System on an Up?
The Adult in the Room One of the things we were excited about upon the hiring of Sandy Alderson was that he was going to be the proverbial “adult in the room” – someone who would erase the follies of the Minaya era and keep Jeff Wilpon from acting like, well, the spoiled scion of a wealthy family who was born on third and thinks he hit a triple. Much of this season has been a long game of wait and see, while Alderson and company assess where the team is and we watch him watch the team – pondering what he will do this offseason when the real work begins. But with the trade and signing deadlines having come and gone, now’s as good a time as any to assess the Alderson administration's handling of the minor league system. In essence, his differentiation from Minaya can be brought into sharper focus in three main areas. Talent Targeting – Over Omar’s tenure as GM, the Mets had policy of targeting draft talent that would settle for slot money and get to the majors in quick fashion. Of course, the front office denies this, but facts don’t lie. How else do you explain Eddie Kunz and Joe Smith? Looking back at this year’s draft, it is evident that the Mets targeted talent they believe can be impact players and made their move, even if that means spending more time and money than they previously had. As the dust from the 2011 draft settles, the Mets will have spent an approximate $6.4MM, their highest total draft expenditure ever, and most since 2008 – when they had two first round picks and one in the supplemental round, all of whom singed for at or near slot (including Ike Davis). Yes, I know they went over slot in for the top picks in the last two drafts, but in ’09 their top pick was a second rounder, thus they had the first round savings to spend, and last year Matt Harvey was a top ten pick with the fan base and media practically shrieking at the WIlpons to loosen the pocketbook. In both cases, the Mets only went over slot one additional time per draft. In this year’s class, they will have gone over slot with at least five players. The onetime philosophy of targeting the best guys who will sign for slot and move quickly, thus giving the veneer of a productive system (regardless of the quality of talent) seems to have been replaced with one of targeting guys they believe can be difference makers, and investing accordingly. This could be the first step in transforming the farm system from producing role players to producing corner stones. Player Promotion -before he turned into Mister Glass, Fernando Martinez’ name was usually followed by a mention that he was amongst the youngest – if not THE youngest – players in his league. This was a typical idiom of the Minaya regime, particularly with their Latin American prospects: push them hard and over promote them, the strong will excel and the weak – well, they’ll be exposed sooner rather than when they get to New York. One of the most important aspects of managing, not just in baseball but anywhere, is putting people in positions where they can have the greatest chance of success. Success for a baseball farm system is “performing well at a level while also being challenged, thus refining and improving you game”. Minaya and his lieutenants seemed to subscribe to the “throw the kid in the water, he’ll learn how to swim” mentality. Hence, Fernando, Jefry Marte, Rueben Tejada, Wilmer Flores, even Jenry Mejia (in a move that smacked of ‘I hope he can save my job’) all found themselves adjusting to a new country, the professional game, being a teen AND having to be over your head competition-wise. Alderson has put the brakes on the promotion process, letting the Latin American players such as those mentioned above and Cesar Puello play their games at a level more appropriate to their age and talent level. If they wash out they wash out, but at least we’ll know it was strictly because of talent and not an artificially induced deficiency (i.e., developing bad habits in an attempt to adjust to being in over one’s head). Assessing the Landscape - for two straight off seasons, Omar Minaya jumped the gun at giving out large contract extensions that proved to being emblematic of his ill fated time as the GM of the Mets. Of course, I refer to Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez. In both of these instances, Minaya claimed that he was forced to act in a sort of preemptive manner before another team swooped in, leaving the Mets with signifiacant holes on their roster. In essence, he was saying Look, I know these can be seen as lousy contracts, but if we didn’t give this to the player someone else was going to and then we’d be without a second baseman/left handed pitcher for next season, and then where would we be? I fear the unknown. Uncertainty led him to make unforced errors in both instances.On the other hand, we have Alderson and the Carlos Beltran trade. Look, we’re all familiar with the details: Beltran had a no trade clause, wanted to go to an NL team, and would not return draft pick compensation to his team should he leave as a free agent at the end of the season. The NL contenders all said they would not pay a top prospect for someone who was a pure rental, even if he was the best bat on the market. A lesser GM would have panicked, sensed that he might left holding the bag at the deadline, and sold Beltran for a grab bag of B prospects. Alderson however, knew that someone would cave, and cave the Giants did, netting the Mets one of the top pitching prospects in the game. Beltran just went on the DL tonight, btw. With patience and poise, Sandy let the market come to him. With steady and mature leadership, here’s hoping we can watch the rebuilding of this organization without having to peer through our fingers.Though if Sandy wants to hold a press conference accusing Jon Heyman of lobbying for a job, I thing we would all enjoy watching that.