Sandy Alderson doesn't want to talk about those June plans now
Back in June, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson had plenty of specific, optimistic things to say about his team's payroll. By Tuesday night, the tone had changed dramatically.
"That's something that we will be talking about as an organization as we get closer," Alderson told me when I asked him whether his payroll estimates from June still held true. "And then, soon after the end of the season. So I've been fairly general in my speculation about that. I prefer to stay that way for the time being."
But Alderson wasn't so general about the payroll over the summer. Back in June, he told the Post's Joel Sherman that he estimated 2014's budget for players at between $90-100 million. He even estimated his 2014 commitments at around $55 million, which was a bit troubling since it apparently counted Johan Santana and Jason Bay's contracts, something Alderson had previously used as a reason not to spend on 2013 payroll. But still, that number left plenty of room for new players, and all summer long, Mets' fans have eagerly awaited next year, with dreams of Shin-Soo Choos and Jacoby Ellsburys dancing in their heads.
In June, Alderson also pushed the public line of the Mets for years now, which has been that sure, there's plenty of money, the general manager just doesn't want to spend it. This idea is easily debunked by a cursory background discussion with sources close to Alderson, but either way, it was about to change, according to Alderson.
"It [the lowered payroll] is not because [of ownership financial problems]," Alderson said approximately 90 days ago. "It is because they have been burned by the big, long contacts, so we are not prepared to go from zero to 60 in 3.5 seconds, which I can’t argue with. But if we have enough young pitching, then $100 million will be enough to be competitive because we can use the money on position players, which is our problem right now.”
Three months later, position players are still the problem. Even the most charitable interpretation of the team's offseason needs would require the Mets to add plus-hitters in both outfield corner positions, a competent shortstop, and a backup catcher who is capable of stepping in and starting in place of Travis d'Arnaud.
Alderson's ability to focus on position players has been compromised by Jeremy Hefner's injury, but more significantly by the injury to Matt Harvey. On September 3, that meant in addition to using all that new money for lineup holes, Alderson intended to sign a starting pitcher, too.
"We’ve got some money to spend," Alderson told Mike Francesa 15 days ago. "I wasn’t planning on spending a lot of it on starting pitching because of the depth that we have currently at the major league level and in the minor league system. But given the fact that we’ve lost our number one guy, it probably means that we’re going to have to look for an additional veteran presence in that starting rotation."
But Alderson told ESPN's Adam Rubin something different Tuesday night when asked about whether Matt Harvey's attempt to rehabilitate his elbow injury would affect his pursuit of a potential replacement, should Harvey need surgery that would keep him out for the 2014 season. Apparently, it's not a problem anymore: Alderson no longer plans to add a replacement for his number one starter, whether Harvey is healthy or not.
"There's some ambiguity, of course, at this point, and maybe through the next couple of months," Alderson said. "There may be ambiguity beyond that. I don't think it's going to affect our offseason planning as much as has been speculated. The one thing we have is a great deal of starting-pitching depth, some of it untested at the minor league level. But we have a lot of confidence in the quality and quantity of our starting pitching. So hopefully Matt is part of that rotation next year. But if he's not, I don't foresee us working hard to fill his spot from outside the organization."
You didn't miss some addition or additions to the team's starting pitching depth over the past two weeks. So exactly what's changed?
Well, to hear Fred Wilpon tell it, “We haven’t turned him down on anything."
To hear sources close to Alderson: "I think we all know he’s turned down more than one move. Not even sure what he means."
His specifics, the payroll, the six-month timeframe to make moves, were intended to force ownership's hand as Alderson entered the final offseason of his own four-year contract. It's hard to see how Alderson publicly backing away from these declarations is an encouraging sign of what lies ahead.
Exactly how much Alderson's offseason plans have changed could be indicated by changing course, from two weeks ago, on plans to pursue a starting pitcher this winter. It could also be indicated by his swift movement from the specific commitments in June, to the current line: "We have money to spend", which really, doesn't mean anything at all, absent the context of 2014 payroll commitments and a budget he so willingly discussed three months ago.
It could reflect the financial state of Mets ownership, which still needs to navigate both the onerous debt payments of the past several years, along with a June 2014 due date for a massive loan against the team.
Or maybe ownership does have plenty of money now, 18 months after the trustee for the Bernie Madoff victims determined Fred Wilpon and his partners were tapped out. Perhaps Alderson has a fabulous surprise in store for Mets fans who still hope, finally, there will be a basic financial ability to fill out the major league roster with major league players.
Either way, Alderson's new vagueness will give way to real specific action, or inaction, awfully soon.