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A look back on the Winter Meetings of the Alderson era

With a new regime at the helm, we contrast Sandy Alderson’s approach with Brodie Van Wagenen’s.

New York Mets Introduce Sandy Alderson as General Manager Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

With the Winter Meetings having just wrapped up, the hot stove is beginning to heat up. And for the first time in a long time, the Mets are generating a lot of buzz this offseason. Brodie Van Wagenen has already made one big move this offseason: the acquisition of Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz. And he followed that up by bringing Jeurys Familia back on a three-year deal.

The Mets still have a number of needs to address in order to fill the holes on their roster en route to building a contender, and there have been no shortage of rumors regarding various players the Mets have been connected to, including J.T. Realmuto, Andrew Miller, Martin Maldonado, Joe Kelly, Yasmani Grandal, Andrew McCutchen, A.J. Pollock, David Robertson, Marwin Gonzalez, Yan Gomes, Corey Kluber, and Yasiel Puig, among others. This is all notwithstanding the persistent Noah Syndergaard trade rumors that have been floating about all offseason.

If there was anything Sandy Alderson was known for during his Mets tenure, it was his patience. In the recent past, the Mets have not been known for making a big splash at the Winter Meetings, preferring to use them to lay groundwork and start conversations for future deals and signings.

Coming out of last year’s meetings, during which the Mets signed Anthony Swarzak but did not do anything else, Alderson said, “As I’ve said before, we’ve done a lot in January and February. That doesn’t mean you have the same selection that necessarily you would have in say November and December. But it doesn’t mean things won’t accelerate in the next two weeks or so.’’

Things did indeed pick up for the Mets after the meetings last year, even if not in the way some fans may have hoped. The Jay Bruce signing came in January, and the Todd Frazier signing came in February.

Rewinding a bit further back in time, the last time the Mets made a big splash in an offseason was in late November of 2016, when they inked Yoenis Cespedes—then represented by Brodie Van Wagenen—to his current contract. However, that came before the Winter Meetings, during which the Mets made no moves in 2016, with their top offseason priority having already been accomplished. The Mets had entered the Winter Meetings looking to trade Jay Bruce and add to their bullpen. They accomplished neither of those goals and went on to make nominal improvements in the bullpen, trotting out mostly the same roster that took a Wild Card berth in 2016.

That postseason berth was thanks in part to additions to the National League pennant-winning roster that were acquired during the 2015 Winter Meetings. The Mets were named one of the Winter Meetings’ biggest winners that year, despite losing out on the Ben Zobrist sweepstakes, instead nabbing Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera, both of whom were productive players in 2016, posting 3.6 fWAR apiece.

While most of the players fans think of when they think of the 2015 National League Champion Mets are home-grown players and that one big trade deadline acquisition, that team was years in the making. Coming into the 2013 Winter Meetings, the Mets had not been competitive in the NL East since 2008. The Bernie Madoff scandal hung like a dark cloud over the team and payroll constraints limited the Mets to the periphery of the offseason multiple years in a row. The 2013 Winter Meetings represented a glimmer of hope in the darkness—the foundation of what Sandy Alderson was really brought in to do when the Mets hired him in 2010. He was hired to oversee a rough patch, clean things up, and turn it around.

On December 9, 2013 during the Winter Meetings, the Mets announced that they had signed Curtis Granderson to a four-year contract. It was certainly the biggest signing Alderson had made since he became GM and it remains arguably the best free agent acquisition of his tenure. The Mets also signed both Bartolo Colon and Chris Young during the Winter Meetings that year. While the former worked out much better than the latter, it was a sign that the Mets were serious about turning the page and building a contending roster. This evoked memories of the 1984 Winter Meetings, when the Mets acquired Gary Carter, pulling the team out of a period of darkness. Both in 1984 and 2013, the Mets found themselves with a much improved record in the following year and in the World Series the year after that.

Of course, I’m not going to gloss over the fact that the team’s only free agent acquisitions in the 2014-2015 offseason were Michael Cuddyer—signed before the Winter Meetings—and John Mayberry Jr. But between the return of Matt Harvey and more young pitching coming down the pike behind him, the Mets were poised to improve their roster internally rather than make noise at the Winter Meetings. As it turned out, that roster didn’t have the strength on its own to make a deep postseason push, but it kept the Mets in close enough proximity that they were able to make the trade deadline deals necessary to give them the extra edge they needed.

The plan was for that team to be a perennial contender, built on the back of its young pitching. Coming into the 2018 Winter Meetings, that plan has not been realized. The Mets are coming off their second straight fourth place finish in the NL East. Sandy Alderson is no longer the general manager. But most of the core of that 2015 roster is still here for the time being, with a couple more young and exciting additions to the fold. Jacob deGrom is a Cy Young Award winner. The window may not be wide open, but sunlight pours through the place where it is left ajar.

Jeff Wilpon has already spent time this offseason blaming Sandy Alderson for the Mets’ reputation of not spending on top-tier free agents. For those accusations to hold any water, it’s time for ownership to put its money where its mouth is. They have a new, ambitious GM looking to make a strong first impression, already one bold move deep into this offseason. This season’s Winter Meetings came and went with the Mets making just one signing—a very safe signing, albeit a good one—in a positively Aldersonian fashion. There is a lot of offseason left and Brodie Van Wagenen continues to have his hand in many cookie jars. Let’s see if Van Wagenen follows through on making the remaining moves required to put this roster over the top or more pertinently, whether the Wilpons let him do so.