On the heels of a series loss to the Pirates and the acquisition of outfielder Rick Ankiel, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson joined Mike Francesa on WFAN. You can listen to audio of the interview here.
The interview is 24 minutes long so here are a few highlights. The full transcript is below.
- Rick Ankiel was signed mainly to play center field against right-handed pitchers. Juan Lagares will play in center when a left-handed starter is on the mound.
- Ankiel was signed in part because Alderson felt the team needed to upgrade on outfield defense.
- Alderson believes that the starting pitchers' inability to go deep into games has had an adverse effect on the bullpen.
- Juan Lagares will not stay in the majors if he doesn't produce and a large part of that will be how much his defense is able to compensate for his lack of offense.
- There are limited options on the market this early in the year, which is one of the reasons the team signed Ankiel. Alderson believes that some of the young players in the minors will be able to fill holes if necessary, but he doesn't want to rush them like he felt he did with Lagares.
- Zack Wheeler will be called up when his performance overlaps with the team's needs.
- Alderson does not believe Jordany Valdespin was hung out to dry against the Pirates for his HR incident.
- The team will not be calling up any prospects in the immediate future.
- Travis d'Arnaud will see a doctor for clearance to begin weight-bearing activity on Friday.
- The team wants Wheeler to be ready when he debuts, like Harvey, and to not be put under too much pressure. Alderson also said that his Super-Two status is not a factor.
- Terry Collins's job is safe.
Mike Francesa: Sandy, welcome how are you?
Sandy Alderson: Hi, Mike, I'm fine, thanks.
Francesa: First, Sandy, since you made a move today, let me get to that first: Ankiel, your thoughts?
Alderson: Well, what we're trying to do is two things. Number one, improve our outfield defense and at the same time provide some opportunity for offense. So what I expect is that Ankiel will play center field, primarily against right-handed pitching, and Juan Lagares will continue to play against left-handed pitching. Lagares playing centerfield has demonstrated that the outfield defense is important and should be upgraded, and we think Ankiel can do that. Obviously there are reasons why he was available. He was released by Houston, primarily to give some other players an opportunity to play. In our case, we are waiting for some center fielders to develop or return from injury, and we think this might be a nice bridge and ultimately if Ankiel plays well for us, it could be a nice acquisition. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and we're happy to have him.
Francesa: Sandy, 34 games into the season now. I've always looked at this as like two tracks, like your long-term track which is Wheeler, d'Arnaud, and those deals and trying to put the best product you could on the field at the same time. We knew there were problems in the outfield. We knew there was the bullpen. This thing, 6-17 last 23 has really gotten to a very low point. I mean the level of play except when Harvey pitches has been just awful of late. Your thoughts overall on the team after 34 games?
Alderson: Well I think you're largely correct. The play has not been good over the last 20 games or so. There are lots of reasons for it. You can look at almost every facet of the game. You can start with our starting pitching: It hasn't been good, and it hasn't gotten us deep into games. And a result, that's had not only a negative effect in of itself, but it's also had a negative effect on the bullpen. The bullpen hasn't pitched as well as we liked, but it's really getting overused. Every time a starting pitcher goes four innings and the bullpen has to go four or five, it makes that problem all the more difficult.
On the pitching side, where we had hoped the starting pitching would be pretty good, it simply hasn't been outside of Harvey and that's something we have to correct. I'm hopeful that Jonathon Niese will return to form, and we'll see what happens with the rest of our rotation.
Offensively, you're right; we weren't counting heavily on the outfield producing a lot of offense for us. We were counting on the infield. But look, honestly if you're counting on four or five guys instead of eight or nine, you're taking a big risk, and right now the infield outside of David Wright, who has been his usual excellent self, just is not generating any offense. When you're not getting on base for David or the guys the are getting on base aren't being driven in by the people lower in the order, it can lead to very low run production. Right now, we're not getting on base. I think our guys are searching for hits and it's probably a confidence issue that they have at the moment. When you're not pitching well and you're not hitting well, one side of the game puts pressure on the other side of the game and it leads to what we've seen. At the same time, look at a guy like Ike Davis and he came out of it last year. Will he come out of it this year? We certainly hope so. Daniel Murphy's been in a tumble, and that's not Daniel, either, but it's what we have to live with.
Francesa: The outfield was very tricky, we know you were frustrated with some of the moves you couldn't get done before the season. You had high hopes for Cowgill. How disappointed are you that he didn't do the job?
Alderson: Well, we need to put those expectations in perspective. We had high hopes that he would be a piece, one of five outfielders, a right-handed hitter who would help us against left-handed pitching. It didn't work out in the early part of the season, it doesn't mean he can't come back, but certainly even in a part-time role, he wasn't contributing after the first few days of the season so he's back in Las Vegas.
Francesa: From what we've seen from Lagares so far, defense aside, he looks completely over-matched at the plate. How much time do you give him before you answer a question about him? Because he has obviously not looked good at all at the plate.
Alderson: Again, I think that's a fairly accurate assessment and we knew that coming in. He's a guy who likes to chase pitches out of the strike zone, particularly away. He was improving to some extent in Las Vegas in that regard, but that's been underscored since he's been with us at the major league level, and it's one of the reasons we decided to sign Ankiel. We won't continue to keep Lagares at the major league level if he's not able to contribute and what Terry has to do and what we have to assess is whether his defense is worth accepting the level of offense he'll provide in the eight hole.
Francesa: Sandy, do you feel compelled to make a lot of moves with this team or are you willing to bite the bullet for the big picture even if it gets uglier than it is right now?
Alderson: Well, look, I'm not sure that things can devolve any further.
Francesa: They can always get worse, I guess.
Alderson: Hey, that's possible; they can always get better as well. To be in a position to make moves, right now what we're doing is and this is true of almost any team in April and up through mid-May and that is looking at the waiver wire. What is available is typically what's available through outright waivers and occasionally a release. That's why we decided to sign Ankiel.
This is not the time of the year when clubs are, at least most clubs, not making massive changes. In our case, we are watching what's happening at the major league level. I'm at every home game and many of the away games. Obviously we're very sensitive to what's going on, but we're also watching the development of our younger players at the minor league level.
What I'm hopeful of is that, at some point in the season—not sure exactly when that will be, but it can't be premature—if we are not performing well with the current group, we will see several of our younger players. But the younger players have to be healthy and they have to be performing. Hopefully, we're not trying to fill holes on a stop-gap basis. Once we bring those young players up, they need to be ready. A player like Lagares, like I said, we didn't think he was ready, but he was the best alternative at the time. I would hope that we don't have to bring up players who are not ready. It's great to give young guys an opportunity, but they have to be ready to seize it. And in many cases, they're not.
Francesa: There's guys like Niese, Davis, those guys, hey, everybody is on board. It seems like guys who were questionable have all gone the wrong way, which makes this a very, very tough season. Do Mets fans have to grin and bear it and wait until you unleash some of these minor leaguers? Marcum has been really bad. He was not a bad gamble, it just hasn't worked out. Niese has got to pitch better. Otherwise, it's a disaster, we know that. He's supposed to pitch well, Ike is supposed to hit well, it hasn't happened, they've both been awful. Marcum's been bad, we go down the line, the bullpen's been bad, no one in the outfield has stepped up, and people say, 'When are they coming? When's Wheeler coming?' We know d'Arnaud's been hurt, Buck has cooled off a lot. Are we going to see more moves like Ankiel in the short term? Is that the plan? Are you going to make moves for move's sake or is that not the plan?
Alderson: Well, we're not going to make moves for move's sake because that's cosmetic and ultimately that feels good for a few minutes, but it usually doesn't pan out on the field. What we're trying to do is calculated moves that will give us a chance to improve while at the same time, not preventing us to do something later in the season in terms of our longer-term investment in players. It's a case by case basis.
You mentioned Marcum. Marcum hasn't pitched well so far. Marcum had virtually no spring training, and his velocity was up the last time out. So it's unfortunate, but we are going to see him pitch on several more occasions. If he were the only glitch in the starting rotation, it'd be easy to say ‘well, okay, you've got Wheeler down there, he'll fix that problem.' Well, Marcum's not the only one who's been going four or five innings max per game. What I said before with respect to Wheeler—and I know we're going to talk about that—there will be a time when his performance converges with our need. I'm not here to say we don't need him at this point, but we have to make that we're comfortable and that he will be comfortable and that we don't set him back in his development and ultimately his career in New York.
So at this point, with the rotation, it's not a matter of one or even two; it's a matter of three or four. And that we've got to fix, but in some respects, we have to hope that some of that fix comes from those three or four individuals themselves.
Francesa: You're eight games to the plus home—you've played eight more at home than on the road—so you can even make a case that could be dangerous record-wise. There seems to be very much a bad feel around this team. You go by feel sometimes with teams. There's not a good feel around this Mets team except when Harvey's on the mound. That gives you optimism. He's wonderful, we know that. He's deserved a lot better in his four no-decisions, but otherwise there just doesn't seem to be a good feel. I want to get your feeling on this: I thought the Valdespin thing was really bad for your team because, you know what, he's on your team, and if the players there don't like him, that's one thing, but when the other team's going to teach him a lesson and that's okay with your team, I think that stinks. That's what we watched the other day, and I thought it was a bad sign and said a lot about a losing ball club because it was almost like he didn't have a friend on either team, and that's not something any team should do to a player and I thought your team was way more wrong than Valdespin was.
Alderson: I don't necessarily agree with that. I think that, first of all, Valdespin knew what was coming. He was all loaded up in body armor for that at-bat.
Francesa: He was also put up there.
Alderson: Well, he was going to have to hit in one of the two days. Otherwise, he's not an asset if we simply keep him on the bench. At some point, he's going to have to go out there and hit. I don't think it was a surprise to anybody that that's what transpired. I think it's unfair to say that simply because we didn't hit one of the Pittsburgh players thereafter that he didn't have a friend.
Francesa: Well he clearly felt that way afterwards, he even said it. I mean he said it and he got hit with a 94 mph fastball, and it's almost like a lot of your players seem like ‘oh, well he deserved it.' Why don't you guys teach him a lesson instead of the Pirates teaching him a lesson?
Alderson: Valdespin's a very interesting player, Mike, we all know that.
Francesa: He's a half a jerk, I understand he's a jerk sometimes but why don't you guys straighten him out? Who are the Pirates to be straightening him out?
Alderson: I think you're assuming that Jordany has just been taken at face value that whatever happens plus or minus, positive or negative is something that we would accept, and that he's an absolute loner on the team. He's part of the Mets, he's a part of our team, and we have a responsibility to the entire team—including him—to make sure that he can become the best player he can be. This is not an attempt that we've simply made over the last few weeks or few months, this is something that has been going on for years. He's a better player and he will continue to get better, we believe, but the notion that he was just hung out to dry is a mistake.
Francesa: Well, where was his support?
Alderson: Well, everything that goes on is not verbalized or overt within the media. There's a lot that goes on within the clubhouse. Look, I'm not telling you he's the most popular guy in the clubhouse.
Francesa: We know he's not, we all know he's not.
Alderson: That would be misleading.
Francesa: We understand that. He's earned some of that, I'm not saying he hasn't. My point is the Pirates go to do whatever they wanted to him and to me, he is on the team or he is not on the team. To me, if he's on the team, you can't hang him out to dry. That's just my opinion.
Alderson: I don't disagree with that opinion, except what I'm saying is I don't believe he was hung out to dry.
Francesa: Ok, we only have a couple of minutes so let's move on. Should we expect anything short term to help fortify this club in any area or are the Mets fans going to have to be more patient?
Alderson: Look, it's tough for me to say that Mets fans are going to have to be more patient. I understand that that's asking a tremendous amount and I'm not seeking that kind of dispensation. I'm not happy with the way the team has played, either. It's not a matter of being patient and not doing what otherwise could be done. At this particular juncture, there's not a lot that is available to us. Some of the players who are not playing well have to play better; it's as simple as that. Now we can start jettisoning some of those players, send them to Triple-A, or Double-A, or whatever destination is an option. But ultimately what we've got to decide is whether that's in their best interest and in our best interest short-term and long-term. I don't want to emphasize the long-term, I want to emphasize, in this instance, the short-term.
Alderson: Take Ike Davis, he's been...
Francesa: Dreadful, dreadful.
Alderson: ...a disappointment, no question about that. He was a disappointment last year and we had a decision to make whether to send him out or stick with him. Ultimately, we'll have the same decision to make this year. At least what we have is some indication that what happened last year remains a possibility this year.
I mean, I'm not asking anybody to be patient with the team. I think that the reality is we're probably going to have to be a little more patient with guys like Ike, who have demonstrated they can perform in the past, and we have to hope like hell they perform again.
Francesa: Are you close to elevating any players, either pitchers or position players, from your minor league system?
Alderson: You mean in the immediate short-term?
Francesa: Yeah, like in the next week or so, 10 days, anything like that?
Alderson: Probably not.
Alderson: As I said, take the Ankiel situation. Okay, so who else can play center field in our system? den Dekker is still hurt, Nieuwenhuis, we sent him to Las Vegas to try to get him some playing time which he really hadn't had for half a season last year. So Lagares was really our only option, and it's probably unfair to him to move him as quickly as we did. The same is true at other spots. d'Arnaud is a well-known prospect, he's not even going to see a doctor to get clearance for weight-bearing activity until later this week. Under those circumstances, we've got to grin and bear it at this point.
Francesa: Do you feel like you thought things would be a lot better than they are right now? Are you very surprised?
Alderson: Any time you've gone 6-17 or whatever it is, you feel that things should have been a bit better. Absolutely. Look, I suffer through these games too. That's not to absolve me or anyone else of what's happened, it's just that that's where we are. We're not sitting on our hands. We've got to think through everything we're doing, which we're doing, and sort of questioning everything that we have done and our thinking for going forward. That continues on a daily basis.
Francesa: There's been a lot of conversation about Wheeler, so it's not going to be as quick as everybody may have been led to believe. Not that you guys did, but there has been reports that he was on the brink of coming up, so that is not the case, right?
Alderson: What we want to do, in Wheeler's case, is what we did with Harvey. That is to create the right moment for him to begin his major league career and have success from the outset, and go forward. That doesn't mean bringing him up in July. It does mean that the people who watch him on a daily basis in Las Vegas, the people who we have who we sent out to see Matt when he was pitching in Buffalo. We have to have a comfort level. There is never going to be 100 percent comfort, and at some point, as I said, our needs will be a factor.
But bringing Zack Wheeler up here, does it create a second day out of five that fans will have a greater interest in watching us play? Yeah, I think, initially. But if he doesn't have success, that won't last very long. That's what we're working with. It's been very encouraging what he's done his last three outings. Two of those three have been in very difficult hitter's ballparks, Reno and Las Vegas, very challenging for pitchers, and he's pitched great with solid command as well as overall success. We continue to monitor that.
I think it's unfair to him to view him as the savior in a situation where it's not once every five days, it's three or four out of every five days we've had these problems. We want to make sure that he has the best chance to succeed and he's not viewed as the savior of the Mets. Ultimately he's going to be a great, we hope, part of a very successful team. This is not about Super-Two status, I can assure you.
Francesa: I only have thirty seconds left and I appreciate you coming on when things are bad, the coaching staff and the manager are safe, correct?
Alderson: Yep, Mike, I'm in the clubhouse every day, I don't hang around, but I'm in there every day, and the communication is excellent. It's not as if the players have rejected the coaches. They're working hard. Ike Davis is working hard, he's working hard in the cage, he's working on tracking pitches and that part of the facility, and he's doing everything that anybody is asking him to do. This is not about anybody giving up or quitting. The communication and the tone in the clubhouse, look, they're down, they're not playing that well but the tone continues to be constructive and that's important.