Think the Mets’ injury-riddled tailspin has been hard on the team’s masochistic fan base? Look what it’s doing to Sandy Alderson.
The general manager turned his routine start-of-a-home-series media briefing Thursday into a freewheeling discourse on the Mets’ stubborn medical bugaboos, a recurring annual theme that has tried Alderson’s patience to no end. Once he began answering questions that nobody really asked in the first place, we got the sense that this injury stuff is getting under his trademark fleece vest.
He’s only human, and the weirdness that keeps happening to the Mets borders on the supernatural, with not one but two pitchers somehow being afflicted by finger strains on consecutive days earlier this week in Atlanta. That’s on top of Todd Frazier going on the disabled list for the first time in his eight-year career and Yoenis Cespedes turning leg injuries into a summer ritual akin to beach traffic and clambakes.
What’s a GM to do? Alderson spent most of Thursday’s pregame session alternately defending his lack of pitching depth and going to bat for his medical department, which you may have heard has a brand-new performance staff this year. Truth is, when the injuries pile up — as they tend to accumulate in Flushing — there’s nothing Alderson can say to stop the bleeding. The Mets’ only recourse is to ride it out and hope for speedy recoveries.
Alderson doesn’t seem content with that. Instead, he is miffed by the continuing perception that the Mets mishandle the health of their players, to the point that he surprised us by summoning a bogeyman from way back in 2008, the botched concussion case of poor Ryan Church.
“I’ve been here eight years. I don’t even know who Ryan Church is, OK?” Alderson said. “But I know he’s been in the lead sentence on more than one occasion over the last few years.”
Not us. We’d never saddle Alderson with Church’s unfortunate legacy. But those are the ghosts he apparently is dealing with, along with the present-day problems that don’t seem to be getting any better.
Exhibit A is Cespedes, and Alderson — evidently frustrated by the slugger’s drawn-out stay on the DL — sounded like someone with buyer’s remorse. He has been stricken with various lower-body injuries since re-upping with the Mets for four years and $110 million, and played only 81 games in 2017 because of hamstring and quadriceps issues.
This year, a strained hip flexor has limited him to 37 of the Mets’ first 54 games, with no set date for his return. To Alderson, each day he’s not in the lineup makes that money spent look worse, and it probably annoys him that the Mets keep getting criticized for Cespedes coming up lame.
“We don’t control the way he comes in on a fly ball,” he said. “We don’t control when he slides into second base. Those are all things that happen in the course of a game. Some people are more susceptible to injury than others. Maybe you can say, ‘Well, gee, susceptible to injury. Shouldn’t that have entered into some decision in the past?’ And the answer to that would be yes in all probability. That all gets taken into account in that decision-making as well.’’
We can’t blame Alderson for being irritated about that deal, but what’s done is done. The Mets fell in love with Cespedes because he helped get them to the World Series in 2015, and they’ve been chasing that feeling ever since. As Alderson pointed out, however, this isn’t just about Cespedes. He believes that the Mets, in some cases, might unnecessarily extend DL stints because they’re fearful of setbacks, in part because of the media-driven outcry they might cause.
That was quite an admission by Alderson. In the past, the Mets were ripped for rushing back players or turning minor injuries into more serious ones. But here was the GM suggesting the possibility of being too patient with rehabbing players for the sake of public perception.
“You have to hit the sweet spot where you’re not too overly cautious but you’re prudent,” Alderson said. “That’s something where we need to focus a little more attention and that’s what I’m doing . . . The fact is, there’s no perfect solution.”
And the pain continues for anyone invested in these Mets.