At first, the Mets played down the 90-win declaration Sandy Alderson had shared during a closed-door meeting among club staffers. Even by Opening Day Monday, the general manager had yet to lay out the goal in specific terms to his own players.
"I'm never thrilled when private conversations are disclosed publicly, which happens all too frequently in connection with the Mets,'' he said yesterday. "Shame on me.''
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Yet it was Alderson himself who completed the Mets' total transformation Monday when he launched into a pointed defense of establishing the goal.
In a cramped corridor near the Mets' clubhouse well before the first pitch was thrown in a 9-7, 10-inning loss to the Nationals, Alderson stood behind his comment. He cited the need to change the culture of a franchise in need of a sharp turn.
"What's wrong with a hard standard?'' Alderson said. "To me, the worst thing we can do is to sort of have a nebulous notion of 'gee, let's try to do this, try to do that.' We need to turn a corner. It needs to be a 90-degree angle.''
Alderson emphasized that winning 90 games is not a guarantee or a prediction but an internal challenge. Yet the comment has taken on a life of its own. Still, he responded by dismissing the dangers of raising expectations for a team that has not finished with a winning record since 2008.
He railed against vague notions of progress.
"It's important for us to change the conversation,'' Alderson said. "This team is now about being successful. And being successful is not some nebulous concept about winning, or being competitive, or playing meaningful games some month later in the calendar. This is about concrete expectations about what we need to do.''
Since Alderson's stated goal became public during spring training, it has been greeted by a wave of skepticism.
The Mets have remained at roughly the same payroll level for the last three years, and many of the same issues that plagued last year's 74-win team still exist. Yet Alderson wasn't ready to back down.
"You think that I was surprised by the skepticism?'' he said. "Notwithstanding the skepticism, from my standpoint, the right thing to do is set a lofty goal and figure out a way to achieve it. If we don't achieve it, we will have at least achieved the notion that we're thinking about ourselves differently, that we're setting expectations for ourselves differently.''
Part of setting the 90-win goal, Alderson said, was getting individual players to think in terms of reaching the standard. It's a transition he believes has taken place. He hopes a concrete standard will spur on specific conversations to ultimately reach the goal.
"It's time for us to get better,'' he said. "What you can measure, you can improve. I can't really measure 'competitiveness.' ''