The Mets are reeling and fans are getting anxious. After an uplifting sweep of the Yankees, the Mets have dropped four of five to the Marlins. The offense is floundering and people want Terry Collins's head on a pike. With that as the backdrop, Mets GM Sandy Alderson joined Mike Francesa for a one-on-one interview on WFAN Monday afternoon. Highlights are below and the full transcript follows. You can listen to the 36-minute interview here.
It’s exceedingly likely that Zack Wheeler will start one of the games of the Mets’ doubleheader on June 18.
Travis d’Arnaud got his boot off and is doing upper-body and pool work in Port St. Lucie. He’s not allowed to run for another two weeks. He’ll definitely be up in September and, depending on how he plays between now and then, possibly sooner.
We’ll know very soon if Rafael Montero will remain in Binghamton or be promoted to Triple-A Las Vegas. In either case, a promotion to the big leagues is on the not-too-distant horizon.
Jack Leathersich could also make the jump to the big leagues, though his walk rate (16 walks in 29 innings) is a concern right now.
The problem with the big league team is a lack of performance from the players, not a lack of performance from Terry Collins or his staff. The Mets’ philosophy — which, as Sandy mentions, is every team’s philosophy — is to get a good pitch to hit and put yourself in hitter’s counts. On balance, Mets hitters aren’t doing that.
Mike Francesa: The general manager of the New York Mets, Sandy Alderson. Sandy, how are you?
Sandy Alderson: I’m okay.
Francesa: Okay Sandy, been a busy couple of days. First, why don’t you tell the folks the three moves you made. Three down, three up.
Alderson: Yeah, after the game yesterday we announced that Ike Davis was being optioned to Las Vegas, as were Mike Baxter and (long pause) Robert Carson. In their stead, we brought up, we selected Josh Satin; we’re bringing Collin Cowgill back; and Josh Edgin also will be joining the bullpen. Now with respect to Ike, we went about as long as we could with Ike, and in retrospect perhaps he should have gone out earlier. He obviously has not improved substantially since the time we first considered sending him to Triple-A. I’m hopeful that he gets there, he’ll be working with the staff there, George Greer the hitting coach, in particular. He’ll be away from some of the voices who have been in his ear, and I don’t mean Dave Hudgens, but you know when a guy goes poorly there tend to be other voices that get introduced, players as well as others. So geographically he’ll be in a better place.
Francesa: Give him a chance to clear his head.
Alderson: Yeah, and hopefully Las Vegas, while it’s a detriment for the development of pitchers, hopefully it will accelerate the rejuvenation of Ike and Mike—those two as hitters. We’ve had a lot of success there offensively there already. It might be just the right environment for them.
Francesa: First question is, first base, short-term what is the plan? And let me ask it that way and then I’ll ask a question about [Wilmer] Flores. But first base, what is your short-term plan here?
Alderson: I think Terry will have three options. I think the first is moving [Daniel] Murphy to first base, temporarily, and putting [Jordany] Valdespin at second and take a look at Valdespin and see if he can improve on his numbers with some more regular play. That’s one option. I think a second option is to play Satin at first base, and leave Murphy where he is. A third option, which I don’t foresee us electing right away, is to move [Lucas] Duda to first base, but I think Murph is amenable to shifting if he has to. We’ve told him actually indirectly in a conversation today that this is not viewed as a permanent thing. We think Murph has done an excellent job in his improvement at second base. So we’re not looking to shift him permanently. Basically if Murph moves to first it gives us a chance to look at Valdespin at second. That may last awhile, it may not.
Francesa: Did you think about bringing Flores to the majors and giving him a chance at second base?
Alderson: We thought about it. I think that’s a move that may come later. But I think we felt at this point that if we’re going to get anything out of Valdespin, we need to take a look at him now. That’s not to say that that will be a long look, but we wanted to look at that option first.
Francesa: Do you consider Flores a prospect?
Alderson: He’s absolutely a prospect. The question implicit in your comment is: What is his position? And right now he’s playing second base.
Francesa: He can’t play short at the major league level right?
Alderson: We don’t think so. He’s got limited range. We might be able to live with that at second, but couldn’t live with it at short. He does everything at second base that you want: turns the double play, has a decent arm, his range is somewhat more limited than you’d like. But everyone’s range at Las Vegas is limited because the ball gets through the infield so quickly. But he’s only 21 years old, he’s doing very nicely. Certainly I wouldn’t preclude the possibility of him being here sometime this season, even if just for look-see.
Francesa: All right, you got Cowgill in the outfield now with [Kirk] Neuwenheis, [Juan] Lagares, [Rick] Ankiel’s gone, Duda, and [Marlon] Byrd. Are you just going to leave that to the manager or do you have a plan on what you want to do, especially with Lagares and Neuwenheis. Are you going to cut into Byrd’s playing time because of his age, or are you just going to leave it up to the manager?
Alderson: Well I think looking at it short-term you have to admit that Byrd is one of the few players we have producing offensively, so cutting into his time, just given our short-term interests, doesn’t make a huge amount of sense.
Francesa: So you’re not going to penalize him for being old? Older, okay.
Alderson: I think what we’ll see in center field is probably a somewhat even distribution of opportunity between Neuwenheis and Lagares. Lagares has played very well defensively, he’s hitting .200. So we’re not talking about a guy who’s on fire. And we need to find out about Neuwenheis, too. I would think that we’ll see a more balanced allocation between the two. And by the way, as far as Ankiel is concerned, the thing that he did for us was he bought us time with Neuwenheis. Neuwenheis has actually performed pretty well the last 10, 12 games over the last 10 days, two weeks. Having Ankiel here gave us that time. Neuwenheis was only hitting about .235, .240, but his on-base percentage was another 100 points higher and he was showing some power. The reports we got were that they were not Las Vegas home runs. So there were some positive things there and obviously he can play defense.
So I would say that that’s more of a balance. Cowgill is going to have to earn his playing time. We didn’t have a lot of choices for that second player. Number one, we didn’t have anybody left-handed that we could bring up. Number two, a guy like Andrew Brown was just coming back off an oblique injury. He’s only played one or two games. And some of the other guys we have playing the outfield there whom we like, like Eric Campbell, probably need some more time. So we’ll see what playing time Cowgill gets, but he does give us a lot of versatility. He can pinch run, he can play all the outfield positions. So that’s a plus.
Francesa: Have you made a change now that we hit June? Is it fair to say now that you’re going to spend the next portion of this season on evaluation and bringing some young people up here to make decisions on them knowing that maybe wins now, while obviously never off the picture, now maybe become secondary to evaluation?
Alderson: Well I don’t think wins ever become secondary, Mike. And the reason is that emotionally none of us can really stomach losses. So it’s not like, okay we’re just going to develop our players, to hell with winning games. We want to win games while we’re developing players. At some point however, as we get through the season, the players who are going to be with us in the future or whom we need to evaluate for the future are going to get some playing time. I think that’s evident with the move we made on Ankiel, for example. At some point Neuwenheis needs to play. You mentioned Wilmer Flores. There are a handful of guys that we’d like to see. Some aren’t available to us right now. Like d’Arnaud…
Francesa: Where is he right now? Where is he injury-wise?
Alderson: He’s in Port St. Lucie. The boot should come off today or tomorrow. And he’ll progress with his rehab. He can’t run for another two weeks, but he’s doing upper body work, he’s doing work in the pool, so he’s active.
Francesa: Your plan is still to bring him to the majors this year, right? If you can.
Alderson: Yeah, absolutely. I don’t see any reason not to have him here. Certainly in September he’ll be here and depending on how he performs before that will determine whether he comes up sooner.
Francesa: Do you consider Satin to be a guy who could be part of your future or is he a stopgap?
Alderson: Well, Josh is a little bit older, he’s limited to first base, he’s been on the roster before and been out-righted off. But he’s a performer. He’s a guy who’s done everything we could have asked and in some ways, well in all ways, he’s earned this promotion. Whether he’s part of the future or not will depend on how he performs.
Francesa: So this is his chance? I mean he had a little chance last year. We know that, we saw him, and he didn’t look very good, but now he gets another chance because he’s hit well this year. He gets a little chance, he’s got a little punch.
Alderson: Yeah, I hope he gets some playing time at first base. He gets a legitimate look.
Francesa: Okay, [Zack] Wheeler. Can we lock a date in now for Wheeler or is it still speculation?
Alderson: Well, there’s been a lot of speculation that he’ll start one game of the doubleheader on June 18.
Francesa: Is that good?
Alderson: Unlike most speculation, this probably has some accuracy. [laughs] We get rainouts…
Francesa: But right now the plan is the 18th?
Alderson: I think you could speculate that and be fairly comfortable.
Francesa: All right, so the 18th for Wheeler. We’re talking with Sandy Alderson, as the Mets have obviously hit a rough patch here again after that four-game sweep of the Yankees. Three players: [Rafael] Montero, and [Jack] Leathersich, who are obviously putting up big numbers. Montero’s got a WHIP under 1. Leathersich has got 55 strikeouts in 29 innings. Any thoughts of not even sending them to Triple-A?
Alderson: [That’s under] consideration, yeah. Montero went up and pitched one game at Triple-A, and pitched very well. It wasn’t in Vegas. It was in Omaha, I believe. So a more pitcher-neutral environment, but he pitched very well there. He’s got 23 or 24 straight scoreless innings at Binghamton. There has been some conversation. Look, he won’t need to go to Triple-A, but very soon we’ll either decide to leave him at Binghamton or promote him to Las Vegas. If we decided to leave him at Binghamton, you could probably infer from that that he could join us directly from Binghamton.
Francesa: And how about Leathersich?
Alderson: Leathersich is in a similar situation.
Francesa: How hard does Leathersich throw?
Alderson: He doesn’t throw any harder than Edgin.
Francesa: So what’s his strikeout pitch?
Alderson: Well, the fastball is the strikeout pitch, but I think he’s got a little more movement and there’s a little more deception. But the one thing about Leathersich is he does walk people. So that’s one concern at this point.
Francesa: 16 in 29 innings.
Alderson: But there’s no reason that either one of those guys couldn’t come directly from Binghamton, although that’s not our plan at the moment. But look, those two guys have distinguished themselves and are guys that we’re very high on. Now the caution is that if you go back and look at what Edgin did at Binghamton, it was somewhat similar. He went to Buffalo and then we brought him to New York. And things have not worked out perfectly with Josh to this point, so there’s a little bit of caution there, but those two are definitely two that we have our eye on.
Francesa: All right, I’ve got one player to bring up on that team. And I wouldn’t know him if I fell on him, but obviously his numbers are good, and I know that he’s been in the news in another way, and that’s Cesar Puello. Big guy, big numbers, also mentioned in this Miami mess. So does that impact his being sent north because until this thing gets straightened out. Is that a red flag on him until this thing gets cleared up? And how big a prospect is he for you?
Alderson: Well, he has a little bit of a history. He’s very young, but he’s been ranked as high as #4 or #5 among our prospects, but he didn’t have a good year last year so that status is diminished a little bit, but he’s always been a five-tool guy, a five-tool projection, but not necessarily five-tool performance. This year he’s put it all together and has been phenomenal over the last couple of weeks. Now he’s on the roster. We put him on the roster last year because we wanted to protect those five tools.
Francesa: Any thoughts on bringing him to the team?
Alderson: He’s definitely, again, somebody we have our eye on. But rather than make a decision like that—to bring him up—based on a month’s worth of performance, we’ve got to let that one play out a little bit. Of course he’s also young like Flores.
Francesa: Does the investigation hurt his chances?
Alderson: I don’t think so, Mike. He’s already on the roster. I would say this: If we thought there was something imminent, that might have an impact on what we do. At this point, I don’t think it’s a consideration because right now I don’t think he’s somebody we would consider bringing up immediately.
Francesa: Sandy, you tell there are certain points in the season when the fan base gets very rankled. That this Marlin thing has really annoyed them the last two weeks, coming off the optimism of the Yankee series, clearly. And there’s been a lot of anger the last 48 hourson the air — I’ve heard it on my show, I’ve heard it on other shows. So a couple of things, just for a little state of the union. Number one, logical, baseball teams change people whether they need it or not. Any thoughts, had any thoughts at all about changing your manager, coaches on the major league level?
Alderson: Yeah, anytime you hit a rough patch, Mike as you know, people start to speculate about, not just about players, but about staff. From my observation, I said this yesterday, this has been about player performance. I don’t think staff performance has had an adverse effect. I just don’t think this is a Terry issue or a staff issue. I think it’s a player issue. And if it’s a player issue, then that’s me. That’s players we have available to the manager, that's the players we have available to the staff, and I’ve been in situations where we’ve changed hitting coaches every year or midseason. I’ve been in situations where we’ve not been reluctant to do that in the past. But I honestly don’t think that that’s our problem.
I think that our problem offensively is that we have too many players who don’t approach the offensive side of the game the way it should be. And I’m not focusing exclusively on the Mets and saying, “Look they don’t focus on it the way the Mets want to focus on it.” Every team in baseball is really trying to achieve the same thing with players: get a good pitch to hit, put yourself in a hitting count. That’s from Team A to Team Z. The Yankees are looking for that, we’re looking for that. When you don’t have it, or when you have a preponderance of players that don’t follow that approach, it becomes infectious in the wrong direction and right now we’re relying on some players who just don’t have that approach. Whether they don’t want to have that approach, they’re not capable of having that approach, those are issues, certainly. But from my standpoint, it’s not Terry, it’s not the staff. They’re working their butts off. Now sometimes say don’t shoot the messenger or change the messenger because people don’t receive the message from one person’s...
Francesa: Right, change the voice or whatever. Well, some people do that. I mean, there’s not a right or wrong. I don’t think this is Terry Collins’s fault. I think he’s done a good job. I think it’s a lack of talent, but sometimes people do it just to change the voice. They do that.
Alderson: But that’s not something that we’re considering right now.
Francesa: There’s an idea here that your hands are tied so tightly that you aren’t allowed to make a move with this team. I think it’s going to be very hard to convince your fan base that that isn’t true. I think they do think that is the case. What would you say to that?
Alderson: Well, it simply isn’t accurate. What I’ve said from time to time is, number one, there’s a baseball calendar. There are players available from time to time in that calendar. You go into the offseason. You make whatever moves you can make, subject to whatever budget you have or other considerations. You go into spring training, and you might be able to tweak something here or there, but for the first couple months of the season, you’re really looking at releases and waiver wires and your own players to improve the team. If you’re not getting performances at the minor league level from your own players that warrant a change, and if you’re not seeing anything on the waiver wire that you think is going to help, then people are not being released who might be able to help. And then basically you have your team and that’s what you’re going to run out there on a daily basis. I wish we had more depth in the system right now. I wish that some of our better players were closer to the big leagues. I wish that certain guys were available to us, but they’re not, and nobody really cares. It’s all about whether you win or lose the games. And I understand that. But nobody’s tying my hands at this point. Nor will anybody be tying my hands at the trade deadline. I’d love to pick up somebody at the trade deadline who’s going to help us over the next two or three years. Whether that will happen or not, I don’t know. You and I have talked about it before.
Francesa: But you will be in the market for that?
Alderson: Yeah, we’re definitely going to be looking. There’s no question about that. Now, for next season, everybody knows we’ve got payroll coming off the books and this and that, and I do expect that we’re going to have flexibility. But if you go back to the beginning of the year, there was an opportunity to at least negotiate with Michael Bourn. That didn’t work out, but there was definitely a willingness from ownership to go beyond where we are now budget-wise, if the right person came along. But at some point I have to recommend that, okay, this is a substantial improvement for us, or this is a marginal improvement, or this is a crapshoot. And when I do that I take cost into account. So, we’ve got a lot of crapshoots that we brought in. Let’s be honest, we’ve got a lot of guys that we brought in and we’re hoping will do well for us. Some have, some haven’t. We need to be in a position where we can bring in more viable players, and I believe that we’re approaching that opportunity.
Francesa: When we spoke in the spring we talked about certain guys playing to certain levels–playing to their careers–and other guys playing above their careers and giving you that bonus year and stuff like that. It’s pretty fair to say right now, with a third of the season gone, that other than Harvey you don’t have a player–and I guess Buck has leveled off to the point where he wouldn’t be that much over career norm–you probably don’t have a player playing over his norm, or a guy playing over his head right now, on this whole team. And we don’t know what Harvey’s head is, he is still coming into his own, but there’s probably not a player on the team…
Alderson: If you’re talking about players that are performing beyond what I’d call reasonable expectations, whether they’re young players or older players–that have a track record or don’t–then yeah, we have a couple of guys that are playing beyond expectation, and that’s not enough.
Francesa: No, very few, as a matter of fact. I guess you could call Buck that…
Alderson: Well, I’d say Harvey. What right did we have to expect that Harvey would pitch the way that he has?
Francesa: I’ll give you that. But other than that, unless you consider Murphy a positive, I think Buck would be your only guy. I mean, maybe you didn’t expect this much out of Marlon Byrd. But you probably expected close to it, maybe a couple more home runs than you expected.
Alderson: Marlon has done a fine job. Bobby Parnell’s pitched well out of the pen. But it hasn’t been enough.
Francesa: He has pitched well. Yes he has. Has this become–as you take this year-to-year and you look long-term at what was obviously a rebuilding job–has this job become far more complicated or difficult than you thought it would be?
Alderson: I don’t think it’s become more complicated. Look, you take a snapshot of what’s going on and you say to yourself, “Well, look. Ike’s down in Las Vegas. Does this have some impact on our long-term expectations for him?” You’d have to say yes.
Francesa: Yes, I agree. Tejada, same thing.
Alderson: In a couple of cases, we’re seeing some regression, and you have to ask yourself if those are long-term solutions. But it hasn’t become more complicated. Basically, what we’ve been trying to do is stockpile talent, clear payroll, and be as good as we can be day-to-day. Those are the three things we’ve been trying to do, and those are the three things we will continue to do. But again, I think we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I think we’ve mentioned a few of these players that are beginning to perform at the major league level. Harvey is the biggest example. It would be hard for us to expect that others are going to match his immediate impact, but we’re going to have the d’Arnauds and we’re going to have the Wheelers. We’re going to have those players start to emerge at the major league level. We’re going to have some opportunities to do more player acquisition on the free agent market, although, stuff that will hopefully be reasonable and not put us in a situation like the one we’re coming out of. It’s not more complicated. I think there was always a sense, with respect to payroll, for example, that there was going to be an arc established by the Santana and Bay situations where, hopefully, we were going to get some performance out of them in the meantime. Unfortunately, because of injury and otherwise, that has not happened. But the financial obligations are still there. From the time I got here, we knew those things were going to be there and that they were going to extend for a period of time. And that hasn’t changed.
Francesa: See, this is how I thought it to be more complicated, Sandy, in that going forward you’re trying to figure out who is and who isn’t part of this core–as you try to add real, substantial players to what you feel is your core. Ike, Tejada, Duda. I mean, very hard calls as to whether they’re regular players in 2014 for a decent baseball team. Those are tough calls right now. At least, they look like tough calls to me.
Alderson: I wouldn’t disagree with that, but I’d say this: Player progress, team progress, it’s not a simple progression like walking up the stairs. You take one step at a time and sooner or later you get to the top. That’s not how players progress. That’s not how teams progress. They go up two steps, they go back one. They go up three, they go back two. They go up four, they only go back one. With young players and with younger teams, it’s highly unpredictable. I think you and I have talked about this before. There are going to be two or three players that we say, “Are they our core, or are they not our core?” and you may be right to say, “It’s a hard call.” And probably what I would say is, we don’t have to make a call on them all immediately. We’ve got other areas where we don’t have core players, where we can try to add those players, and it’s not like we have to necessarily displace all of the others who are on the bubble. Could they trade candidates? Yes. Could they be long-term contract candidates? Not unless you make that decision based on more consistency.
Francesa: But haven’t places like first and short now gone back into that column that needs a lot of help versus being in the column where they didn’t need immediate help? They’ve kind of moved back into that other column.
Alderson: Let me say this without being overly critical: I’ve never had shortstop in that core column. I’m not trying to be critical of a player, I’m just saying. Is Ike the kind of guy that we’d like to be able to rely on going forward? Absolutely.
Francesa: So you never thought of Tejada that way?
Alderson: Not yet.
Francesa: Okay, that’s fair. How about Duda?
Alderson: Never thought of him that way. Have not though of him that way yet. But I think the jury is still out. His situation is a little bit complicated because he’s a little bit out of position. On the other hand, is he a serviceable player making a contribution for us now? Yes, I think he is. That doesn’t make him the next Coming, but he does have a lot to offer. And we’ll see what the rest of the seasons holds.
Francesa: Do you expect this to be a norm over the next six to eight weeks–moving a lot of players in and out and making a little bit of a conveyor belt to the Triple- and Double-A teams, and having guys moving around?
Alderson: Could be. Yeah. Because at some point if you conclude that you have marginal players, there’s no reason not to try something new. So, that could happen. We’ll just have to see how the team performs. Generally speaking, I’m not big on moving guys every five days. Some clubs do that. I don’t like to do that because I think it affects the chemistry. But look, if you’re not winning, there is no chemistry. So under those circumstances, we might make a lot of moves. And again, if there are no clear-cut answers, then we ought to try more rather than fewer of the options and see what happens. Just let ‘em play.
Francesa: We’ve mentioned Flores. Would Eric Campbell and Andrew Brown, would those be guys who would have a chance to be in the majors and to get a look this year too, based on their performance?
Alderson: Yeah. As I said earlier, Andrew Brown’s only been back a couple of games from his oblique.
Francesa: And Eric Campbell’s performing fairly well too?
Alderson: He’s playing very well. He’s coming up through the system. He had a very good year last year at Binghamton. He’s not on the roster currently, so typically what that means is that we have to make a decision on two players. We have to clear a spot, and then we have to decide to bring that player up. But that won’t hinder players like Campbell forever. Just like it hasn’t hindered Satin. He’s back.
Francesa: And Harvey as of today will not miss a start, correct?
Alderson: Right. He’s seemed fine. I saw him in the training room immediately after he was taken out of the game, and he seemed to have recovered very quickly with some treatment in the training room–just to alleviate a little bit of pressure. He seemed good-to-go at that point. I expect he’ll make the next start.
Francesa: Baseball’s a weird game, as we know. You were a bad team that swept the Yankees four games in a row, which is remarkable. And then you went and fell to a team of historically poor play. You did that to the Yankees, which was obviously a big highlight, and then it’s done to you by the Marlins. Was this Marlin thing hard to take, or did you take it in stride like you took the Yankees wins in stride? Or was this really a bitter, bitter thing to watch the Marlins do this to you two weekends in a row?
Alderson: I’ll give you a little bit of an analogy. If you have any money in the stock market, you never get quite as much satisfaction out of the stock going up as you get heartache when the stock goes down. So, the four Yankee wins were great, but they were four games. We were happy we won them. We played really well through all of those games. Our pitching was outstanding almost throughout. And then we went down to Miami, and the thing that you don’t want to do is give it all back, to have a letdown. For whatever reason, I don’t know if we get tight with Miami…
Francesa: Miami had done this before you got here, too. They’ve killed the Mets. They’ve kept them out of the playoffs two years in a row. In ’07 and ’08 they beat them on the last day of the season. They have a history of giving the Mets all kinds of hell, this Miami franchise.
Alderson: Was it frustrating? Absolutely. Was it more frustrating coming off the four wins over the season? Not really. It was deeply frustrating. I mean, you can’t watch a game for 20 innings and see a team go 0-for–19 with runners in scoring position and not be… near suicidal.
Francesa: Right, that was a hard game to take. There’s no question.
Alderson: We lose that one in 20. We lose the next one in 10. This is a very tough game. It’s a very humbling game. And my mood, like the mood of a lot of fans, is dictated by whether we win or lose. So, I’ve been feeling the pain for just about six weeks–just like everyone else. And it’s tough, but we have to move forward. We have to make whatever changes we think are appropriate or sit on whatever circumstances we have. We have to be realistic about what our alternatives are and keep our eye on what we’re trying to achieve. And sometimes it makes for a painful couple of weeks or a series–losing to the Marlins or losing to whomever. I understand the juxtaposition of the Yankee wins and the Marlins losses. It’s tough for us to take; it’s tough for the fans to take. It’s one of those things.
Francesa: Thanks Sandy. I appreciate the time. Thanks very much.
Huge thanks to Steve Flanagan, who helped me transcribe this voluminous interview.