By Jason Keidel
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Sandy Alderson, the soporific sophomore GM of the Mets, chatted with Mike Francesa this week, to put a postmortem on Jose Reyes's career in the Big Apple and to sell New York on entertainment value of his 70-win team in 2012.
True to form, Alderson talked to Mike with all the mojo of a mortician.
Mike and Mets fans rightfully wonder what happened with Reyes, arguably the best homegrown Met since Darryl Strawberry. Before MLB execs had a chance to charge pay-per-view movies to their Dallas suites, Reyes went from Met to Marlin without a word from the Wilpons.
Alderson used every vowel in his Harvard Law degree during his verbal tap-dance around Francesa's questions. From the jump he spoke in a corporate cadence, hurling platitudes about new attitudes and how entertaining his Metropolitans will be, despite all the evidence that the Mets will, well, suck.
So Francesa asked the obvious question: What happened with Jose, Sandy?
"The things we talked about conceptually were no longer a possibility," Alderson said. Seriously. "This was not something where we just sat and were prepared to be reactive," he continued.
Then the Mets just sat and were reactive. "We had thought about this weeks earlier, what we might do, where we might go. And then felt that we were gonna have to sit and wait for the market to tell us if there was a window of opportunity to present something."
Can someone translate?
"I sensed in the middle of last week there was such an opportunity," Sandy concluded. "We moved on it. It turned out to be temporary, and then the market kinda accelerated away from us."
It reminds me of the classic comedy, "Airplane," where an old woman springs up and screams, "I speak Jive!" then she commenced to translate and mediate a debate between people who spoke in ways none of us could understand.
Now we need someone who speaks executive Jive. Despite the Marlins' bizarre bump in payroll, Reyes was there for the Mets to take, and they passed. You mean to tell us the Mets have less money, and that New York is less palatable to Jose Reyes, than Miami?
Yes, the Mets made a perfunctory pursuit of Reyes, with a cheap, incentive-lathered contract offer. But who offers incentives to a homegrown All-Star, in his prime, fresh off hitting nearly .340? Perhaps it's apropos that Reyes won said title on a bunt, then plucked himself from the game, making Ted Williams writhe in his grave.
Before you pound your apologetic responses under this column, I understand that Alderson inherited woefully run baseball club, and that his job is as much about cutting fat as gaining muscle. His pockets are only as deep as his owner's.
This is not a gotcha game, or an oratory pop quiz. Alderson is an incredibly bright man. So something or someone is making him look silly. Judging by your reaction, it seems you've affixed the bull's-eye to Fred Wilpon's back. Wilpon is a convenient target, and perhaps the proper one. Between years of poor play and Bernie Madoff, the Wilpons have become the poster boys for questionable management, particularly now that the Frank McCourt reality show, the most public and pungent divorce in American history, no longer lingers over the Dodgers.
But lost in the gaseous explanations and excuses is the fact that the Mets charge major-league prices for a minor-league product. Frankly I don't see how the Mets draw your dollars this season. About 2.4 million fans filed into Citi Field in 2011, a dreadful number for a team in a town that loves baseball above all. (The Yanks, by contrast, were in a virtual tie with the Phillies for first in MLB, totaling just below 3.7 million.)
Alderson's answer? We'll jettison the few players you paid to see (Reyes, Beltran, K-Rod, etc.) under the guise of getting younger and cheaper while gaining character. Sure, Beltran and K-Rod were aging, fading stars who would have been dumped soon, anyway. And K-Rod couldn't ever recover from his fisticuffs in the Family Room, going Sonny Liston on his father-in-law.
But not Reyes. New York loved him and, by all accounts, the love was mutual. But it seems that abstract mantras like "sustainable business models" precluded a team with a gorgeous new ballpark and a cash-cow television network (SNY) that doubles as an ATM machine, from paying its best and most beloved player.
Francesa: "How do you promise your fans a better day?"
Alderson: "I believe, to some degree we succeeded in doing this last year." Really? "We have to convince the fans that we have direction, a strategy…a vision of sustainable excellence. Are we contributing to a positive perception or contributing to a negative perception?"
Perhaps you, like the rest of us, were waiting for the part when he talks about winning instead of all this semantic subterfuge.
And wasn't the price tag the big reason Reyes couldn't be retained? During the summer, we heard lofty numbers: $160 million minimum. As a guy with electric but brittle legs, who too often darts out of the batter's box, dashes down the line, then limps across first base, you understand why the Mets would refrain from making it rain on Reyes.
But the fact that the Mets couldn't match $111 million means their interest in keeping the dynamic shortstop was tepid, at best. Again, that would be fine if they had Hanley Ramirez to replace him. Instead, you're stuck with Ruben Tejada.
Alderson went on and on – and on – about sustainable business models, and how one can slash payroll and keep the team competitive and entertaining. But he never said anything about the playoffs. You don't need him to go Rex Ryan on us and guarantee Super Bowls, but you'd like someone important (and Alderson is very important) to reflect your frustration. This is New York City, after all, and the owner across the East River from 1973 until 2010 lit a forest fire under his team when they didn't win, and George Steinbrenner, for all his warts, did everything he could to win, even if his lust led him afoul of the law.
"Why didn't the Mets trade Reyes if they had no intention to sign him after the season?" you ask. It's a fair question and I don't have the answer. I do know the Mets had to know that any offer south of $100 million guaranteed wouldn't be seen as serious. So, yes, the
Mets should have traded Reyes.
Francesa: "Can the Mets fan expect a little Christmas cheer?" Mike said, alluding to possible procurements during the winter meetings.
Alderson: "Oh, I think well have some new editions. But they may be incremental…they may not provide any of the sizzle you described..."
That's right, Sandy. We've been waiting decades for that incremental player. I can see the marquee now: "Hey, Mets fans! Come watch Johan Santana, David Wright, and your incremental Mets play the Padres. Tickets available now. Boy, are they ever available."
Again, Alderson is intelligent, tough, talented, and far more accomplished than I'll ever be, which makes his answers so maddening.
Unlike the most sordid sport of all, politics, you have no say in this. You can't pick your owner, manager, or general manager. You don't draft, develop, or trade players. At least you can express your displeasure at the ballot box when your congressman (or woman), state or U.S senator – heck, even your president – doesn't perform to your satisfaction. With the Mets, you must just take it. And like it.
"You can't bleed, bleed, bleed, and not, at some point, have a reckoning," Alderson said.
Feel free to email me: Keidel.email@example.com
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