As the Mets celebrated their World Series berth on the field at Wrigley, Sandy Alderson sat alone in the stands to watch. You have to wonder what the Mets’ GM was thinking about. Murphy home runs? Familia sinkers? Pitch counts? I think he was thinking about jokes.
I think he was thinking of jokes like the practical joke that was played on him when he was hired as GM of the Mets. How long after he found out just how crippled the team was by the Bernie Madoff mess did he start laughing?
By the time he was heading to spring training in 2012, he would have a sense of humor about his plight. He tweeted – ‘Driving to Florida, but haven’t left yet. Big fundraiser tonight for gas money’. All joking aside, he knew he had a steep mountain to climb.
After the laughter faded he got down to business. His first step would be to assess his assets and figure out which ones were worth more to someone other than the Mets – a basic ‘Moneyball’ principle. Fortunately, Omar Minaya did not leave the cupboard bare.
Alderson would parlay Carlos Beltran, R.A. Dickey, Marlon Byrd and even Jose Reyes into talented and controllable assets. Great, more prospects, but when do we start winning? Sandy Alderson responded by telling us he was trying to create a window of contention, not push all his chips to the center on an all-or-nothing bet. Moves like that he would leave to the Marlins.
At the GM meetings in 2013, Alderson famously quipped, ‘I was upstairs stacking our money. Don’t get excited. They were all fives.’ More jokes, but by this time, Mets fans were starting to lose their sense of humor. Yet it was clear the Mets would be bargain shopping while the big name free agents came off the board. There would be no short cuts.
The Mets’ frugal ways meant signing Marlon Byrd on a minor league contract and not Michael Bourn for five years and $50M. Which is another reason the Mets’ GM has to be laughing. Sometimes it’s the moves you don’t make that make the difference.
Peter Gammons reported that in 2012 the Mets were on the verge of trading Jacob deGrom for Kelly Shoppach. They swapped Pedro Beato for deGrom at the last moment, because of course Alderson knew that the converted short-stop, pitching in Single-A after Tommy John surgery was going to win Rookie of the Year, strike out the side in the All-Star Game on ten pitches and go 3-0 in the 2015 playoffs. Right, tell me another one.
The bottom line is that things were starting go the Mets’ way. The starting pitching was coming on and the team was getting feisty. Expectations grew and Mets fans were ready to start winning as 2015 approached.
When Alderson was asked to present an award to Cal Ripken in March of 2015, he said, ‘It’s a big night for me and for Mets fans who have been waiting all winter for me to introduce a short stop’. I don’t recall many Mets fans thinking jokes like this were particularly funny anymore. It was time for the move that would put us over the hump.
Yet Alderson held fast and resisted the urge to pull the trigger on deals like the three-way deal that would have netted the Mets Ian Desmond from the Nats and sent Noah Syndergaard to Tampa. Consecutive Mets sweeps of the Nats during the stretch run had to be good for a belly laugh thinking about that one.
Seeing the team he shaped celebrate in the Cubs’ town he also had to be thinking of his refusal to trade for someone like Starlin Castro while Mets fans were pleading for their short stop. Watching Castro turn triples into doubles only to eventually be thrown out at home, and trying to hit seven-run home runs with no one on in the NLCS, Alderson had to at least chuckle.
And of course there’s the most famous non-move in Mets history. It cost a few Wilmer Flores tears, but the failed Carlos Gomez trade would turn into Flores walk-off home runs and ‘Cespedes for the rest of us’. Fortuitous, but Alderson was steadfast in executing his plan. The time for joking was over. After the Gomez gut shot, he turned to ‘plan B’ and made it happen.
Alderson has clearly been both lucky and good. The Jenrry Mejia suspension opened the door for Jeurys Familia to become arguably the best closer in the game. Michael Cuddyer’s sore knee expedited the timetable for Michael Conforto’s arrival. Still, Alderson created the scenario in which a little luck could make all the difference and that is why he was good.
Kansas City was the upstart team in 2014. Others teams would try to emulate them, most notably the Yankees, but they were too literal. They went out and created an uber bullpen just like the Royals. The point is not that you have to have the league’s best bullpen to win, but that you have to have an identity that you can build around.
It’s expensive to turn weaknesses into strengths, but you can shore them up and improve upon your strengths. Alderson recognized the Mets’ strength was starting pitching, so they double-down on it and did enough to shore up their weaknesses.
Scott Boras once accused the Mets of shopping in the ‘fruit and nuts’ section. Alderson countered with, ‘Boras has been shopping near the meat section. That’s where he gets all his BS’. He may have been glib, but he had to be worried about his plan as events unfolded toward the trade deadline this year.
Alderson had bet on starting pitching just as the market was turning. He was sitting on a pile of young arms when arms were suddenly more available than bats. And still, Sandy played it cool while we all sweat it out as the deadline approached.
When Sandy Alderson said before the 2015 that this team would win 90 games, many laughed. Alderson and the players did not. They fought and clawed and stayed in it long enough for the GM to make his move. And after the Mets dismantled the Cubs in the NLCS, it’s the Mets and their GM who are laughing.
Alderson created the window he promised to and the Mets can crashing through it, unannounced and uninvited. It resulted in a party at Wrigley field. Alderson should have a lampshade on his head, but that’s not his style. He’ll sit in the empty stands while his team sprays the champagne.
When the World Series is over, no matter what the result, don’t expect Alderson to be sentimental. He will go back to work and make the hard decisions. For now, I hope he’s enjoying the fruits of his labor. We Mets fans certainly are.