Back when this was all fresh and new — what was that, two whole weeks ago? — Sandy Alderson described his newfound place in the Mets’ baseball hierarchy as team president thusly: “I have a seat at the table, but I don’t sit at the head of the table.”
Monday, he had to alter that a bit.
“Coming around the corner a little bit,” he quipped. “Maybe we can have a round table and I’m the one who has a seat with arms.”
The Mets have discovered that if Steve Cohen’s arrival in the ownership offices might have passed with around a 95 percent approval rating among those who will someday soon once again buy Conforto jerseys, game tickets, and sandwiches from Mama’s of Corona, that didn’t mean the rest of baseball was simply going to allow them to raid their executive offices without a fight.
It means Alderson will have a lot larger stake in the baseball decisions to come than he’d originally thought, at least for a year or so, and instead of hiring a baseball operations president to take those final-say decisions off his plate he’ll focus for now on the business of hiring a GM. For now, that’ll be a guy to help Alderson with the day-to-day heavy lifting, and Alderson said he wouldn’t mind if that could be a mentor-protégé relationship that could elevate him at some point.
Although that also means that the Mets’ top baseball job will remain vacant for a year — which also happens to be the amount of time before Theo Epstein’s contractual commitment to the Cubs expires. Epstein has talked about not wanting to get back into that rat race, and maybe he’s committed to that. We’ll see.
For now, Alderson has a genuine opportunity that few executives in any sport are ever afforded: the chance to tweak a legacy, the opportunity to rewrite a recent chapter in what has been, on the whole, a distinguished baseball life.
It didn’t end well for Alderson with the Mets. He was the one who saw greatness in Mickey Callaway. He was the one who pulled the trigger on Yoenis Cespedes (although there were an awful lot of folks who were 100 percent with him on that, despite what they say now). He was the one who watched the Mets tumble from a back-to-back playoff team that came within three games of a title in 2015 to a hot mess back in the dregs of the NL East.
On the day he stepped away in June 2018 — a sad day punctuated by his revelation that he’d had a recurrence of cancer — Alderson had said, on the record and for all to see: “If I were to look at it on the merits, I’m not sure coming back is warranted.”
It was hard to believe then that he meant that. It is harder now. Alderson — who said on Monday that his health is good and “wasn’t a consideration at all” in agreeing to shoulder the extra baseball burdens — has never taken any direct shots at the ownership group just departed. But when he appeared in the feel-good, two-man Zoom room on Cohen’s first day on the job he certainly sounded — and looked — like a man offered a reprieve.
It’s more than that now. For at least a year, this is a Mets team that will have Alderson’s fingerprints all over it. Part of that is because of the good work he did here the first time despite financial constraints, drafting well, providing a sound and professional daily vision.
All of the Mets’ most intriguing homegrown assets — Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, Michael Conforto, Andres Gimenez, Amed Rosario, Dom Smith — were either drafted or signed in Alderson’s first term. He didn’t draft Jacob deGrom but did fast-track him to Flushing once the ex-shortstop showed flashes of his future brilliance. The R.A. Dickey-for-Travis d’Arnaud-and-Noah Syndergaard deal was among the most one-sided in Mets history. And he does have the ’15 NL pennant on his résumé.
He wasn’t a perfect GM, and while it is easy to blame the bulk of those poor decisions on the fiscal handcuffs of the Wilpon regime, not all of went wrong went wrong because of that. But he did get an awful lot right. Now he gets a chance to leave behind one final parting gift before handing over the reins to the Mets’ future architect, whoever that may be.
It feels like exactly the final chapter he deserves as a baseball man. Assuming he gets the final chapter right.
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