Alderson says that 'now's the time to turn the corner'
Mets GM talks progress of team, pitcher injuries, sabermetics, Collins with MLB.com
It has been a tough week for the Mets and their veteran general manager, Sandy Alderson.
On Monday, Alderson designated reliever Jose Valverde for assignment after another particularly rough outing and dismissed hitting coach Dave Hudgens.
"This was a very difficult decision to have to make," Alderson said about replacing Hudgens with roving Minor League hitting coordinator Lamar Johnson. "I've known Dave for many years, decades. I have tremendous respect for him and his expertise, his work ethic, his personal relationships with players -- just an incredibly hard worker. At the same time, we've had issues home and road, over the last several years, not just this season. Situational hitting is not where we want it to be."
After a 4-1 victory over the Phillies on Thursday, the Mets (25-28) have a .236 batting average with 208 runs scored. They're hitting .236 with runners in scoring position.
Alderson previously was a general manager and chief executive for the A's and the Padres. In the Commissioner's office, he was executive vice president of baseball operations and is currently head of the rules committee and sits on the international committee, one of his major areas of expertise.
He joined the Mets after the 2010 season and is in the last year of his contract with an option for 2015.
We sat down recently in New York and spoke about the progression of the franchise, his thoughts on the epidemic of pitching injuries throughout baseball and his support for manager Terry Collins.
MLB.com: This is your fourth season now. Where do you think this club is in its evolution since you came on board?
Alderson: I think we're much further along. We have many more young players and prospects. If you just look at the farm system, we're in much better shape than it was. We have eliminated a lot of burdensome, onerous contracts. We would've liked to have won more games over the last three years, but honestly our priority was improving our farm system, getting younger at the Major League level and more flexible payroll-wise.
MLB.com: There were financial issues you had to work around, too.
Alderson: There are issues you have to work in or around at any franchise. I don't really point to those as any justification for our record or where we are today.
MLB.com: How important was it to get David Wright on board for the long-term consistency of the organization? He signed an eight-year, $138 million deal last year.
Alderson: It was critical and I feel a responsibility to David. Not only has he bought into it through his own contract, but he's been a very important spokesman for what we do. I can't say enough about David in that regard.
MLB.com: You have had your own issues with elbow injuries to young pitchers. Matt Harvey, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Jose Fernandez are among the young pitchers around MLB who have needed Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery. Do you have any theory about what's going on?
Alderson: I think there are theories, but I'm not sure the technical, the scientific research has been done. It needs to be done and we need to foster that research through Major League Baseball. Until now, there's sort of been an unwillingness to share information. There are medical issues, but we need to get past all that. Given how numerous these injuries have been and the high-profile nature of these injuries, it will lead to more research.
MLB.com: Do you have any thoughts?
Alderson: Everybody has the same theories: It's bigger, stronger pitchers, throwing harder breaking pitches with higher velocities even on fastballs. All that accentuates the stresses on shoulders and elbows. Youth baseball. When a kid is playing in Little League and travel ball, where limitations don't really exist. They may exist from institution to institution, but in the aggregate they don't exist. Are kids pitching too much, too soon? That's another question.
MLB.com: With your strong Major League ties, do you have any influence on getting research going on that level?
Alderson: I don't think that should require any leadership from any one general manager. I think that's something the industry is going to have to recognize once the full extent of this epidemic of injuries is understood. The Fernandez injury placed an exclamation point on the entire situation.
MLB.com: Will you go to the General Managers Meetings in November and put this on the table?
Alderson: I'm sure it will be a discussion item at the General Managers Meetings. The question is if it gets addressed well before that. My guess is that it will be before then by the Major League Baseball staff.
MLB.com: How do you compensate at this point as a franchise? If the Mets had Harvey right now they might be having a completely different season.
Alderson: What it means is that one has to plan for these eventualities. You have to make assumptions about probabilities, about the attrition level. You can't go into a season with five starters. You have to have eight or nine possibilities.
MLB.com: What makes Terry Collins the perfect manager for this ballclub at this point in time?
Alderson: My standard is not the perfect manager. My standard is not the perfect anything. That's unrealistic. We all have foibles. That's human nature. So the question is, what, short of perfection, is an acceptable standard?
MLB.com: And that is?
Alderson: Terry is tremendously energetic and is on top of his relationships with players. And that entails empathy with the players, it entails private communications with the players, it entails his sensitivity when making public comments about the players. To me, that's the most important thing. From a tactical standpoint, everybody has their way to approach things. The only thing I ask here is to be aware of probabilities and so forth and then you have to make your decisions at the moment based on those things. You don't have to be a slave to it, just that there's an awareness.
MLB.com: When you say awareness, how much of the newer metrics do you involve Terry in? Talking to Yankees GM Brian Cashman about it this spring, he said he doesn't think you can be a manager in the big leagues these days unless you use them to a certain degree.
Alderson: I think that's fair. There's so much information out there that it needs to be distilled into something that is usable. There can be information overload whether it's a manager or a staff or an individual player. People have to go out and perform. That entails more of an subconscious understanding of these things than a conscious, voluntary application. Again, having an awareness of these things is important. Training and preparation are important, but ultimately people have to have the freedom to do as they see fit. As long as there is an awareness of the probabilities, that's all I care about. In the final analysis, these guys who play the game are human beings. They are not baseball cards.
MLB.com: This is a lot for an older manager, who may be set in his ways, to digest and change.
Alderson: Yeah, well, some people say that the most important thing you can learn in college is how to keep learning. It's true in baseball. It's true almost anywhere. If you can't keep up with new technology, new ways of thinking, if you're not constantly involving, you're falling behind. I think the fact that Terry is older suggests that he's been able to evolve and still has a good relationship with an entirely different generation of players.
MLB.com: Did you have a five-year plan with the Mets? What was your goal and how close are you to reaching it?
Alderson: My goal was not to win 74 games as we did last year. I don't recall specifically what I wrote down or had in mind. But we're not there since we haven't even hit .500. On the other hand, we have had other issues to deal with. This is what I told the fans over the last three years when they asked about the plan, what we are trying to do: acquire and develop talent, create payroll flexibility and win as many games as possible without compromising one and two. So have we been successful in that regard? If you phrase it that way, we've definitely made progress. But now's the time. We've acquired more talent. We have more payroll flexibility. Now's the time to turn the corner and what allows us to turn the corner is eventually our young talent. We're just about at that juncture.