Matthew Cerrone, Lead Writer
According to Sandy Alderson, he never predicted the team will win 90 games in 2014, he simply challenged his staff to find ways to build a team that can get to 90 wins… eventually. It was a goal, he said.
If that’s accurate, why is this a new goal? What have he and his staff been doing the last few years?
The answer, as I understand it, is simple: First and foremost, they’ve been setting up future payroll flexibility (by cutting payroll — see: Jose Reyes, Johan Santana, Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay, lack of new, expensive, long-term signings, etc.), while stockpiling young, controllable, power pitching. That’s it. The rest has been a means to an end, a way to assess in-house talent, bleed a little, minimally entertain fans, and get to a point (2014) when things can begin to turn a corner.
He achieved his first goal, which was to restructure payroll and rebuild a farm system. That cannot be questioned. It seems he’s challenging his staff with a new goal, and to create a follow-up plan, which is about winning 90 games.
If you think this sounds like ‘moving the goal posts,’ it may mean you never understood the first goal. I think some people thought the goal was to spend wildly after 2013 and immediately and magically end up back in the playoffs at the end of this season. This was never going to happen with Alderson at the helm, despite pressure from fans and some in ownership.
The power bat (especially right-handed) is decreasing in supply. Instead, young, controllable, power pitching is the key to sustained success in baseball these days. If you have it, you’re going to win. If you don’t, you’ll struggle in the standings regardless of what you spend on payroll. The Mets think they have the pitching, as do scouts and outside experts. The problem for us as fans, and for Alderson as a GM, is that most of it is not on the roster yet. Worse, the best of the bunch, Matt Harvey, will end up missing a full season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
This current crop of highly-regarded, young pitchers, plus having (and being able to replace) around $20-30 million in payroll every winter, is what the last few years have been about. The goal has always been to have these pitchers direct the future of the franchise, while increasing payroll as the pitching begins to have a real impact in the win column, which will hopefully have a real impact on attendance, which will further help increase payroll, and so on and so on…
The way I see it, talk of 90 wins, goal posts, 2014 being a pivot year, etc., is all just talk. I try to only believe what I see. And I see young pitching in the minors, fine tuning themselves, while a below-average big-league roster tries to keep the team floating until promotions start happening this summer. And I’m OK with this… for now…
The bottom line is this: I expect the Mets to win when their young arms are here and established, but I know it’s going to be a struggle while I wait. I also expect those pitchers to be supported by management with better bats and better defense. These days, I understand the mixing-and-matching around the current bullpen and rotation. I’d like to see Alderson sign Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales, but I also know they will not matter much. Drew and Morales will not hurt the overall big-picture goal, but they’re also not going to make the Mets a playoff team. These guys are better than what they have, maybe, but they’re not difference makers.
Noah Syndergaard will be a difference maker. Rafael Montero may be a difference maker. Logan Verrett, Jake Leathersich, Jacob deGrom and others in the bullpen, could be difference makers. Trading two of these guys, a catching prospect and another big-league pitcher for an impact bat could be a difference maker. These are the moves I’m really waiting for, and — because of talent levels, service time and Super 2 cut-off dates — they just can’t happen right now. I believe they will, though. I hope they will. It’s this support, these moves, that will define Alderson’s legacy as GM of the Mets, not how he tried to entertain us while he got there.