Q&A with Mets GM Alderson
The Mets dismissed Omar Minaya as their general manager on Oct. 4 of last year, and on Oct. 29, they hired Sandy Alderson to replace Minaya as the person responsible for their baseball operations.
Technically, therefore, Alderson has been on the job for only 11 months, but he has gone through the full cycle of the gig: offseason, spring training and now on the verge of Game 162. It seemed like a good time to check in with him and discuss his first year on the job. Here is Newsday's recent interview with Alderson:
N: How would you assess your first season?
SA: I've enjoyed it tremendously. I've enjoyed being in New York, being with the Mets, dealing with their tremendous fans and tackling some of the issues we've faced.
In building a team for the long haul, my goal this season was to try to change the perception of where it's headed. To change the fans' perception so that they think, hopefully, that we're on the right track.
We've had very positive things happen from a structural standpoint, in terms of scouting and player development. We've brought aboard good people like Paul DePodesta, J.P. Ricciardi, [director of amateur scouting] Chad McDonald. We think we had a quality draft. Our player development is changing and, I hope, improving.
I'm very pleased with the job Terry [Collins] has done. I think that first and last impressions are important in a season. We didn't make a good first impression and we're struggling now. But I hope we continue to be the threat that we have been and to play with tenacity and resilience. I wish we had a better record, but we didn't let our injuries become an excuse.
It has been an interesting year. What I like about New York is it's such a complex place. The fans are sophisticated and knowledgeable and the media is demanding but fair. I like it.
N: So what's next? What do you see in Year 2?
SA: What we need to do is continue to make good decisions in the best interests of the team long-term while recognizing the interests of fans, which incorporates more of the short term. For sure, we expect to have a better record than wherever we land this year.
N: Well, the future of Jose Reyes would seem to have a significant impact on the record of next year's team, so we might as well discuss this now. How do you view Reyes' impending free agency?
SA: It's a critical decision, no question about that. It's the fundamental decision that we have to make this offseason. It will shape every other decision we make.
There are many risks involved, from signing a player to a contract of that magnitude to the players we may be precluded from signing because of such a commitment.
But everyone recognizes the connection Jose has with Mets fans. That's not something we take lightly.
N: Free agency can be so unpredictable. How do you plan for this?
SA: I think you have to have an idea of where it's going to start and where you'd like it to end up, but you have to be adaptable. You really have to try to determine in advance what's in the best interests of the team. Where the best interests might reside and where they might dissipate.
You try to take some of the emotion out of it at the outset.
N: The Reyes free agency seems particularly challenging because the type of game he plays can be so exciting to the team and to fans, and yet, on the flip side, there's his injury history. Do you agree with that?
SA: It does seem to be more interesting than most free agencies. On the other hand, almost by definition, someone who's a highly desirable free agent has made some connection with his fan base. But Jose has connected more than most, I'd say.
N: You took this job knowing of the Wilpons' legal and financial problems stemming from their involvement with Bernard Madoff, and arguably, things have grown only more complex in that area since you took the job. How challenging have you found that component to be?
SA: I haven't found it to be the obstacle that most believe it to be. It doesn't necessarily limit our ability to spend money. Whether our payroll is at $120 million next year or $110 million, it's not because of anything Madoff-related. It's because we need to get a better balance between the revenues we generate and the expenses we incur.
The Wilpons have the resources necessary to operate the team. The deals that we've made for players [Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran], those trades had to do with positioning ourselves for next year.
N: What has it been like working with Jeff Wilpon, specifically?
SA: It's been fine. He's responsible for the whole operation. I understand where that authority lies.
N: You mentioned the injuries you've had this year, and you know this has been a recurring problem for the Mets. How much have you scrutinized the team's medical processes and the actual doctors themselves?
SA: I know that history has existed, and once the season is over, we will take an even deeper look. But from working with the doctors, I don't think that's an issue. From our standpoint, some of these injuries have been unique. Whatever medical care was given, I don't think we have a systemic issue here.
You look at David Wright, we thought he was coming back [from a back injury] in 30 days and it took him over 60 days. He didn't heal like we hoped. Ike Davis suffered a freak injury to a part of the body [left ankle] that's very complex and difficult to predict in its severity.
In all of these instances, there were more than our own doctors involved. We've done everything we could from a variety of sources. Through July 31, we had fewer total days on the disabled list than last year, and that's with Johan Santana there for the whole season.
The short answer is I'm not dissatisfied.
N: How concerned are you about Davis heading into the offseason?
SA: We'd like to have more certainty, but we don't have it. But we're increasingly confident he'll be OK.
N: What has surprised you most about the job?
SA: The consistently high level of activity surrounding this team in this marketplace. The extent of the media. It's bigger and more competitive than I anticipated. It leads to more discussion. With as large a group of interested fans as we have, there's a level of intensity and attention to issues on a day-to-day basis. At most places, that's not really as common.
N: What has disappointed you the most?
SA: The inconsistency of our play. The injuries we've sustained. Our inconsistency of play, and as a subset of that, our record at home. It's tough to hit home runs here, and we haven't done it. I think it's important to have power on your team, but if you don't have it, it's important to pitch and play defense, and we haven't done that very well.
N: You mentioned how tough it is to hit home runs at Citi Field. Would you like to change the dimensions to make it more hitter-friendly?
SA: You can function here successfully, but the question to ask is, with different dimensions, would it be more fun to watch a game here? Could it be more neutral? The answer is definitely yes. We'll take a look at it.
As [Mets pitching coach] Dan Warthen has said, a park like this is not even in the best interest of the pitchers. You can develop a habit or a tendency that can impact you on the road at parks that aren't forgiving to pitchers. I think playing all of your games here has an impact on hitters. It's different if you're on the visiting team and just come in for three games.
N: Given that you were the Padres' team president, and that you've had very high-ranking jobs at Major League Baseball, taking this job was, in a sense, a return to your roots. You have fewer responsibilities here. How have you enjoyed that?
SA: It's been quite a luxury to focus just on the baseball. It's been great. Fortunately, from my experiences with MLB, I know most of the other GMs, so it hasn't been a matter of having to introduce myself to a lot of new people. We've got great people here, and I consider myself fortunate to be able to work in a job like this again.