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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Sandy Alderson tries spinning GM search as Mets spin their wheels

Mets president and general manager Sandy Alderson speaks

Mets president and general manager Sandy Alderson speaks during a news conference before a baseball game against the Miami Marlins Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021, in New York. Credit: AP/Frank Franklin II

After a yearlong wait, Sandy Alderson finally introduced the Mets’ new president of baseball operations Tuesday morning at the GM meetings in California.

It’s Sandy Alderson.

By now, no one should be all that surprised. What began as an ambitious search for an established king-maker to pair with Steve Cohen’s billions has devolved into hiring a mid-level replacement for the fired Zack Scott, formerly known as the team’s acting GM.

Alderson admitted that much Tuesday, saying the Mets no longer are looking to fill two different front-office positions, as they were when this process began six weeks ago. And anyone that needs to ask why hasn’t been paying attention.

It’s been near impossible to drag even one upper-level baseball executive to Flushing at this point. Two? There’s a better chance of Mike Piazza being the Opening Day catcher.

So how did the Mets wind up in this predicament? To go from hunting big game like Theo Epstein and Billy Beane to posting help-wanted fliers on laundromat walls? Alderson spoke for 30 minutes and attempted to offer an explanation, but frankly, it didn’t sound all that promising — at least in the short term.

Alderson repeatedly mentioned New York as a contributing factor, which suggested — in so many words — that people who turn down such an opportunity with the Mets weren’t willing to deal with the pressure of the Big Apple spotlight. I wasn’t privy to the transcripts of those interviews, but generally speaking, there’s probably a kernel of truth to that.

Not everyone wants to run a baseball team as the back-page bloodsport it tends to be in New York (Boston is right up there, too). There are plenty of more comfortable places for a rising front-office star to chase a World Series. On the flip side, bringing up that part came off as excuse-making from Alderson, who a year ago touted the Mets as a premier destination as soon as the ink was dry on Cohen’s $2.45 billion purchase of the franchise.

So what’s the difference now? The Mets didn’t move to Queens a few months ago.

"There’s a reluctance to come to New York, but I think it’s mostly about New York," Alderson said. "Not about Steve or the organization. It’s a big stage and some people would just prefer to be elsewhere . . . There’s no tanking in New York. It’s always a competition. It’s not unforgiving, but it’s a demanding place — which I enjoy by the way."

That’s crystal-clear, Sandy. Some might say too much. But Alderson’s failure to fill what we always thought were highly desirable front-office vacancies is not a great reflection on him or the Mets. It’s unfathomable that more than a dozen of baseball’s best-and-brightest would either reject such an opportunity or have their owners deny them a dream shot if they really wanted the chance, especially in situations where it’s considered a promotion.

To use one of Sandy’s favorite terms, the whole thing is a brutal case of bad optics for the franchise. Even worse, the fruitless search has forced the Mets to scale back their lofty intentions, from establishing a new front-office dream team for the 2022 title pursuit to holding another Scott-type audition for the guy they eventually settle on (Alderson says he has a few in the pipeline).

"Assuming we only hire one person [this offseason], there'd be at least a year runway for that person to demonstrate their ability and their potential," Alderson said. "That’s the opportunity. That’s all you can ask for. Demonstrated ability tends to get rewarded."

In the same breath, Alderson praised Scott’s performance, right up to the part where he was arrested for DUI in August, placed on administrative leave and later fired. Axing Scott made more sense to us when the plan was to clean house with a new president of baseball operations. That made it a business decision. But if Scott was truly a good fit for the current front office — a group that includes Alderson’s son, Bryn, as an assistant GM and a roster of decision-makers that Sandy evidently likes as is — keeping him may not have been the worst idea given how this search has played out so far.

Perhaps the best thing the Mets have going for them in this mess is a deep free-agent pool and Cohen’s Everest-sized pile of cash. Stick Kris Bryant and Starling Marte under the tree and fans won’t care as much who’s sitting in Scott’s empty chair this winter. Ultimately the Mets will fill this GM-ish position, and hire a manager — don’t forget, they still need one of those, too — and this media storm will pass.

But Sandy’s shadow still looms large over the franchise, and when he was pressed Tuesday on his questionable string of hires, highlighted by Mickey Callaway and Jared Porter, Alderson flexed a bit.

"Look, I’m the head of the operation," Alderson said. "So I take full responsibility and I’m accountable for that. You know, the captain goes . . . um . . . "

Traditionally down with the ship. He didn’t finish the thought. But Alderson is still here, bailing furiously, asking who wants to come on board.

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