David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
WASHINGTON - Sandy Alderson was not among the three finalists to replace Bud Selig as commissioner when those names leaked out earlier this week.
When I jokingly mentioned the omission to Alderson before last night's game at Nationals Park, he laughed. A few years back, maybe the former Selig lieutenant would have campaigned for the gig. Perhaps Major League Baseball's owners could have benefited from having the hawkish Alderson -- as a wartime consigliere -- for the upcoming labor negotiations in 2016.
But Alderson has a job now, presumably one he enjoys, and the impression here is that it should be only a matter of weeks before some kind of extension is announced. Alderson's original four-year contract expires in October. But he has an option for 2015, and we've always believed the only way he is ever stripped of the GM title is if Alderson chooses to leave Flushing on his own.
Although that's always possible, Alderson sounded Wednesday like someone who wants to stay on to see the Mets become a legitimate contender again -- and that won't be accomplished by the end of this season.
"The goal is to have a winning team, and a playoff-qualifying team," said Alderson, who refused to comment about his contract status.
What the Mets displayed the past two games against the Nationals was another example of their Jekyll-and-Hyde personality: How one night they can outlast Gio Gonzalez and the next make it look too easy for Doug Fister. Those fluctuations happen in baseball, a sport often dictated by who's on the mound. But the Mets have lacked the consistency to be anything more than a fourth-place team.
The Mets have shown marginal improvement in some areas during Alderson's tenure. But they haven't made the playoffs since 2006, and with the financial belt-tightening at Citi, Alderson can come across as more of an accountant for ownership rather than a GM hell-bent to steer the Mets back to October.
Alderson disagreed with that characterization. In fact, he bristled when we posed the question if he was fully invested in completing the task in Flushing. "Yeah, absolutely," Alderson said. "I'm surprised you're even asking whether that's true or not."
He's less certain, however, when we start trying to pin him down on a timeline. Alderson is 66, so it's not like anyone expects to see him go another decade as the Mets' GM. Half that even seems to be a stretch. But after taking over as custodian during a messy cleanup period at Citi, Alderson must want to hold on for a little ego-flexing. He won't say the number of years he has in mind.
He's been at it a while, and this tedious slog back to respectability has greatly tested the patience of loyal customers who have spent a buck -- or thousands -- in the hope of being entertained by the Mets. Despite the fiscal restraints during this renovation process, Alderson has made progress, even if his original playoff ETA of 2014 was further delayed by Matt Harvey's Tommy John surgery.
Through the maturation of talent Omar Minaya left behind, and trades that netted more pieces along the way, Alderson believes he has pushed the Mets into that last phase. Or the closest thing to it. All that's left is a productive winter, and with the return of Harvey, a no-excuses 2015.
In the final analysis, what would define success for Alderson? Getting the Mets to a World Series? An NL East title? Heck, a .500 season?
"Well, you have to look at in terms of wins and losses," Alderson said, "but you also have to look in terms of the health of the organization." So, by now, he's bleeding blue-and-orange? "Yeah," Alderson said, smiling. "Every night."