Conference Call with Sandy Alderson

Last night I had the incredible opportunity to participate in a conference call with other Mets bloggers and Sandy Alderson, GM of the Mets.

Michael Baron of MetsBlog did the dirty work of transcribing the call; it is below, enhanced by my own transcription skills, and along with my own comments. The bloggers’ questions are in bold italic, Sandy’s responses in normal type, and my comments in the blue boxes.

Michael Baron: How much did fan sentiment play into the decision to cut Luis Castillo and/or Oliver Perez?

Short answer for Castillo is probably, in Perez’s case, probably not. We brought both players back to see the players, get to know the players, watch them perform, see what they did to get ready in the offseason, and make a decision not just on history, but current events. At the same time, the other opportunity we had was to become more acutely aware of how much antipathy there was in New York toward these two players. So in the case of Castillo … fan sentiment came into play. Its difficult to overcome that, so you evaluate a player’s performance against that presumption in the minds of the fans, and secondly the overall effect of that negativity directed toward one player as it might manifest itself against the entire team. So in Castillo’s case I think it probably did play a certain role but in the case of Perez, the performance just wasn’t there to make it a close decision. The velocity was not there, the command was not there, the results weren’t there … so we never got to the point of considering fan sentiment.

Interesting, no? I suppose it’s good that team management listens to what their customers want. Personally, the original question I had prepared was to ask Sandy what Luis could have done / shown this spring to earn a spot on the team, but by the time my turn came around, the whole Luis Castillo had run its course.

Joe Decaro: I know your hands were tied this winter, and you had practically no wiggle room regarding payroll … As an optimistic Mets fan I see this team contending at least for the Wild Card … Will you still be financially restricted or will you be able to add big bat or big pitcher if necessary?

I think if we are in the hunt, the money will be there to add a player. … Keeping in mind by the time you’re at the trade deadline you only have a couple of months left so you’re only picking up a third or a half of of a players salary. Internal discussions say we will have the money to do that.

Call me negative, but I’m doubting it. Ownership has never been fully supportive of a deadline deal involving a big-name, big-salaried player in the past, so why would they suddenly be interested in such a pickup in the midst of a financial crisis?

Mike Silva: Following up on a comment by Paul DePodesta in a Baseball Prospectus chat where he had said that the farm system he felt, after reviewing it, hasn’t been treated fairly by the media … What’s your take on the farm system and are there one or two kids that stand out ?

I try not to assess the farm system against opinions outside of the organization. We have to make our own judgment. I do think that independent publications are a nice way to measure what we have but at the same time you have to make your own judgment. The reason the farm system doesn’t get as much credit as it should because number one, we’ve graduated people from the system as recently as last year (Thole, Parnell, Davis) — that’s a pretty good rate of emerging players in one year or so. And, we have some other players on the verge (Mejia, Gee). I think further down we have a number of players (Cesar Puello, Wilmer Flores — those players tend to get high marks from the independent publications. One guy who has looked good this spring is Matt Harvey. Overall, I think we are reasonably happy with what we have, but recognize that we need to be more aggressive and successful in developing players out of the draft to try to meet the success we’ve had internationally.

I believe the second half of the last sentence. The “graduations” he refers to are OK, but not terribly inspiring, particularly when you look down on the farm and see virtually nothing. The Mets have a number of young players who might turn out to be OK MLBers, but no potential All-Stars. In my mind they are at least 3-4 years behind, say, the KC Royals when it comes to quality youthful players — and the Royals are two years away from contending with that youth. We’re looking at a long rebuilding plan.

Caryn Rose: Transparency, and how its important. Regarding fan perception, how much transparency is TOO MUCH transparency? What’s your thought process over thinking about what you’re going to say?

Well I do believe number one that honesty is the best policy and that one needs to be as direct and candid as possible. I thought it would’ve been disingenuous to say that fan sentiment had not had anything to do with the decision. I think that that would’ve been patently obvious. With the new management team, and turning the page, it was too obvious of a consideration. But, did that dictate our decision? No. I think I was trying to be too subtle … obviously there are things that we can’t talk about at a particular moment but I do believe you try to be as straightforward as you can and I don’t think that was even close to the borderline.

Again, the fan’s perception does in fact play a role, even if it’s relatively small. BTW, with all this talk about candidness, I can’t help but conjure thoughts of Allen Funt.

Eric Simon: How do you approach Spring Training roster decisions, and the bullpen in particular, when you know the body of work will be exceedingly small and the quality of competition decidedly mixed? In other words, how important is spring training performance vs. past performance and other factors?

I think the career body of work is normally what gets a player into camp who is under consideration for the first time or who is put into a competition. I think you have to keep in mind career numbers and trends and strengths and weaknesses. At the same time, you do take into account what goes on during spring training. It’s the nature of competition and the hope is that certain people will rise to that level of competition. But you cant let spring games dictate results entirely. You tend not to focus on the results in spring training but rather other things — mechanics, individual character, is there a reason to believe that a player is not pitching to past performance, is there some reason that he is not going to hit this year versus his career? So I think you do balance those things. But you’re right to point out that what goes on in spring training doesn’t always dictate the final outcome with those roster spots. We’ve got some close competitions here … in the bullpen for example, we’re trying to balance what we can reasonably expect based on history versus what we can reasonably expect or hope based on what we’ve seen in the past month.

A good explanation from a decision-maker regarding why the guys who put up great numbers don’t necessarily make the team — and why guys who have bad spring performances may make the team anyway. We’ve discussed this here before — i.e., we look at the process more than the results — so it’s nice to see that we have been on the right track in terms of spring training evaluation.

Steve Keane: Seems there is a minority in the fan base, and a majority in the mainstream media that likes to dwell on the negative. They don’t seem to want to talk about great team offense – a lot of walks, doubles, etc.. Also, the defense has been good, but the big thing is the pitching has been great. How close is the competition in the bullpen, specifically the 7th spot?

You look at the guys who are competing for the last two or three spots. You got a young kid, a Rule 5 pick (Beato) who is untested, who has improved, we think, greatly since the beginning of camp, just mechanically, has shown a lot of command, who has shown good velocity, and we think has a lot of upside, as compared to Jason Isringhausen, who is a veteran presence and … how he might influence the rest of that bullpen, that’s an attraction for us. Then you have Boyer and Acosta, who each are very close in overall results but get there in different ways – Boyer is basically a ground-ball pitcher, Acosta has a livelier fastball, is more of a strikeout guy, maybe a little more command, but you know, occasionally gives up a 3-run homer as he did yesterday … Not only is it a close competition but interestingly each of those guys represents a very different choice beyond how they perform and that’s what we’re trying to balance right now: the desire to win, the feel-good story of someone like Jason Isringhausen, against the potential of someone like Pedro Beato and then the two guys that we brought in. And we haven’t resolved that yet. We met with the front office people and the coaches/manager today and resolved a few other things, but the bullpen is still unresolved.

I don’t really care which of Boyer or Acosta makes the Opening Day roster, because whichever one of them is in Buffalo come April, will likely be in Flushing by mid-May for one reason or another. Izzy seems to have a good shot based on the feel-good story and the fact he’ll retire if he doesn’t make the team. Beato also seems to be a shoo-in at this point, which to me is a good plan — the Mets need all the young arms they can stockpile.

Kerel Cooper: Question about second base – Obviously Castillo is no longer here, Turner was sent down, and it looks like Emaus has the inside track. Are you surprised it has taken all spring to figure out the second base situation, or did you figure it would be a long, drawn out process and the decision would come at the end?

We didn’t expect it would come at the end of camp, although given the number of candidates that we had coming in, it was reasonable to expect that it probably would take a while. Whether or not somebody distinguished themselves, separated themselves, from the rest of the competitors, I think it still would’ve gone later into spring training before we named someone. It gets back to balancing Spring Training performance vs. past history. Take Emaus – there is a history there, it’s a minor league history, except for spring training in 2009, 2010 where he hit very well with Blue Jays organization. In his case, it was a matter of him showing he could do things in Spring Training that his prior experience indicated he could do. In the case of Murphy, it was watching and seeing how his defense developed. Castillo is you know, Castillo. Justin Turner was probably going to have to lap the field in order to get the job just because he had options remaining and we had much more latitude and flexibility with him than others. Keeping in mind that although our roster Opening Day is important, it’s 162 games, it’s 6 months and we need to have as much insurance as we possibly can so for those who have options they know that they probably have a disadvantage or those who are on minor-league deals are probably at a disadvantage. But I’m not surprised it has taken so long. I’m happy that over the last few days Emaus has shown offensively what he can do. He turns the double play very well, we’ve seen that. He may not have the range of some prototypical second basemen, but he will make the routine plays, and we think he will fit pretty well for us. But, we’ve kind of waited for that, to be able to see that. So I think what happens with history, you kind of wait to observe what you think you’re expect to see and when it finally comes, there is a resolution, but sometimes it can take a while.

Sandy could have answered this much more briefly: J.P. Ricciardi likes Brad Emaus, so he was chosen the Rule 5, and as long as he doesn’t grossly embarrass himself, he is the guy.

Shannon from Mets Police: As you head forward and build a roster … as a GM in general, what non-baseball factors into building a roster? Do you factor in t-shirt sales, ticket sales, TV network, or how a player might fit into team history or legacy?

I think “yes” to all of those factors. They may not have significant weight, but they come into play. A couple of examples … Jason Isringhuasen is a good story … and oddly enough, Chin-lung Hu, who has developed a following because of his last name … he’s developed a bit of a following and has become part of the entertainment value, if you will, that the team represents. Now that’s not going to determine whether or not they make the team, but it’s a factor I guess, of some small magnitude. In the case of Izzy, it’s a nice story, if it can work out, it’s great, and I think it has some slight weight. But I try to make the best baseball decision and it’s very seldom that all the things are equal and something of that nature — of a non-baseball nature — makes a difference but it does happen.

Hu? Huh.

Ed Marcus: Regarding Emaus, how much does his Rule 5 status factor in?

It has a lot to do with it. If he were not a Rule 5 draftee, he wouldn’t have presented the immediacy that he does. If he’s not the starting second baseman, I’m not sure he helps us in a bench role … At least at the outset, you’re going to give him every opportunity. I would say there is a very good possibility that we will keep both our Rule 5 picks (Emaus and Beato). So Rule 5 status comes into play, very much.

For a team in rebuilding mode, making use of the Rule 5 makes a ton of sense. I still don’t understand why the Mets threw away the Rule 5 draft in previous years, even when they thought they were contending — specifically, in terms of extra arms (i.e., Carlos Monasterios, Steven Register).

Michael Donato: In the last couple of years there’s been a feeling the GM hasn’t been as aggressive in making changes … How quick will you be in making changes at positions that are failing?

First of all, I think you can be overaggressive. There is a real balance that has to be maintained. You have to have enough patience to give players an opportunity so they don’t feel that every game they play may be their last. The other thing is, you don’t have that many bullets to fire. For example, in our bullpen, we appear to have some depth … he problem is, when you look at all the roster considerations … all that depth disappears immediately. And so it’s conceivable, in our bullpen,. the only real depth at AAA after we make our choices is someone like Igarashi. It’s just the nature of deals which are made in the off-season. Same is true at second base … We do have quite a bit of protection there (Hu, Justin Turner, Ruben Tejada). You do want to give people an opportunity to demonstrate they can play, and have to be careful about pulling the trigger too quickly, and not giving somebody a chance to perform in a way that doesn’t feel that they’re constantly under the gun.

I wonder if Michael’s question was more toward acquiring players from outside the organization? Regardless, I do think you have to give a player a fair shot, once you commit to putting him at a position. How many games a “fair shot” encompasses, though, is up for discussion.

Greg Prince: You emphasized in the fall about not being able to make any judgments in overall direction because you were new to the organization. After a few months, has the outsiderness worn off? Does it feel like Sandy Alderson’s team to you, or is there still some getting used to the “Metness” to your life?

There is still a little bit of getting used to, but by and large, that’s behind us. Now in Spring Training, the focus is on baseball. We are down here everyday with our major league and minor league staff. While I haven’t had as much exposure to our minor leagues as I will over the course of the season, we have had meetings, talks. We have had a lot of cross-fertilization, and I think we are getting there. I am pleased with the way things have come together. I thought they came together well in the off-season, and that’s been reinforced here. That sense of newness and lack of history has largely been overcome.

This was not a videoconference so I have no idea whether Sandy was wearing an orange and blue tie with a Mr. Met clip.

Matt Artus: Regarding Jason Bay‘s offense – there has been a decline in power. This spring he is not exactly tearing the cover off the ball … Are you concerned about him rediscovering his power stroke or whether you think he is still a work in progress in that department?

In terms of his power, I’d say it’s still a work in progress. In the off-season, he worked with an old hitting coach of his from Pittsburgh, and came into spring training with a new setup at the plate. He recently canned that and went back to his old approach. In the meantime though while you’re right that there hasn’t been any power numbers this spring for him, he’s doing a couple things: one, he’s hitting quite well, mostly singles as you indicated, but also his on base percentage is very high. From my standpoint, first priority is the OBP, second priority is the power. I’m certainly hopefully it will come back, and most of us expect he will adjust to Citi Field. My biggest concern is making sure it makes whatever contribution he can hitting-wise and particularly on-base and when the power comes, it will come. I am particularly pleased with his approach at the plate, I think he’s progressed quite well.

If you’ve been following this blog over the past few weeks you know we’ve referred to Bay as The Man of A Thousand Stances. Now we understand why. Personally, I think Sandy is more concerned than he claims. I know I’d be worried, as a GM, that Jason Bay is getting paid $16M to be a singles hitter.

John Delcos: Regarding Jose Reyes, what do you have to see from him to warrant giving him an extension? Do you have to see that prior to the All-Star Break? And to what degree does the ownership issue have in giving him a long-term deal?

That’s a compound question. First off, what do I have to see? – he’s obviously a very dynamic player. Its hard not to notice that. I think he is working on a couple of things that have been discussed publicly. Speed is his game, but for it to work, he’s got to be on base, and he’s acknowledged that. If Jose Reyes had a .400 OBP, I don’t know if anyone would be debating this, given what else he does. But I think that’s something he’ll be working on over the course of the season, we’ll see how that goes. I know he wants to make a big impact on the Mets this year for a variety of reasons and I do think he’s a team player and feels strongly about the Mets and that is one of his primary motivations. As far as mid-season is concerned, I think part of it depends on how he performs over the first half, and part of it is how we as a team is performing at the deadline. If he performs well, and the decision is to try and sign him, I don’t think it matters how the team performs. If the team is performing well, even if the decision is to not sign him, I doubt that he would go anywhere.

As far as the financials are concerned, the financials have not had an impact yet, on anything we’ve done, except for fact that we had this payroll pretty fully committed before I came on board. But in the terms of Madoff or anything else — none of that has really impacted any of the decisions we’ve made. Will it in the future? Who knows. Given all the money we have coming off the books, even the kind of money we anticipate Jose Reyes trying to get, we should have room to accommodate that, even if there is a somewhat reduced payroll. Which I’m not saying there will be, but if there were, there will be room to sign Jose Reyes. There may not be room to sign anyone else, but I don’t think it will preclude us from signing Jose.

This was THE question of the night, and to me it sounded like Sandy wasn’t 100% prepared for it. As a seasoned beat writer, Delcos isn’t one to throw softballs, and I wonder if Alderson was unaware of John’s background. In any case, the answer, in my opinion, is telling on a number of levels. First, Sandy is saying that OBP is tantamount to Reyes’ value, and in fact he referred to that stat several times during the call. Hmm … then why did he bring Willie Harris, Scott Hairston, and Ronny Paulino into camp — three players with traditionally abysmal OBPs? Shouldn’t OPS be a more significant factor than OBP? Toward the same end, doesn’t Reyes’ ability to play an ultra-premium position where big offensive numbers are a rarity have value?

Also, Sandy suggests that if the Mets are NOT in the race come the trading deadline, Reyes will be on the trading block. Why would the team’s success or failure this season have an impact on whether they sign Reyes to an extension — one that likely would be 3 or 4 years at minimum? This season is a washout as it is, so aren’t we looking toward 2012 and beyond?

Finally, as much as Alderson talks about being “straight” and “honest”, I’m not buying the idea that the Wilpons’ financial crisis has had no impact on personnel moves. Like the Castillo situation, it is “patently obvious” that the owners’ cash shortage has impacted the ability to assemble a team with realistic postseason hopes.

Joe Janish: Regarding Carlos Beltran‘s health, it seems as though there may be someone else in right field on Opening Day. You talked before about the small factor of fan appreciation, and fans appreciate
Nick Evans. Does he have a chance to make the team, and who else might fall into the mix for playing right field if Beltran can’t start the season?

Nick Evans is certianly in the mix, whether or not Beltran can go at the start of season, Nick is still in the mix to make the team. I think he is one of two or three people for one of the last two spots. If Carlos is not able to start the season, I think there are a number of candidates, and my guess is there’d be some kind of platoon situation, among Scott Hairston and Willie Harris, and maybe Nick Evans — even though Lucas Duda could be in that mix. At this point, we haven’t given up on the notion about Beltran being ready. We will see over the next two or three days if he’s able to maintain a very tight schedule to get ready. But I think realistically, it would be a platoon out there if Beltran isn’t ready to start the season.

Nice to hear that Nick is still in the mix and has a shot at the club. However it would seem difficult to tell Willie “Babe Ruth” Harris that he didn’t do enough to earn a job this spring — even if we all know Harris will revert to his old .679 OPS self once the games have meaning. Also interesting to hear that management is still optimistic about Beltran’s chances to make the Opening Day roster, considering he’s been able to manage only three at-bats and no innings in the field thus far, and there is one week left of camp. Hope springs eternal.

That’s a lot of reading … what are your thoughts and reactions to the questions and answers from this conference call? Post in the comments.

2011 Spring Training

About the Author

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.

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