Recap: Sandy Alderson’s Q&A with Mets bloggers

Michael Baron , Contributor

Image (1) Sandy-Alderson-polaroid.jpg for post 140383Earlier tonight, Sandy Alderson spent roughly one hour on a conference call with a group of Mets bloggers.

I actually enjoyed this call very much and found it to be very educational, in particular from the technical answers he gave about the game itself. It was fascinating to listen to Alderson talk about the metrics they use to evaluate players, and discuss details of the offensive philosophies they are preaching up and down the organization.

I also thought Alderson did a great job with his responses to everyone’s questions. He was very detailed, candid and open, even on the issues surrounding the outfield and his inability to make significant additions to the roster this winter.

As a fan, I appreciate that honesty, even though I am not pleased with the end result of his outfield compilation.

Here is a transcript of his talk, during which he discusses the state of the farm system, current outfield, the importance of on-base percentage, how he measures Terry Collins’ performance, home plate collisions, his favorite television show right now, and more:

Chris McShane, Amazin’ Avenue: How tempted might you be to trade some of the depth for a promising minor league hitter, or an outfielder, if things are going well in the middle of the season?

Sandy Alderson: The nice thing is we haven’t been put to that test yet. This offseason was all about the R.A. Dickey trade. We did try to get involved with Justin Upton and some other outfield trade possibilities. Those didn’t came to fruition in part because we weren’t prepared to trade any of our frontline prospects. What’s interesting is, below that group, we have a number of outstanding pitching prospects, but they’re a little under the radar now. What we need to be doing, of the list, is how we rank them, and who might be available. Many of them are at the stage now where you’re going to have to do a certain amount of projection. And, you’re not always right about your projections. Sometimes you under project, over-project. The nice thing is we haven’t been tempted yet. But, that time is coming. A number of these guys who were at Brooklyn, Savannah, or St. Lucie will begin to emerge on a more national scale. The temptation to move some of these players to shore up some weaknesses elsewhere will be forthcoming, and we need to be ready for that.

Michael Donato, Optimistic Mets Fan: Is there more of a temptation to trade some young talent if the plan isn’t working or stagnating?

Sandy Alderson: What I have said once or twice this off-season is that we are not that far away. I hate to deal in speculation, but let’s just say we had signed Michael Bourn, trade for Justin Upton, and kept both Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey. We would be having a completely different conversation. Those things didn’t happen, but they could have, and we were close enough to where they could have happened. If you could have plugged those two in, we’d be having a very different conversation, and people would be looking at the Mets differently. So, I don’t think we’re that far away. Are we a couple of moves away? Maybe. But I don’t want you to think this is an exercise in an elongated process where everything has to be methodical, everything has to work out perfectly, and we’re not going to do things unless we look smarter than the other guy. No. But right now, we have to be careful before we pull that trigger.

We have the currency. The financial situation is very different today than it was two years ago. For a lot of reasons, including contracts coming off the books, we’re in a different situation development wise; we have players to trade, if we desire. There are things we can do. I understand people look at the outfield. Things just didn’t work out there, and I certainly take responsibility for that. Could we have jumped earlier who was a marginal improvement over what we have? Yes, we probably could have. But marginal, as opposed to something significant.

Mike Silva: Knowing that this could be a rebuilding year, what do you need to see from Terry Collins to extend his contract?

Sandy Alderson: There two things upon which a manager is evaluated. One is wins and losses, and the other is the improvements of the players on the team. Regardless whether it’s a veteran-dominated team or a younger team, players have to improve, More importantly, they have to be motivated, and that’s partly where the manager comes in. I think Terry will be evaluated on both of those basis, with the understanding that wins and losses are not an absolute. To some extent, they are relevant to the talent we have.

Justin Upton 1 polaroidIan Fowler: How do you explain not using the money you said ownership made available to you to improve the outfield?

Sandy Alderson: The simple response is in any case where we sign players, we want to have some reasonable relationship between cost and value. If that doesn’t exist, hopefully we won’t pursue that transaction. Now, I understand not every deal is going to be a great deal from an efficiency standpoint, or from a price to value standpoint. At some point we’re going to have to “overpay.” The question is by how much, and how it relates to the present state of our baseball affairs. Sometimes, it makes sense to overpay, sometimes it doesn’t make sense to overpay. That decision also has to be made from player-to-player. That’s true not just in terms of payroll cost, but also in terms of talent cost. To acquire Justin Upton, should we have traded Zack Wheeler or Matt Harvey? Some people say we should have, but we weren’t going to do that. That was the value proposition there. It comes up in every transaction.

At some point, you do get into situations where overpaying is the appropriate thing to do because it may be the last piece, or a weakness. But I don’t think that where we are and what we are trying to do in 2013 and 2014, it made sense to overpay a Jonny Gomes. Inevitably, there are things that happen that just don’t work out.

I happen to think fans like continuity, but they don’t like continuity to the point of boredom. What they’re really looking for is continuity over a core of players. That core may be three, five or ten players. But like the rest of our lives, change is inevitable. In some cases it’s embraced, and people like to see that in their teams as well. So I think what they want is continuity, but they also want change. That’s why they like free agents and things of that sort. We are mindful of that, so I think there’s a point at which overpaying becomes a reality. If you’re going to play with the big boys, you’ve got to step up like the big boys. But that’s not true in every case, and not true at every stage of a team’s development.

Scott Mandell: How do you handle conveying the message of patience to ownership and the public, all while dealing with the expectations in the New York market?

Sandy Alderson: It has to be balanced in any market. But you are right to point pout that in the New York market, it is particularly difficult by coming down on the side of the long term rather than the short term. The only way to deal with it is to come up with a plan, with an approach that makes sense in your particular set of circumstances. If you go back two years or a year and a half, while people might not have been happy with the direction we decided to take, I think they were able to understand why we were doing it. That was probably if not the best option, it was one of the only viable options. Waiting for the contracts to expire, waiting for some other issues to get cleared up, improving the farm system, and being somewhat disciplined about what we were doing day-to-day and season-to-season. Once we come up with that approach, we measure everything we do against it. That doesn’t mean we are constrained by it, but we think in terms of that strategy and everything we do and how it fits with that strategy. And, if it doesn’t fit, we at least recognize that it doesn’t, and as a result, it may have to be explained. So, in some ways, it’s really good, because it keeps us focused on what we’re doing.

Zack Wheeler 1 polaroidScott Mandell: Does it make you feel a need to force feed your kids just to see what you’ve got and show your fans what you’ve got?

Sandy Alderson: It doesn’t do you any good to force feed a player or two who ultimately fail. While that’s the temptation, it doesn’t do us any good to pitch Zack Wheeler on the first day we televise from Spring Training if he’s not any good that day. There’s risk in anything you do. Whether you force feed, or wait. People are probably going to judge on the basis of the results, and not the process.

With Matt Harvey last year, we kept him down until July. There was no reason to do that because we were going to save an option, delay his free agency, the arbitration issue by that point wasn’t relevant. It was about whether he was ready, and whether he should pitch first at Citi Field or someplace on the road; all of those things came into play. Ultimately, he’s going to have to pitch, and it’s going to be out there, and first impressions are important. So, you have to keep in mind it’s about how the player does. It’s not about when he does it.

While the temptation might be to throw somebody out there a month or two early, it doesn’t do us any good if that player doesn’t ultimately perform and has to be sent down. That’s the worst of all possibilities. Given our longer -erm perspective, it’s a little easier to wait.

Steve Keane, Kranepool Society: Are the new players, such as Collin Cowgill, Andrew Brown, and Jamie Hoffman, the prototypical players you’ve been looking to add to the Mets?

Sandy Alderson: To the extent these players are aggressive, command the strike zone, have some power, and run the bases a little bit, yes, I’d say these are the kinds of players we would like to have. Offense plays: you can be a great defender, but if you can’t hit, you probably can’t play anywhere. I’m not just talking about the Mets exclusively. Also, it’s possible there are players who don’t get an opportunity in certain organizations because they could be deeper at some positions over others. So, the minor league free agent market or the fringe 25-man roster guy playing with a club with a strong roster, given the opportunity, could turn into something valuable. Mike Baxter is another example of this from previous years. Not that Mike has great power, but he’s a very valuable piece and part of the team. There’s now uestion we value on-base percentage, walk rates, isolated power is important. But, as we’ve emphasized with a  number of guys in camp, on-base percentage, command of the strike zone is important.

It’s important on offense, but it’s also important on the pitching side. If you don’t walk anybody and keep the ball in the ballpark, you can win games.

These are the kinds of players we are looking for who can make a contribution at the Major League level, and we’re going to find out this Spring what we have. We should have most of them going into the season, so we’ll have a chance to look at them again. But you have to look for players wherever you can find them, particularly when you’re weak at that area in your system.

Ed Marcus, Real Dirty Mets Blog: What have you seen so far in the outfield competition, and is it still a weakness?

Sandy Alderson: The outfield is definitely a question mark, collectively. I think we’ve like what we’ve seen from Cowgill, but I don’t think Brown or Hoffman have had much of an opportunity to play at this point. Nieuwenhuis and den Dekker have some work to do offensively. Marlon Byrd is what he is. Mike Baxter is certainly in that mix, and I expect him to be on the team.

The classic outfield offensive player, we don’t have. We think Lucas Duda will be fine, offensively. But his defense is a question mark, so the balance is difficult to maintain. He’ll have to really produce offensively. Center and right, we will have to see. I wouldn’t eliminate Jordany Valdespin as a candidate either. That’s how open things are.

John Delcos, New York Mets Report: Is the strikeout rate of the team acceptable, and what is an acceptable strikeout-to-walk ratio?

Sandy Alderson: The strikeout-to-walk ratio is overrated. If someone has a 1:1 ratio, and they walk ten times a year, they aren’t very useful offensive players. If the have a 1:1 ratio but walks 100 times and strikes out 100 times, that player will be highly valuable, generally speaking. We have to be careful about strikeout rates. I had a conversation with a player recently in camp, and the conventional wisdom is he strikes out a lot and has to cut down on the strikeouts. The reason I brought the player in was that I wanted to make sure he understood it wasn’t about the strikeouts; it was about the on-base percentage. This is a player with power, a high strikeout rate, and  a too low on-base percentage. The idea of commanding the strike zone is more about improving the on-base percentage than cutting down the strikeouts. We teach a two-strike approach, so that is something we take into account. But if you get on-base, and you do work the count, you’re going to put yourself in jeopardy and you may increase the strikeout rate. So, what is an acceptable strikeout rate? From my standpoint, it’s really a function of everything else the player does. If the player gets 100 walks a year, hits 40 home runs, drives in 120 and scores 120, I don’t care how many times he strikes out.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis 2 polaroidJoe Decaro, MetsMerized Online: Are there some positives about Kirk Nieuwenhuis and his ability to hit leadoff, or are there not any better candidates for the job?

Sandy Alderson: I think Kirk will be the first to admit he has some things to work on this Spring. In his case, cutting down on strikeouts, improving on-base percentage; these are all goals, but not solutions. Kirk and a few others are working on a  variety of things that will contribute to a lower strikeout rate, a higher on-base percentage, and more power. That comes from better command of the strike zone, and better command of the strike zone comes from better pitch recognition, and a better understanding of strengths and weaknesses. In trying to get Kirk to improve in these areas, it’s a matter of looking at those areas and having a plan for what he’s going to try and do for those pitches.

I think there are a number of candidates for the leadoff spot, but we will see how that competition goes. Nieuwnehuis needs to improve, den Dekker needs to improve. We have Cowgill, who is a right-handed hitter. Where do Baxter and Valdespin fit in? Again, it’s not a perfect scenario, but under current circumstances, these players aren’t ideal candidates, keeping the basic leadoff characteristics in mind.

Joe Decaro, MetsMerized Online: Are you looking to fill the void in-house, or are you shopping for a solution?

Sandy Alderson: I wouldn’t focus exclusively on the leadoff position. If you go back to the leadoff position, our run production was pretty good. Now we had Jose all that season, so the leadoff spot was well filled. Last year, we didn’t score as many runs. It wasn’t simply a result of doing less well in the leadoff position. Tejada’s walk rate did drop significantly from the year before and from first half tot he second half. But one of the reasons we went after Bourn was because we didn’t see a lot of good solutions in-house. We didn’t view Bourn as the perfect free agent for us, but he does a lot of positive things. Defense, leading off, speed, etc. There’s a gut who strikes out a lot, by the way. So, we recognize they’re hard to find, and when they come up we have to take a hard look at it.

I just think, realistically, you’re not going to find the perfect leadoff man in a Spring Training trade. it’s probably not going to happen. You’re just going to have to take a shot with somebody, and hope they grow into it. Or, recognize the limitations of the people you have and emphasize the importance of doing certain things. So for example, with Ruben, it’s about getting on-base. He’s not going to steal bases, but if we can get him back to a .360 OBP, we will take it.

Travis d'Arnaud 3 polaroidMatthew Artus: Can you clarify on the organization’s position on the decision to have Travis d’Arnaud not block the plate?

Sandy Alderson: This particular issue has gotten some coverage in recent days. Mike Matheny of St. Louis suggested there be a rule change about collisions at home plate. I think you have to be sensible about this, and catchers themselves have to be sensible. At this point, the rule is what it is. It’s something we’ve only begun to address publicly, because we’ve been asked over the last couple of days. There’s some justification for this sentiment, in a general sense. There’s a concern all sports have with concussions, putting aside how valuable a catcher can be and whether he will be lost for the season. Just general physiological well being is something that has to be taken into account. As far as d’Arnaud is concerned, we have to take into account his injury history, and his value for us going forward for the future. We really need to think about it in terms of all of our catching prospects. But d’Arnaud brings it up in particular focus because of his prospect status and his injury history. It’s something we have to take a look at.

Now, do we want d’Arnaud to block the plate in a Spring Training game and be taken out for Spring Training and maybe two months of the season? Absolutely not. He had an injury to his knee last year, and that is the leg you would normally block the plate with. So there are some specific issues we have to take into account. As a temporary measure, Terry has said ‘look, get out of the way.’ Whether that will be permanent with him or all of our catchers, and the swipe tag becomes standard for catchers in the big leagues, I don’t know. But I think it’s a legitimate issue we have to address globally and not just in the case of Travis d’Arnaud. We have an obligation to treat everyone the same way.

Michael Baron: I have a question about your tenure here with the Mets. You’ve been here now two plus years, this is your third camp. There’s obviously been a massive undertaking in getting this organization going in the right direction. What are some of the things, looking back over that time that you would like to have back and do over again?

Sandy Alderson: Part of what we’re trying to accomplish here is a culture shift, if you will, so that the organization as an institution has a direction, and philosophy, and an operating plan over the next several years. The only way to really implement anything like that is through education or re-education of personnel on the baseball side of the organization, so it’s involved bringing some other people in, but also it’s been a matter of getting buy-in from those who were here. So I think we’ve made some progress in that regard. Obviously, only the passage of time eliminates the overhang of certain contracts. In the meantime, we’ve made progress on the player development side, both in terms of how we approach things and the actual personnel we are developing. I think we’ve made some nice acquisitions of young talent that have not just given us depth, but have also given us top shelf talent. Obviously one would like to accomplish positive results as soon as possible and it’s been nice that we’ve played well for roughly half a season in each of the past two years, but, of course, not very well the second half. You can always argue you might do this, you might do that- that there are some things we haven’t done well. The bullpen has not been very good … (feedback) … It’s easy to look back at the acquisitions we’ve made and say “Well, I won’t do that again,” or shouldn’t have done that. Collectively the bullpen was not very good last year, but I think they’ll have a better shot at it as more of our pitchers are able to pitch in the pen as they give us more flexibility. We’re seeing it now in spring training, hopefully we’ll see it through the course of the season as well. Otherwise, you certainly have to learn from past mistakes and each individual event that occurs so that we can inform what we do in the future. Other than that, I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about what I can’t change in the past. But obviously there are some things that have gone poorly and we’ll try to not make those mistakes again.

Greg Prince: Hi Sandy, thanks for joining us tonight, I was wondering…  need to be open and honest with the media and sort-of feed the media beast with maybe the need to exercise discretion, I’m thinking mainly of the Bourn negotiations which seemed to take on a life of their own as they were being reported, even though they weren’t really coming to fruition- at least as far as the Mets signing him. How do you manage that?

Sandy Alderson: That’s a good question. I think one of the things you have to do is first you have to realize that it’s next to impossible to keep the transaction of that type confidential. It’s just not going to be possible with the number of people involved from our side and the number of people involved on the agent’s side. But there are other teams that are involved. There can be communications with Major League Baseball. There’s just so many different entities that you just have to assume that these things are going to eventually become known and become public. Often that’s the value of trying to do something quickly. Because in the case of Bourn, as you point out, it was useful to use in hearing what people had to say and various points of view, but ultimately because of the debate I think the issue with respect to the draft pick- while it got fully vetted- also had an impact on Major League Baseball and their viewpoint. So it’s a tough thing. It’s also difficult to move something simply because it may become public. Some of these things just have a gestation period that can’t be avoided. So for example, in a player transaction, Michael Bourn or otherwise, an agent is trying to get the best deal for his client. He may not have an incentive to do something quickly, unless there’s something we do on a preemptive basis. And in our situation with Bourn, we didn’t feel it was so integral to what we’re doing long term, that it warranted something preemptive on our part. So it is an issue. It has to be anticipated. Interestingly, in the RA Dickey trade, I think Alex Anthopolous told people in his organization that the public reaction would probably not be good, but he was prepared for that because he’d anticipated it, and as a result, the debate about the trade once it became known didn’t alter the outcome. But it could have. And that was one of the things we were concerned about with the three day window- that if it became public it would alter the perception of the deal from the Toronto side. So, it’s difficult to avoid and at the same time- in terms of how I deal with it- in dealing with the media, sometimes I’m just not available rather than no commenting. Even a “no comment” conveys a certain amount of information, probably being unavailable does too, but rather than provide misinformation, sometimes I just go radio silent. That way it’s just the best of, possibly, several bad options.

Shannon Shark, MetsPolice: What is your favorite TV show these days?

Sandy Alderson: I hate to admit this, but I’m watching Downton Abbey at the moment. What I like about it is the historical and sociological implications it presents from that period. It’s a whole different genre to Homeland. I don’t generally get on FX or some of the others I should, because I know there are some other great series there too.