11:15 am Jan. 31, 2013
The New York Mets and general manager Sandy Alderson have a new message for fans.
The lack of offseason improvement he expressed frustration over as recently as last week?
It's all his doing. Pay no attention to the cash-strapped owners behind the curtain.
"The reason we haven't spent the money is not because of Fred Wilpon," Alderson said Wednesday night at an event for season ticket holders held at Citi Field. "It's because of me."
Let's try and get this story straight.
Back in August, Alderson acknowledged the team needed to improve, but stated the obvious: he'd only have as much money to spend as ownership could and would provide.
“I have not talked to (owner) Fred (Wilpon) or anyone else about where that payroll is going to be, but I’m hopefu we’ll be in the same range if not somewhat higher,” Alderson told a group of season ticket holders at Citi Field last August.
Alderson also made no pretense about the reality in a league without a salary cap: how much he could improve the team relied upon ownership's willingness to spend, not his own.
“What I’m looking at is what our needs are and how we fill those needs, and there’s no question that being able to add payroll is an important part of being able to address those.”
By season's end, Alderson continued to insist that no budget had been set, and reiterated that the budget needed to be set by ownership. Which, of course, is true for the Mets, as it is for any other team.
“We’re having those conversations now," Alderson said at his end-of-season press conference. "Met with Fred [Wilpon] and Saul [Katz] and Jeff [Wilpon]. Presented a number of different scenarios. We haven’t locked in to anything yet. There will be another meeting or two before we do that. So I can’t really give you an answer that.”
By November, Alderson made it clear he had no illusions about the severe limitations on his team. In response to a question about the outfield, Alderson quipped, "What outfield?", and responded to a question about needing to add position players by saying, "I can answer that with a yes."
They haven't, though. Not one position player has been added on a major league deal this winter.
By January's interview on WFAN, Alderson expressed the opinion that "I’m not happy where we are in preparation for 2013,” that his outfield needed "an upgrade at virtually every one of those positions," and that the bullpen made him "uneasy."
"To say we've been patient is probably an understatement," Alderson added in the interview, sounding almost more like a fan than the top decision-maker in the Mets' front office. The implication was clear: that forces greater than his own ability to identify and solve problems with the team's roster were at work in hamstringing him.
Apparently, somebody didn't like that message. So now it's on Alderson.
Alderson has publicly disparaged the roster while calling for major changes, but hasn't added anyone of note in either of the two biggest problem areas, because of decisions made by Alderson himself, the story now goes. As if ownership offered Alderson money to spend and he turned it down, even as he was publicly acknowledging the need to spend money.
Also, weirdly, the bullpen that made him uneasy two weeks ago is, as of Wednesday night, "as deep as we have ever been," according to Alderson. That's the same group that finished 29th in bullpen E.R.A. last season, and has added nothing beyond often-injured Scott Atchison and 40-year-old LaTroy Hawkins since Alderson spoke about it last.
This isn't just a question of adding big-ticket free agents on long-term deals. The Mets could have added major league free agents on short-term deals, 1-2 years for relatively little money, and improved the outfield and bullpen. That Alderson is improving the farm system is undeniable. That the Mets are failing to field a credible team while he does so is inexcusable.
Alderson has been saying since the moment he arrived that the owners' finances aren't an issue. Yes, he's talking about those guys who funded part of the team's operations with money from a Madoff scheme, and are now deferring payments, borrowing money, and selling off equity in the team just to hang on.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
Before owner Mikhail Prokhorov and Miss America, the Nets proved they weren't quite ready to challenge the Miami Heat yet, losing 105-85 at the Barclays Center Wednesday night.
The Knicks, big winners over the Orlando Magic Wednesday night, received significant production from their three highest-paid players, all at the same time.
The Yankees are considering the addition of Travis Hafner as a hitter off the bench.
St. John's held on for a 79-74 overtime win over DePaul it badly needed.
Georgetown crushed Seton Hall, 74-52.
The biggest game of Iona's season to date is tonight, against M.A.A.C. leaders Niagara.