Carlos Beltran shouldn’t feel so bad about Mets ownership’s attitude toward him a few years ago as he counts his Yankee dollars in the present. The unfortunate Trailways Toss of his reputation — a.k.a. throwing Beltran under the bus over knees not healed and hospitals not visited — seems to have hastened a change in organizational philosophy where he used to get paid.
Instead of badmouthing their players while still under contract, the Mets now tend to wait until they’re securely out the door.
Perhaps amid the yawning winter chasms between games and signings you’ve picked up on the tendency of “Mets people,” as they’re usually identified anonymously, to whisper sour nothings about the not-so-dearly departed to reporters and columnists. Marlon Byrd was safely ensconced in Philadelphia by the time Andy Martino of the Daily News revealed the organization’s opinion that one of their two best hitters of 2013 meddled too much in his teammates’ approach to swinging and taking. Shortly after Justin Turner was not tendered a 2014 contract, someone from within the Mets let it be know to ESPN’s Adam Rubin that the quintessential role player did not, in fact, run hard enough to maintain his spot as a modern-day Hot Rod Kanehl/Super Joe McEwing.
Should have Byrd kept his beak out of the Mets’ ongoing hitting philosophy implementation? Should have Turner hustled to first as fast as he hoofed it to the fridge in order to deliver a whipped cream pie on camera? Maybe and sure. But should have “Mets people” just kept these jabs to themselves? Why ding Byrd’s or Turner’s reputation? Just as pertinently, why become the club known for taking post-employment swipes at former associates? (Related: why weren’t the players given a chance to answer these assessments or decline comment to the respective writers?)
Since this has been bugging me a little as a fan and since I was on the same patch of Acela Club carpet the other day as Sandy Alderson, I figured I’d ask the GM if these backhanded waves goodbye to ex-Mets serve any kind of positive purpose. I don’t see how they would, but nobody this week claimed I was the best general manager in major league baseball, so maybe somebody who was indeed rated as exactly that would have more insight.
No, Alderson told me and the bloggers who joined me at the Mets holiday party on Tuesday, there’s no purpose to that sort of thing. And he indicated he’s not too happy that that sort of thing transpires. From “time to time” he expresses his disapproval internally, but as was the case nine months ago when I asked him about the impact continual leaks might have on getting things done (like trying to sign Michael Bourn, for example), he more or less said it comes with the territory. It’s New York; there’s a bounty of media. It’s hard for what amounts to office gossip to not find its way into circulation, sanctioned or otherwise.
The look on his face told me he’s definitely not in favor of it, though.
As long as I was there, I followed up with what difference it might make to a player like Ike Davis if Ike knows he’s being shopped around yet winds up still a Met in the middle of February. You’d figure that in an industry where the average annual player salary rose this year to $3.39 million, money would salve feelings just fine. But people are people…even Mets people.
According to Alderson, “healthy competition” will ensue if some player who’s been vigorously talked up as trade bait instead remains a Met when Spring Training rolls around. Still, I imagine knowing your employer is actively looking to ditch you is at the very least awkward and maybe worse for the fellow at the heart of the chatter. But I also imagine in the high-stakes world of major league baseball, it’s something these guys deal with.
“Positive resolution” would be the best possible outcome, said the GM who uses very classy phrases, not simply resolution by way of release or whatever. Besides, with the whirl of transactions and an unsuspected onslaught of injuries (because that never befalls the Mets), you never know who will be playing what for you. If Ike Davis lands at Tradition Field — if it’s still called that — instead of another camp, I hope someone will fill him in on the tale of Ray Knight, the Met the Mets tried desperately to, shall we say, positively resolve in the spring of 1986 following a dreadful 1985 but couldn’t.
Six-plus months later, Knight was accepting the World Series MVP trophy at Shea Stadium for the home team.
This season starts March 31, so any and all comings and goings are up for grabs until then when it comes to shaping an Opening Day roster. Still, with nerves wracking every minute the Mets can’t present us with a finished product, I asked Alderson if there’s kind of an internal alarm clock for someone in his position. When do you kind of, sort of need to know you’ve got the bulk of your team in order?
The general manager compared the process to the difference between a first-time marathon runner “who wants to quit after five miles” and someone who understands what it takes to persevere at the “21-, 22-mile mark”. When you’ve put together more than a few teams, he explained, you “know how to traverse late December and January.” True, the “anxiety level” ratchets up along the way, but experience helps inform the “ebbs and flows”.
So yes, Alderson is attentive to everything going on out there and continually reassesses what it means to the Mets — particularly when a division rival makes a move.
An aside that probably means next to nothing in the standings: I don’t know if Alderson is truly “the best GM in baseball,” as noted Cardinal enthusiast Will Leitch just framed him for New York magazine, but the guy certainly comes off as a mensch when you talk to him. He may not tell you what you want to hear or offer up a full pail of information brimming with signatures attached to contracts, but he always answers your question thoughtfully and respectfully. I’ve asked him probably a dozen since he came to Flushing and listened to dozens of my blolleagues come at him from multiple angles on conference calls and events like Tuesday’s, and though we’re not BBWAA members, he never scoffs or haughtily dismisses.
If Sandy Alderson’s Met tenure ends with no definitive improvement in the National League East, then that amounts to no more than a well-meaning footnote. For now, though, while he and his group are still building what we hope is a long-term winner, it’s not bad.
Only tangentially baseball-related, but you might enjoy it anyway: an article I wrote about how we never fully lose the places that are important to us even if they are no longer physically where we left them.