjustments have been re-adjusted. He is what he is defensively. I think he’s diligent about it and works at it. But there are going to be limitations defensively. But based on what we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks—very happy with his offensive approach.

Francesa: All right. You didn’t get the outfield that you wanted. Predicting it wouldn’t have been easy. So obviously it’s taken some twists and turns. So has the Santana thing.

Alderson: Yeah.

Francesa: As you get ready to open the season, what would you say about what you are going to present the fans this year?

Alderson: I’m hopeful that the starting rotation, even without Johan, will be solid. I’m hopeful that the bullpen will be better, and I know that’s an easy statement to make, but I do think that the way we’ve pitched here has been probably our strength during spring training. And sometimes that’s got to be qualified by the fact that you’re not always seeing major league hitters when you’re playing in the second half of a game and so forth.

Francesa: [Matt] Harvey now carries a lot of weight in this rotation all of a sudden, too.

Alderson: Yeah, I don’t want to downplay Dillon Gee’s role, but Gee and Harvey now become important…

Francesa: Yeah, critical. Yeah.

Alderson: They’re healthy and they have upside.

Francesa: Yeah. Listen, I’d be surprised if Harvey isn’t good. I think he really is that good. And I think [John] Niese is ready, too. So it’s their time, I agree. It’s their time. Bullpens you never know. I’ll be interested to see how [Bobby] Parnell does. How about the outfield? I know it wasn’t what you had hoped. Are you content? Are you happy? Are you still searching? Are you saying, “Hey, this is it, we’re okay.” Or are you still scouring, looking for a little help?

Alderson: I don’t think anytime you’re thinking seriously about platooning in two of the three positions that you can be satisfied. Lucas Duda is someone we’ve invested in, and I say invest just in opportunity because of his offensive upside. Mike Baxter is a very solid player; he’s a very intelligent player and perhaps, in an ideal situation, he would be a fourth guy. Marlon Byrd has been a good player; he’s had a good spring. [Colin] Cowgill I think has been solid for us, and if he can continue it into the regular season, will be a plus. [Kirk] Niewenhuis has been a little bit of a disappointment at the plate, but he can play the outfield. So we’ve got five credible outfielders. Would we like to improve things? Yeah, but realistically, at this time of year, getting an improvement is difficult to do because what you’re really looking at are waiver claims or potential releases because a player is out of options. So, for example, if there’s another right-handed hitter out there that we have some interest in, to bring him in at the end of spring training, let’s assume he’s got no options left, to bang one of our other outfielders and run him out there, it’s got to be a material improvement over what we have.

Francesa: Yeah, he’s got to be a no-brainer.

Alderson: Yeah. And believe me, we’ve looked at everyone who’s come through, and some of those who have maybe ended up elsewhere in New York. We’ve looked at.

Francesa: A la Vernon Wells.

Alderson: Well, and others.

Francesa: Yeah.

Alderson: Not that we wouldn’t like to have some of those players on our team. But it’s tough to do it at the end of spring in most situations, where the improvement is likely to be marginal.

Francesa: I’ll end with a hypothetical because it does play so much into your season. Would you be surprised if in August Wheeler and d’Arnaud are not on this team?

Alderson: I’d be disappointed.

Francesa: You’d be disappointed if they wouldn’t be?

Alderson: Yeah, yeah.

Francesa: Okay. So your expectations are they both will be on the team this year.

Alderson: Yeah. At some point, yes.

Francesa: And that’s important to you right?

Alderson: Yeah.

Francesa: To me it’s important that they get some experience this year.

Alderson: I think it’s important for the continued development of our team.

Francesa: I agree, that they join the nucleus.

Alderson: Because people have asked me, “Well, what’s a successful season?” Well, of course we want to have a winning season at the major league level. But player development is very important to us too at this particular stage. So if we had a winning season at the major league level and none of our top guys continue to develop? Is that a successful season? Well…

Francesa: Not for you. I don’t think so.

Alderson: Yeah.

Francesa: I think Harvey, d’Arnaud, and Wheeler have to be part of your proven core going forward. I think that’s what you need to get out of this year.

Alderson: That’s where we’re headed, and that’s what we expect. But there are turns in the road.

"I think we’re about where we are." —Sandy Alderson On Where The Mets Are

Francesa: Absolutely. So are you okay with where this team in on Opening Day? Are you disappointed with where it is? Did you say, “Jeez, this isn’t what I wanted on Opening Day”? Or are you, “This is what I expected on Opening Day”?

Alderson: I think we’re about where we are. If we go back to the beginning of spring training, did we expect Johan to be out? No. Did we expect Marcum to be out? Let me say this about Marcum and a couple of others: anytime someone is available there are usually risks associated with them, and so you’ve got to be prepared to take a few risks. So starting-pitching wise, obviously disappointed Johan is not going to be with us. The bullpen has shown pretty well in spring training, so I don’t have any complaints there. Maybe I’d like to see a little more performance out of the left-handers. But if Wright and Murphy are healthy, we pretty much have the infield we expected to have. And look, the outfield we knew was going to be a question mark. If it continues to be, it shouldn’t be a surprise to us. We’re pretty much where I expected we would be.

Francesa: Well listen, good luck on Opening Day. We’ll chat down the road. I appreciate it. Thanks for a couple minutes as always.

Alderson: Okay, Mike. Take care.

Francesa: Thank you.

We're considerably grateful to Zack Arenstein for transcribing this interview on short notice and with astonishing accuracy and grace.

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