AAOP: One Night in Maryland

Christ, it's early.

Sandy Alderson woke up, head pounding like a bass drum testing range, and couldn't remember for a moment just where he was. He'd fallen asleep in his suit against, or at least most of it - the pants were draped lovingly over a desk chair on the other side of the room, a fine complement to the now-crumpled jacket and vest he spent the night wrinkling to death. Almost stuck the landing, he thought, and reached for his phone to shut off the infernal alarm.

As the sleep drained away from his eyes, Alderson recognized the seedy bizarro-Marriott room he'd booked at the Gaylord National Resort months earlier. It was the Winter Meetings, which explained the splitting headache and disheveled appearance. Dammit, Billy Beane can still drink, and I was a Marine.

The past five days had been some kind of whirlwind for the New York Mets GM. He had set out to improve his team any way he could, but he knew there was only so much that could be done in that regard. Much of his payroll came locked in - $20 million dollar to David Wright, another $15 million to Curtis Granderson; Jay Bruce had that $13 million option, and Addison Reed would see over $10 million himself after arbitration was all said and done. Add in arbitration raises for guys like Harvey and Familia (what a pair of problems they pose, though in very different ways), and there just wasn't much left on that unreasonably-low $140 million budget. God, what I'd give for new owners...

Alderson had set out to overhaul what he could, though, and that started with swapping out some of those bigger contracts for prospects or relievers. Bruce was the easy one - the Blue Jays had been hot for Jay since he was good, and hadn't realized he now, well, wasn't. They were happy to send along Jason Grilli and a couple prospects, TJ Zeuch and JB Woodman. That's a pretty reasonable return for a guy they coveted and we couldn't afford, and it fills a hole in the bullpen. All good things. Plus, guys with initials for first names always work out. Always. So, problem solved there.

Unfortunately, it wasn't just Bruce who had to go. The outfield was crowded, even more so when Alderson bested Cespedes in the Feats of Strength and forced the outfielder to sign with the Mets for five years and $125 million. That left Cespedes and his rocket arm in one corner and Conforto and his hope-2015-wasn't-the-fluke potential in the other. Jon Jay was picked up to platoon with Lagares in center and provide pun potential for basement dwellers across the tri-state area, and Sean Rodriguez was signed to back up the corners in the infield and outfield alike. At $5 million each, they were good value and could form a pretty excellent outfield Voltron, should the chips fall the right way.

All this, though, meant trading away Curtis Granderson and his huge salary. It was a shame, really. Grandy had been great as a Met, on field and off, but his salary and his arm both made him a liability for this team. He was sent to the Yankees, who could use his power and presence, and while he only returned Luis Torrens and Kyle Holder, getting his whole salary off the books was a great maneuver. Saves a fortune in salmon this way, too. But Alderson knew he would miss Grandy, too, just like he missed Buddy. Christ, Buddy. Never should have traded him for middle relief. Once everything was settled here, Alderson looked forward to sending a player to be named later in exchange for his beloved dog. The list would be comprised solely of Eric Campbell. Another problem solved.

The infield presented its own problems, many of which centered on Wright and the uncertainty surrounding his broken back. There would be no trading him, not even to an AL team who could see him as a DH like Grandy and Bruce. Best to just hold on and hope he can return to form, but at least he had Reyes in the fold for next to nothing, insurance on a ripped lottery ticket like Wright. Cabrera would still be steady at short, and Amed Rosario was knocking on the door in the event Cabrera ever faltered. Knocking loudly. So very, very loudly. Damn hangover. With Walker and Duda holding down the right side of the infield, Alderson was counting on three bad backs and an aging shortstop to win a pennant. Even with Flores and Reyes backing them up, the thought made him reach for the bottle of tequila on the nightstand.

Round about the time the worm hit his mouth to reveal it was actually a cigarette butt, he remembered he had finished the tequila last night and refilled the bottle thereafter. Not with tequila, though, at least not the fresh kind. It all came back out in a geyser of gross, along with whatever had been boiling in his belly since he woke up. Fine, Alderson thought, that shit is no worse than my catching situation. That wasn't fair - not really. Travis d'Arnaud had had a great 2015, and a shoulder injury likely limited him in 2016. Still, Rene Rivera was not the answer there, and was an obvious non-tender candidate. Better to sign a Jason Castro for 3 years and $24 million and see if TdA could retake the job full-time. Not a great use of scarce resources, but no way 2017 would have a black hole behind the plate.

Speaking of black holes, half the Mets' pitchers got sucked into one in 2016, the kind of injury vortex that ruins champtionship dreams before they get to the wet parts. No sense in planning for anything other than Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard, Wheeler, and Matz to headline the rotation in 2017. All cheap, all talented, all coming with varying levels of injury concern. But signing a pricey free spent leaves five guys for six spots, so that's out of the question. Even minor league depth needn't be taking up valuable budget space, not with Lugo and Gsellman on the farm. Maybe a low-impact minor league contract for or would help hedge bets, but not much more than that. Maybe a minor league invite for a Lincecum or Latos. Maybe. Problem solved?

The bullpen, that was another matter. Grilli would help with the seventh inning and for only $3 million. Takes some of the sting out of Reed's number, to be sure. Familia isn't much cheaper, and would likely be unavailable for some time. Stupid kids, slapping around women. There are plenty of people who deserve slapping. This reminds Sandy of why his alarm was going off but, before he could get to his pants, the knocking returned. Guess it wasn't Rosario after all, Alderson thought as he stood, threw his jacket toward the bed, and walked toward the door.

He thought about how the rest of the bullpen would shake out as he walked, thinking of how cheap Edgin, Robles, and Goeddel would come, and how he was happy Sewald wasn't taken in the Rule 5 draft. AJ Preller had made some noise about taking him, but Sandy had just stared at him. Stared and stared. A long, hard, piercing stare. Premier decided not to take Sewald after all, and neither did any of the other GMs. Message received, it seemed. Plenty of arms on the farm past Sewald that could filter up should anyone falter. Gilmartin, Verrett, so on and so forth. No real worries there, not with three great relievers at the end of the line. Talking Jerry Blevins into taking 3 years and $24 million would go a long way toward keeping that pen solid, too...

Speaking of messages, Sandy had one that needed going out, which explained the cell phone alarm and the knocks at the door. He opened it and let Ray Ramirez into his gloomy hotel room.

"Hey, Sandy, what's up?" said Ramirez, entering and clanking mud off his boots. Ray and his boots, Sandy thought, those things sure weren't made for walkin'. Not for long.

"Oh, things are fine with me, Ray. How are you?"

"Sandy, you're not wearing any pants."

With nary a glance downward, Alderson said "Things are tough all over. Come in, though, come in. How's things?"

"Well, Sandy, things are fine, but I'm wondering what on earth was so important that you needed me here at two-thirty in the morning?"

"Two thirty-seven," Sandy said, looking at his watch.

"Sure, whatever. Not really as important as why I'm here, and I think I deserve an explanation."

"It is important, though. You see, John Ricco is downstairs right now, talking to a balding white guy in the corner of the bar. So the exact time is very key, here, for the sake of alibis."

Ramirez began to sweat a bit, wondering just what he'd walked into. "Alibis? What the hell does that have to do with anything?"

"Well, you see, Ray," Sandy said, but he let his bat do the talking from there. Louisville Slugger, model W310 Ash, the very same bat David Wright used to fight for his team. Poor Captain America. Maybe he should be Batman instead of Harvey, Sandy thought as he swung again and again, broken back and all. But, then, who was Bane?

Adlerson mused on this and other things as he took care of business. Too many injuries in 2016, you see. In 2015, too, and for years and years before. Walking boots, minor elbow irritation, back spasms. Little problems became big problems, which became career-threatening ones, and the constant was this asshat, making Alderson look foolish every blessed season. No longer, though, not after this. Got some blood on my vest, he thought as he finished his task, chest heaving and hair whispy. Gonna need a new vest.

Right about now, Ricco and the double would be drinking boisterously, making everyone as aware as possible of their little table and their loud conversation. Alderson set about disposing of his trash, knowing he might not be able to clean things up to the extent they needed cleaning, but not caring too much either way. This is Maryland, not Vegas, he thought as he cut the carpet and rolled up the evidence, who the hell would ever care what goes on here? Maybe a season had been saved, maybe not, but Sandy knew he'd moved the needle toward progress that week, if not that evening. But he did what needed doing, and for less than the $140 million he had at his disposal. And this hotel room chore? He was embarrassed to say he was happy to do it for free. After all, Jeff had said he could never fire Ramirez, not while he was around. Well, problem solved.

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