The end of a hitting coach, and a G.M.'s baseball autonomy
It's been a common thing, as the Mets have struggled, for the team's C.O.O. to express displeasure with general manager Sandy Alderson.
And sure enough, during Monday's disappointing 5-3 loss at home to the Pirates, Jeff Wilpon sent Alderson an angry text, and followed it up with an angry call. Then, after the game, they had an angry meeting.
But at that meeting, according to a knowledgeable source, Wilpon did something new: He overruled his general manager on a baseball matter, ordering him to fire hitting coach Dave Hudgens, a longtime Alderson friend and colleague.
Alderson, who has been in the job since 2010, delivered the news to Hudgens shortly afterward, in the presence of manager Terry Collins.
When he was asked later by reporters about Hudgens' unceremonious post-game termination, Alderson praised Hudgens' work ethic, and stated the obvious, that the team's "situational hitting is not where we want it to be."
Asked for comment on Wilpon's role in the firing, Mets spokesman David Newman referred Capital to Alderson's post-firing comments, which did not address it.
This incursion into baseball decisions by Wilpon would seem to indicate that Alderson will have limited latitude as he tries to improve the team despite severe payroll constraints.
As Hudgens himself put it during a controversial exit interview Monday, "I have nothing but respect for Sandy and no doubt he will turn things around if he's allowed to."
Hudgens continued his media tour on Tuesday, casting further doubt on the idea, hopefully suggested in the past by ownership, that Alderson is free to spend as he pleases.
"If they want a winner in that town, I would let the purse strings loose and let Sandy do what he wants to do," Hudgens told Michael Kay during the first of two interviews he conducted on New York radio.
The Mets have successfully avoided such tours from ex-employees in the past by tying contract compensation to silence, a common tactic. So it is fascinating to see Hudgens speak out in such a forthright way.
It's been no secret for some time now that Alderson is dealing with a far smaller budget than he expected, and was repeatedly promised, each year since taking over. It is also no secret that the budget constantly changes on him, forcing his front office to make decisions on players in a vacuum, not knowing whether money approved for, let's say, Chris Young will be available for another player if they were to pass on Young.
This is why the same G.M. who has managed to consistently win trades, with full authority and only a mandate to return the best possible minor league talent, fares far worse on the free agent market against teams with clear financial parameters and the ability to spend.
And with the fourth draft of the Alderson era coming in just over a week, some of his early drafts, a baseball area where he's had the ability to do as he pleases, are bearing fruit. Brandon Nimmo, his first pick in 2011, flashed power, strong defense and a plus swing when I saw him this weekend for the St. Lucie Mets. He's likely a few weeks from a promotion to Double-A Binghamton, where another Alderson draftee, catcher Kevin Plawecki, is hitting .331 with power.
But who will be making those decisions when the 2014 draft comes around?
It's one thing for ownership to decline to give Alderson money it doesn't have. It's quite another, autonomy-wise, to force Alderson to fire baseball personnel.
Alderson was not aware of how long he'd be restricted from spending when he took the job back in 2010. He's now in the final year of his contract with the Mets, and may not stick around much longer if even the non-budgetary decisions are no longer his to make.
After all, if he couldn't overcome Jeff Wilpon's bright ideas and Fred Wilpon's wallet when he had the discretion to make his own baseball decisions, what chance does he have now?
UPDATE: Alderson reached out by phone early Wednesday afternoon to discuss this article.
He did not dispute the sequence of events reported here, but said the decision to fire Hudgens "had been in the works for some time." He also said that the choice to fire Hudgens was made by consulting "with many people, including Jeff," but that he made the ultimate decision.
Asked about the team's payroll, Alderson (politely) suggested that be the topic of a separate conversation.
Capital stands by the story as originally reported.