Hope is a cheap harlot to employ whenever a mediocre team changes general managers, meaning few should be surprised to see the Mets fan base embrace Sandy Alderson. Reassuring for those fanatics is how Alderson’s history suggests the admiration will be more than a fling or temporary affair. What Alderson means to the position depends on perspective. Call him the perfect compromise to the old and new school. A well-connected quantitatively conscious forward thinker, Alderson is not without his question marks, making him an embodiment of the roster he inherits.
Pick the most skeptical question asked of Alderson’s candidacy and one can find a match on the Mets. How long will you be here? Easily could be asking David Wright the same. How is your health? Carlos Beltran and Jason Bay. Can you recapture that success from way back when that made you special? Jose Reyes. How will you deal with change? Okay, that question is best asked to opposing forces by Johan Santana. Clearly, the metaphor has run its course.
The point to take away is that while Alderson and his roster have question marks, they also have the star power to intrigue. The supporting cast for those stars needs work and that’s fine. That’s why Alderson is there. His ability to find talent for marginal costs should separate him from previous Mets’ general managers. This will make the snarky parts of the Mets’ fan base cringe a bit, but Alderson’s job does not deviate greatly from the one Jack Zduriencik walked into. The difference being that Alderson’s starting roster is in better shape.
Who knows what the Mets’ roster is going to look like in three months or six, but there are enough options to create some moist spitballing sessions. Alderson’s comment about not writing players off without considering everything raises the possibility of a Luis Castillo platoon alongside someone like Joaquin Arias. Unsexy off the bat, Castillo will make $6 million next season whether the Mets release or play him. Playing him against righties isn’t the worst idea in the world, as he’s reached base against them roughly 38% of the time since 2008.
An outfield with Jason Bay, Carlos Beltran, and Angel Pagan is not hard to imagine. Pagan’s inability to hit left-handed pitching means someone like Nick Evans will likely get a share of at-bats, too. Would the Mets tamper with the thought of sliding Beltran to right field on the days Pagan plays, or do they err to keeping the number of moving parts to a minimal, thus leaving Beltran in center regardless of Pagan’s presence.
Josh Thole figures to catch most days and Ike Davis will play first base. That’s about it for the starting nine, with whoever the day’s starting pitcher is filling in the blank. Don’t forget about the farm system and encroaching talents like Fernando Martinez, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Lucas Duda, Reese Havens, and Jenrry Mejia. Not elite talents (minus Mejia) but enough to potentially land the Mets a starting pitcher if need be – and need most certainly be with Santana out for at least a little while.
The ability to focus on the pitching and bench side of the roster is one of the more incredible aspects of this situation: how often does a general manager take over with the ability to make minimal changes to his starting lineup without settling for below average play? The Mets are unlikely to challenge the Phillies or Braves legitimately next season. Some meaningful baseball late, though? That is not out of the question.
Keep in mind: this team won 79 games despite 20-year-old Ruben Tejada tallying as many plate appearances as Beltran, and despite Rod Barajas, Jeff Francoeur, Alex Cora, Jesus Feliciano, Gary Matthews Jr., Mike Jacobs, and Frank Catalanotto combining for 1,139 plate appearances (more than Bay and Wright’s sum) and a .276 on-base percentage. Additionally, the Mets had a dozen different pitchers getting a start, including Raul Valdez and Fernando Nieve, and Elmer Dessens (4.72 FIP, 5.56 xFIP) made more high leverage appearances than Hisanori Takahashi (3.65 FIP, 4.01 xFIP). Offensively, Wright had a career worst season in high leverage spots, while Beltran having his worst batting average (on balls in play as well) since 2000.
There’s talent in these here waters. Alderson just has to clear up the algae around the edges.
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