Sandy Alderson clearly is a very accomplished man. Dartmouth, a tour of duty in Vietnam as a Marine, Harvard Law, and a successful career as a lawyer. He joined the A’s as general counsel due to his connection to a partner at his law firm, and eventually became their GM in 1983. With Alderson at the helm, the A’s became a serious powerhouse, winning three pennants in a row from 1988-1990, including the 1989 World Series. Three consecutive pennants is a rare achievement; only the 1998-2001 Yankees have done it since.
Alderson inherited Jose Canseco and Rickey Henderson (who he traded away and then re-acquired), but was GM when the A’s drafted Mark McGwire, and trading for Dennis Eckersley and signing the little-known Dave Stewart as a free agent were great moves. Alderson also traded for Dave Parker and Bob Welch, signed Dave Henderson, and put together a fantastic team.
However, after five winning seasons in a row and four playoff appearances from 1988-1992, the A’s fell off the cliff in 1993, finishing 68-94, and had losing seasons for the five remaining seasons in Alderson’s tenure.
Alderson then worked in the Commissioner’s office until 2005, when he was named CEO of the Padres. The Padres—with a team Alderson clearly inherited—finished first in 2005 and 2006, missed the postseason in 2007, and were also-rans in the final two years of Alderson’s time in San Diego.
After another year working with the Commissioner, at the behest of Bud Selig, Alderson took the job as GM of the Mets in October 2010, and while fans were mostly thrilled at first, after two years of Alderson’s leadership, it is time to begin questioning his abilities as a GM.
Alderson did not grow up in the game; he did not play professionally, nor did he manage at any level. His career was as a lawyer until being named A’s GM. After the era when the A’s had the kind of payroll which allowed him to acquire players of consequence and keep his own stars, Alderson did not adapt well. The A’s went downhill quickly after their golden period, bottoming out at 65 wins in Alderson’s last year.
It is hard to know what he really did in San Diego, but that’s not the case with the Mets.
Everyone rightly commends the Beltran-Wheeler trade; Alderson received a top prospect from a team that has developed a bunch of excellent pitchers in recent years. But this was not finding a diamond in the rough or an “undervalued” player; it was holding out and perhaps driving a hard bargain–or maybe just getting very lucky with a team that felt they were one player away.
But we also have seen acquisitions such as Brad Emaus and Chin-Lung Hu be fairly highly touted. Alderson gave Frank Francisco a fairly sizeable two-year deal and anointed him as closer, although he had never had much success in the role, nor done it full-time for an entire season. We have seen a parade of mediocre fill-in starting pitchers, and journeymen like Jon Rauch given key bullpen roles. D.J. Carrasco was awarded a two-year deal and was abominable.
While many—this writer included—were not fans of Angel Pagan, the trade for Torres and Ramirez wound up as a disaster. Pagan had a productive year for a title team and earned a big contract, while Torres was mostly terrible and Ramirez was very mediocre.
Scott Hairston did have a good—far from great—2012 with 20 HR, but with a .299 OBP and very limited abilities in the field. He also was barely useful in 2011.
In the 2011 draft, the 13th pick was used on a player who due to growing up in Wyoming did not play high school baseball, Brandon Nimmo, who in his brief professional career has done little to justify the choice. According to Wikipedia, no Wyoming player had ever been selected higher than the 6th round previously. 2012’s 1st round pick Gavin Cecchini—while it is far too early to definitively judge—has yet to look very good either. And when it comes to the minor leagues, considering the amazing lack of offense in the system, allowing Fernando Martinez to get away for nothing also is a question mark move.
Letting Jose Reyes leave as a free agent rather than trading him was also very questionable. Yes, Reyes had injury issues, and it is certainly possible that management insisted on keeping this very popular player around while he was chasing a batting title in order to help sell tickets during a dismal period. Regardless, this does not speak highly of the front office. And as one cannot really blame him too harshly for not matching the Dodgers’ offer to Chris Capuano, this is a player who would have come in handy in 2012.
So after two full years, and with nothing done thus far to improve the team for 2013, it is utterly reasonable to begin asking just what exactly has Alderson done for this team?
As we approach 2013, the team has some good players—Ike Davis, David Wright, Ruben Tejada, R.A. Dickey, Jon Niese, Matt Harvey, Johan Santana, Dillon Gee, and Bobby Parnell. All of them inherited from the previous regime.
Many believe that Alderson was the father of “Moneyball”- a wizard at finding undervalued players. If this is so, where are they after two years?
To be fair, Alderson inherited a very difficult situation, and by his own words came here largely at the behest of Selig to help a franchise in distress try to manage a terrible time in the wake of the Madoff scandal. The Mets’ minor league system was left in middling shape by Omar Minaya, and Omar’s terrible contracts—compounded by the Madoff situation and the overall economy—definitely left the next Met GM a truly disastrous and difficult platter of troubles.
But if Alderson (and his assistants, failed former GMs Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi) truly are very wise baseball men, where is the evidence after two years? Shouldn’t three once highly-touted former GMs have been able to accomplish something more tangible after two years? Again, Wheeler might turn into a stud pitcher, but he was not an unknown/undervalued player—he was highly regarded and the skill in getting him simply resided in being patient and waiting for the Giants to cave; an excellent move, to be sure, but one which has little company on the shelf of Alderson-era Met triumphs.
Clearly, regardless of what the rosy-eyed optimists might believe, the Wilpons have put a very strict financial harness on this team. From laying off office workers to failing to sign draft picks to dramatically cutting payroll, the evidence of financial desperation is clearly visible for all who want to see it.
But if Alderson and his team are such great baseball minds, why haven’t they been able to find any bargains? Any diamonds in the rough? Someone in the Rule 5 draft? An undervalued minor league free agent?
It just has not happened.
And as the Winter Meetings have come and gone and Met fans have watched the serious, successful type of teams out there making moves to improve themselves, frustration again sets in.
Sure, it can be argued—as it was by some when the 2012 trade deadline came and went with no action following Alderson’s “We’re buyers!” exclamation—that there is little to be done; that the team should basically sacrifice 2013, wait—again—for money to come off the books in anticipation that this time it might be spent, and to possibly accept trading Cy Young winner and very popular Met R.A. Dickey for a less-than-blue chip prospect such as Mike Olt or players from Toronto not named Travis d’Arnaud.
The feeling here—and this writer was very happy when Alderson was named—is that we may again be being sold a bill of goods.
Sandy Alderson—if he was indeed at the forefront of the great moves which turned the A’s into champs—seems to either be well past his prime, bored and disinterested, or simply not up to the job. His humor was ingratiating at first, but the more recent slams at his own outfield seem to be somewhat ill-considered. Some of us have been following this team for decades, support it with our hearts, minds, and wallets, and to hear someone who clearly is a short-timer here with lukewarm enthusiasm continue to denigrate his own players, following another lackluster 4th place finish, is growing tiresome.
Most of us want to believe that Alderson is in fact a great baseball mind, but aside from a few years in Oakland—again, helped by excellent inherited players and a high payroll—the man’s baseball resume is in fact pretty thin. He presided over the quick demise of the A’s, had an executive job with the perennially mediocre Padres, and really has done next to nothing to improve the Mets in two full years.
Again, he has little to work with in terms of money or trade chips, but someone with the reputation he arrived with for baseball brilliance and revolutionary thinking should have been able to find at least a couple of players who could be difference makers, shouldn’t he have?
Is this unreasonable to expect?
Where is the Mets’ trade for a scrap-heap reclamation project like Dennis Eckersley? Where’s our journeyman-waiting-for-stardom like Dave Stewart?
Is Alderson working long days scouring stat sheets, the waiver wire, and the minor leagues to find our undervalued diamonds in the rough? Or is he simply putting the best possible public face on the Wilpons’ diminishing of the Met franchise, as a favor for a few years for his friend Bud Selig?
Is the team in the hands of fired GMs DePodesta and Ricciardi? And is the increasingly vocal Jeff Wilpon really moving closer to center stage? Nelson Doubleday warned against this eventually happening, and a look at Wilpon the Younger’s barely extant resume most definitely does not inspire confidence.
Sandy Alderson is a lawyer; that is what his education prepared him to be. He came to baseball in his mid-30s, again, first as a lawyer. He became GM of a franchise on the verge of success, inheriting good players and supportive management with deep pockets; he presided over wise moves which resulted in three pennants and a title. But as soon as the older players declined and payroll shrunk, the team quickly sank. This is not a Frank Cashen, an executive who worked his way up and had a key role in building title teams with two franchises, or a Whitey Herzog, a baseball lifer who had huge roles in the successes of multiple organizations.
The feeling here is that Alderson is neither dishonest nor incompetent; nor was he brought in to turn the Mets into a “small market” or “Moneyball” team. He’s a lawyer—he was brought in to do what lawyers often do: to put the best possible face onto a very bad situation and to convince as many people as possible that things are much better than they really are.
Sure, it took Cashen until his fifth year in Flushing before the Mets became serious contenders. Minaya had the team in the playoffs in year two, but largely due to arriving just as Wright and Reyes blossomed and being given an insane bag of money with which to bring in Pedro, Beltran, Delgado, and others.
So it certainly is fair for some to believe that in a couple of years, the foundation currently being built will result in an extended period of success.
But it also is very reasonable to view the accomplishments thus far—trades, signings, drafts, minor leagues—as a track record without much reason for optimism at all.
Regardless of what anyone wants to believe, Alderson’s record thus far is one of serious mediocrity. Aside from hoping that the last two draft classes turn into gold, there is very, very little to latch onto as evidence of success after two years of what was originally portrayed as a management dream team.
What to do? Patience seems to be the only real route being open to the Met fan right now. It is still over two months until spring training, moves are yet to be made, and hopefully 2013 will be more promising than the last two years. Should the rotation remain together and healthy, it has the potential to be something special. Should Ike, Tejada, and Wright all play well and the rotation achieves its potential, there is the possibility for improvement. But these are some big ifs.
Yes, we are again being told that “next year” we will be able to spend the money that comes off the books when Johan and Bay’s commitments are largely gone; but yes, we have heard this song before. Will spending really increase in 2014? No, spending does not guarantee anything, as the Minaya era surely glaringly shows. But if the team had some extra money to spend to bring in, say, Pierzynski, that could make a difference. The catcher position is really atrocious, and A.J. would bring offense, winning experience, and sorely needed toughness to the team.
But we digress.
Perhaps in a year’s time we will see a team with a great rotation, watch Nimmo and Cecchini break into Baseball America’s top 100 list, and witness an active Met braintrust at the 2013 Winter Meetings.
But right now what we have seen thus far is a continuing very lackluster performance by a 65-year-old man possibly long past his prime, in a job he appears to have reluctantly taken and to not be particularly fond of.
The jury remains out, but the verdict seems to be very predictable.