ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Sandy Alderson is being praised -- rightfully so -- for his deadline-week moves that energized the first-place Mets and their fan base.
Here's a sobering thought, though: If the Mets miss the playoffs by one game when all is said and done on Oct. 4, Alderson might have to take the blame.
The Mets' general manager added significant talent before the July 31 deadline in trades for Yoenis Cespedes, Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson and Tyler Clippard and the call-up of Michael Conforto. That's 20 percent of the roster.
If the Mets come up short in their quest for their first playoff berth since 2006, you could make the case that Alderson's deadline-week moves came too late and also helped paper over moves he whiffed on or failed to make earlier.
Here are four such instances (all statistics entering Friday):
THE BUDDYFor the second straight offseason, Alderson acted swiftly in signing a veteran outfielder. Two offseasons ago, it was Chris Young. That did not end well for the Mets.
This time Alderson signed David Wright's childhood pal Michael Cuddyer to a two-year, $21-million contract and surprisingly surrendered a precious first-round draft pick for the now 36-year-old.
Cuddyer has always been a quality hitter, but he was coming off an injury-plagued 2014 in which he played in only 49 games for Colorado. It was not a sure thing. It was like buying a used car instead of a new one and hoping for the best.
As a Met, Cuddyer has appeared in 82 games and has been hampered by a sore knee. With a .250/.303/.380 slash line and a WAR (wins above replacement) of 0.5, he has not been the hitter the Mets wanted -- and Cuddyer is signed for $12.5 million for 2016.
Whom else could Alderson have gotten? Well, other outfielders available at the time included Nelson Cruz, who has a 4.5 WAR with Seattle after signing a four-year, $57-million contract. That's $3 million less than the Mets gave Curtis Granderson in 2013.
Or Alderson could have used his considerable prospect stockpile to trade for Justin Upton, whom the Braves dealt to San Diego. Upton, who is a free agent at season's end and thus would have been more affordable to the Mets than Cruz or Cuddyer over the long term, has a 3.1 WAR for the Padres.
The point is, "big bats" were available. Alderson fixed that problem when he acquired two-month rental Cespedes on July 31. But how many more games would they have won if they had had a big bat in leftfield from Day One?
The Mets' bench for most of the season was atrocious. Alderson didn't trade for any upgrades until Uribe and Johnson came from Atlanta on July 25.
When injuries struck, manager Terry Collins was forced to use lineups that were not major-league quality. That reality hit bottom on July 24, when Collins said he was "not embarrassed" about a lineup that had John Mayberry Jr. and Eric Campbell batting 3-4 against Clayton Kershaw. No one had asked him if he was. The Mets were shut out on three hits.
Collins has given a combined 624 at-bats to Mayberry, Campbell, Darrell Ceciliani, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Dilson Herrera, Johnny Monell, Danny Muno and Anthony Recker. Those players combined to hit .178 and have a cumulative WAR of -1.3. That's nearly a game and a half lost because of a poor bench.
Alderson acted, but months later than he could have, especially once it became clear that Wright was going to be out longer than expected. Remember, Uribe was traded in May and Johnson has been traded three times in the last season and a half. So better players than Muno et al were available before July 25.
Yes, Wilmer Flores is now a folk hero. But remember when he was at shortstop as part of a highly suspect infield with natural shortstop Ruben Tejada at third base? And remember all of the other wacky infield combinations the Mets have used this season?
Well, the Mets' infield defense has cost their pitchers 34.2 runs, according to StatCorner.com. It's generally accepted that 10 runs equals one win, so that's more than three wins down the drain because of infield defense.
MATZ ALL, FOLKSThe Mets waited until June 28 to call up Steven Matz even though their own reports said the Long Island lefty had mastered Triple-A. Matz made two stellar starts in the majors before going on the disabled list with a partially torn muscle in his left side.
Bartolo Colon, Jon Niese and Dillon Gee went a combined 1-7 as starters in June. If Matz had been called up sooner, perhaps he could have started and won one or more of those games and helped re-energize the club even sooner than he did (albeit for only two outings).
Is all this nitpicking? Perhaps. But if the Mets are on the outside looking in when the playoffs roll around . . . perhaps not.