David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - In the wake of Nelson Cruz's one-year, $8-million deal with the Orioles, Sandy Alderson faced a predictable line of questioning Saturday at Tradition Field.
Ultimately, the conversation boiled down to this: Sandy, how is it possible that you didn't sign Nelson Cruz? I mean, $8 million? For a guy who hit 27 homers last season?
Oh, and let's not forget. Just in case the anti-Alderson crowd needed more ammo, there was the convenient comp of Chris Young, whom the Mets signed for $7.25 million in November.
Seriously, sometimes the Mets make this too easy.
But we're not going that route here. If you want to vent about the Mets missing out on Cruz, call up a radio station. And using the Young signing as proof of negligence in this instance doesn't wash.
Two months ago, did anyone predict Cruz would wind up in the bargain bin? What was Alderson supposed to do now? Climb into his DeLorean, fire up the flux capacitor and start fresh again from Nov. 25, the day before the Young deal became official?
At that time, the free-agent market was only starting to sort itself out. The Mets were humbled in their courtship of Jhonny Peralta when the Cardinals swooped in with a four-year, $53-million deal for the Biogenesis-tainted shortstop. On the outfield front, Marlon Byrd had just signed a two-year, $16-million contract with the Phillies.
Raise your hand if you knew Byrd would get twice as much guaranteed money as Cruz.
So the Mets, hoping to improve their outfield on a budget, opted for Young, a good defender who they believed was ready for a bounce-back season after a disappointing year with the A's.
At face value, that's a lot of money for a player who batted .200 and struck out a ton. But Young did hit 12 homers in 335 at-bats, and the Mets were eyeing power at a relative discount. Back then, Cruz was not expected to be in their price range.
"It's not just a different time frame, it's a different type of player,'' Alderson said Saturday in sizing up the two. "I'm not here to critique Nelson Cruz, but he's a very different player. He brings power to the table, no question about that. Doesn't bring the defense. Doesn't really have our approach, necessarily.
"This is not a 'gee whiz, if we-just waited' moment for us. We're happy with Chris Young.''
Don't forget, the Mets wrote a $60-million check for Curtis Granderson, too, so the money allocated for outfield improvement already was spent. In case you hadn't heard, the Mets haven't been swimming in disposable income lately. That's just reality, and screaming that the Wilpons should spend more isn't going to change the Mets' situation.
Alderson said the front office was "monitoring'' the Cruz developments, so he wasn't surprised that the Orioles got him on the cheap. But he also insisted that the Mets never had any "strong interest'' in Cruz -- for the reasons listed above -- despite the public perception earlier in the winter.
With Cruz now off the market, we know what you're wondering. How about Stephen Drew?
Fair question. Like Cruz, he's surely having second thoughts about turning down his $14.1-million qualifying offer from the Red Sox. But clients of Scott Boras tend to trust in the agent's methods, and the play here seems to be to wait for a team to develop an urgent need at shortstop, either through injury or remodeling of the roster.
One person familiar with the Mets' thinking said Saturday that they'd still be interested in Drew on a one-year deal below $10 million but are skeptical that Boras would cave in to that sales pitch. The Mets believe Boras eventually will get Drew a more palatable contract, if only because that's what the agent usually does -- and they feel better now about giving Ruben Tejada a chance at redemption than they did in December.
When asked point-blank about the Mets' chances of signing Drew, Alderson repeated the same line he's stood by for a while now.
"I think it's just unlikely based on the circumstances,'' he said. "I just think the likelihood of it happening is slim.''
Hey, he didn't say zero. But you get the idea that's about how much the Mets have left to spend this fiscal year. And unlike the Cruz deal, Boras isn't one for steep discounts.