Sandy Alderson and Theo Epstein: Differing styles for crafting clubs

World SeriesBoth Sandy Alderson, the Mets general manager for the past six years, and Theo Epstein, Cubs president for five years, have been successful architects of their respective teams over the past two seasons. Both teams made the post-season each year, with the Mets claiming the pennant in 2015 and the Cubs winning the World Series last season.

Both Alderson and Epstein used a combination of drafting, free agent signings and trades to improve their teams. However their rosters have a distinctively different feel about them compared to each other for the upcoming season.

Alderson and the rest of the front office built a Met team heavy on veteran position players. Their likely starting infield of Lucas Duda ( age 31 season), Neil Walker (31), Asdrubal Cabrera (31), and either David Wright (34) or Jose Reyes (33) at third are all over 30. The story is the same in the outfield, with Yoenis Cespedes (31), Curtis Granderson (36) and Jay Bruce (30) the starters most of the time. The only likely usual starting position player on the team under 30 will be catcher Travis d’Arnaud (28).

In contrast the Cubs’ standard lineup will be considerably younger. In the infield, there will generally be Anthony Rizzo (27), Javier Baez (24), Addison Russell (23) and reigning MVP Kris Bryant (25). The outfield will have Kyle Schwarber (24), Jason Heyward (27) and the one graybeard, Ben Zobrist (36). The probable catcher is Wilson Contreras in his age 25 season.

However, when we get to the starting pitching rotations of both teams, we find a 180 degree turn. The Mets have a starting staff featuring young arms, with the Cubs going the opposite direction with an older, veteran heavy rotation.

Starting pitchers for the Mets, health permitting, will be Noah Syndergaard (24), Jacob deGrom (29), Matt Harvey (28) and Steven Matz (26). The fifth starter spot is up in the air, but all the contenders are in their 20s with Zack Wheeler (27), Robert Gsellman ( 23 ), and Seth Lugo ( 27) fighting for the final spot. In the 2016 draft the Mets doubled down on their affinity for developing young pitchers, they had a first round and supplemental first round pick, and both went to college pitchers, Justin Dunn and Anthony Kay.

The Cubs, as noted, will have more of a veteran presence in their rotation. Probable starters include Jon Lester (33), Jake Arrietta (31), and John Lackey (38). Two of the projected starters will be under 30, with Kyle Shanahan (27) and Mike Montgomery (28) rounding out the starting staff.

Which approach will work best in 2017? Perhaps both styles will work. Remember the old saying, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” Perhaps it could be updated to a more feline-friendly “There’s more than one way to craft a ball club.”

31 comments for “Sandy Alderson and Theo Epstein: Differing styles for crafting clubs

  1. Reese
    February 22, 2017 at 10:54 am

    What is clearly obvious is that the Cubs value drafting position players who can hit and the Mets value drafting pitchers. Who is the last solid hitter the Mets drafted and then actually let play at the major league level? Guys who show great potential like Wilmer Flores sit while the James Loneys of this world get penciled in every day. It’s both a philosophical problem in the front office and an on-field managerial problem.

    • Chris F
      February 22, 2017 at 12:43 pm

      Look at Flores splits v RHP. Look at his defense. Hes not an every day player.

  2. Jimmy P
    February 22, 2017 at 11:05 am

    During SA’s tenure, they’ve selected position players in first round of 5 of 6 drafts.

    Cubs were willing to crater and as a result enjoyed a few years of very early picks. One Kris Bryant goes a long way.

  3. Jimmy P
    February 22, 2017 at 11:10 am

    BTW — and I lost this argument on a thread some months ago — but the Mets/Cubs are hardly equivalent.

    Cubs won 103 games last season; Mets won 87.

    That’s the difference in 2016 wins between the Mets and Phillies.

    In 2015, Cubs won 97, Mets won 90.

    Over two years, a gap of 23 wins. That’s a huge difference.

    • February 22, 2017 at 12:15 pm

      If you’re going to bring this up again, we have to bring up the injury factor again.

      If the Mets’ top five starters make 152 starts, like the 2016 Cubs did, and if they have six position players with 550 or more PA, like the 2016 Cubs did, they will top 100 Wins, too. The Cubs were unbelievably healthy last year.

      The Mets’ top five starters made 126 starts and who knows how many of them JDG and Harvey shouldn’t have made.
      The Mets’ top six position players combined for 2,916 PA compared to 3,747 for the top six on the Cubs.

      Injuries are part of the game. Maybe this year the Cubs will be middle of the road in health rather than having the healthiest team in the league. I’m not disparaging the Cubs talent. The Cubs have great talent. I just think it’s erroneous to attribute the difference in the 2016 records between the clubs to front-line talent. Seven of the nine guys that started on Opening Day for the Mets spent time on the DL and not one of those guys saw a minimum 15-day stint.

      When the Cubs have to throw out a lineup with James Loney, T.J. Rivera, Jose Reyes, Justin Ruggiano and Ty Kelly starting — with only Kelly on the team’s 40-man roster on Opening Day — because the starters are all on the DL at the same time, then we’ll see how likely they are to win 103 games.

      • MattyMets
        February 22, 2017 at 1:00 pm

        Brian – I’ve been saying the same thing. If I read one more time about how Kyle Schwarber was injured and now he’s healthy, I’m going to puke. That one injury aside, the 2016 Cubs were like the healthiest team in history. That will not happen again. Likewise, the Mets will not again suffer the level of injuries they did last year again.

        • Chris F
          February 22, 2017 at 1:11 pm

          Although lets be careful here. I recall reading last year I, I think, that the Mets routinely sit at the top of the MLB in terms of days on DL.

          • February 22, 2017 at 1:55 pm

            With the start of Grapefruit League play just around the corner, the Mets currently do not have anyone slated to miss half the year or more who would otherwise be on their 25-man roster. Which was not the case in 2016. I guess Wheeler got hurt during ST in 2015. But it wasn’t the case in 2014, either. Hefner and Santana also missed complete seasons this decade where they would have been on the roster if healthy. I don’t want to count my chickens with a hatchet but if no one’s arm falls off in the next six weeks, it will be a nice change from what we’re used to.

            It’s been a tough pill to swallow how the injuries are mostly of the extended-stay variety. Last year Cabrera and Cespedes had DL stints just over the 15-day limit. But Harvey, JDG, Matz, TDA, Duda, Walker and Wheeler were all out longer. It would be nice if they could flip the script and have seven guys make minimal DL stays and only two guys out for a month or more.

        • Paulwt
          February 23, 2017 at 12:19 pm

          lol so yea, “other than one of their best hitters missing the entire season” the Cubs were the healthiest team of all time! Give me a break. Schwarber’s injury was devastating. Fowler also missed time.

          As far as pitcher health – well, read this article, geniuses. That’s the whole point. Veteran pitchers with no history of arm issues don’t get arm issues, generally. That’s the whole genius of Epstein. Young position players tend to stay healthy. Veteran pitchers who’ve always been healthy tend to stay healthy.

          Editor’s Note – Please do not capitalize words in your post, as that is a violation of our Comment Policy.

  4. February 22, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    I can’t look it up right now, but I’d be curious to compare power/finesse pitching, types of pitches, extra base hits, slash lines, etc. So much more than just the ages of players.

  5. Name
    February 22, 2017 at 1:49 pm

    I did research on this last year, but the odds of a team making the playoffs 3 years in a row is not high. Odds are more likely than not, one of these 2 teams will not play in October this year

    • February 22, 2017 at 2:51 pm

      I guess it all depends on how you frame the question.

      The second wild card was introduced before the 2012 season, so we need to only look from 2012 onwards. In that time frame, there have been three NL clubs who’ve made the playoffs at least three years in a row – Cardinals, Pirates and Dodgers.

      But in order to make it three times in a row, you have to make it twice in a row. Five NL clubs have done that prior to the Mets and Cubs doing it last year — the three just mentioned plus the 2012-13 Braves and the 2012-13 Reds.

      The 2014 Braves were 10 games over .500 on July 28 and looked on their way to make another playoff appearance. Then they finished the year 21-35. The Reds were 51-44 at the All-Star break, a game behind the final WC spot and 1.5 out of the lead in the Central. They started off the second half with a 6-game road trip, lost all 6 and never recovered.

      Anyway, a team could have done it in 12-13-14 or 13-14-15 or 14-15-16. There were 45 “teams” that theoretically could have done it and these were the only ones who did:

      13-14-15 Dodgers
      14-15-16 Dodgers
      13-14-15 Pirates
      12-13-14 Cardinals
      13-14-15 Cardinals

      Five out of 45.

      But if you say how many teams who won just two turned around and made it three – the position the Mets and Cubs are in for 2017 – then three of five did it.

      I’m not sure why the six teams who never made the playoffs in this stretch, or the two other teams who never made it in back-to-back years or the pre-2015 Mets and Cubs should count against how we view the 2017 Mets and Cubs.

    • John Fox
      February 22, 2017 at 4:55 pm

      Name, if i were a betting man I’d put money on the Cubs and Mets making the post-season this year.

  6. TexasGusCC
    February 22, 2017 at 8:47 pm

    One philosophical difference is that the Cubs weren’t afraid to go all-in on their rebuild. They traded away every little piece possible and had no problems signing a player like Scott Feldman to flip him later. Besides signing solid veterans for a bit more money to trade later, the Cubs put money into their deals to get more talent back.

    So, before anyone “needs” to remind me that the Mets play in New York and needed to retain Reyes (to sell tickets as he went for the batting title despite Alderson’s insistence that speed players decline sooner than power guys and thus weren’t worth signing) and David Wright (because he was the Captain), look at how the Yankees were able to bring in good talented youth by dealing everyone that had any value. Too, Cashman did better with Beltran at 39 than Anderson did when Beltran was 34.

    • Name
      February 22, 2017 at 11:40 pm

      How about i remind you of this?

      2010: 49-41
      2011: 45-42

      The reality is that there was no need for a rebuild and should have went for it then

      • TexasGusCC
        February 22, 2017 at 11:52 pm

        Possibly so, but Anderson and Collins were hired after the 2010 season so that one isn’t on them. Also, it seems with management unable to commit to the onfield product, they made the call to rebuild what was at the time a hollow shell of an organization. I don’t have a problem with what they did, but just because they were 3 games over in 2011 doesn’t mean that they were championship caliber, and that was the aim.

        I don’t recall many fans protesting the rebuild, but their half-waying it combined with the insulting of our intelligence for the next three years, that they felt they were “playoff contenders”, was unforgivable.

      • Chris F
        February 23, 2017 at 10:44 am

        Sorry name, I just think that is off. Those teams were not good, and most importantly after Sandy was hired, facing the reality of pruning the branches back to the trunk. This reality was not about winning, but holding the team for ownership, which he was successful.

        • Name
          February 23, 2017 at 11:21 am

          I dont understand how you can fail to see that those 2 clubs had a shot when we just witnessed 2 years in a row when the club made the postseason with similar records.

          2015 45-42
          2016 48-41

          Just like with the past 2 years, a little tinkering would have at least kept them in the race thru September

          Sandy came in thinking that he had to rebuild but I think this shows that the pieces were there for him not to. Many also forget he did spend a decent bit in his first off season but he sucked and they were mostly busts.

          • Chris F
            February 23, 2017 at 1:03 pm

            Unfortunately, Alderson did not burn it to the ground like the Cubs or Astros. He should have. Its nowhere near enough context to look at snapshot records like that. In those years the arrow was pointing down, and now the arrow is pointing up. Clearly, Madoff was going to destroy the Mets capacity to function. Going for it requires spending money or forfeiting prospects. Minaya/Manuel were clearly heading out. Alderson didnt inherit a juggernaut roster. They had no money and saw the coming prospects as the future not a thing to support a pretty ho-hum overall roster.

            • Name
              February 23, 2017 at 7:15 pm

              “Alderson did not burn it to the ground like the Cubs or Astros

              I once again disagree with the fact that these teams intentionally tanked and that their GM was responsible. What moves did the Cubs or Astros GM make to “burn” it to the ground? Show me one. Yea, they slowly sold off some pieces like Dempster and Carlos Lee, but so did Alderson. It was a slow eroding slide for both clubs.

              We get to watch the Phillies a lot. Would you consider what they did in the last few years tanking? No. They got worse through a combination of guys getting older and less effective (Utley, Rollins, Ruiz) and injury (Lee, Howard). But I’m sure someone some years from now will claim tanking is what they did.

              A real firesale is what the White Sox did this offseason or the Marlins 97, 03, and 2012 . The Cubs and Astros don’t even come close to that definition.

              • February 23, 2017 at 8:15 pm

                I don’t want to get up in a war of semantics.

                It’s my belief that the 2012-13 Astros (and after a certain point the 2011 squad, too) did not care how many game they lost and that fits my definition of tanking.

                During the 2011 season they traded Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn
                After 2011/during 2012 they traded Mark Melancon, their starting CF (Jason Bourgeois) and starting catcher (Humberto Quintero), Carlos Lee, David Carpenter, J.A. Happ, Brandon Lyon, Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez and Chris Johnson.

                Just as important, they didn’t put money saved from dealing those guys into mediocre free agents. If they signed anyone noteworthy in the 2011-12 offseason, I missed it. The following year they got Carlos Pena for just under $3 million and that was probably to keep the MLBPA from complaining too much. And they ended up releasing him during the year.

                • Name
                  February 24, 2017 at 12:56 am

                  I believe that choosing to tanking and being “forced” to tank affects how much credit you can give to the GM.

                  I’m no expert in Astros history, but looking at the numbers this is what i see.
                  The Astros finished 2010 76-86, but ended on a 49-41 note. They didn’t make many splashes during that offseason, however an optimist could see meaningful games in September if things broke right.
                  The view from a realist predicted that they would probably be a middle of the pack 77 wins, but not terrible. http://www.sportsbookbuzz.com/mlb/houston-astros-2011-preview-predictions-odds-050211/
                  Ultimately, due to ineffectiveness and probably injuries, they got off to a horrible 15-29 start and were already 10+ games back in mid-May.
                  Because they were so far behind, they decided to tank and start over and thus the fire sale in 2011.
                  That fire sale wasn’t pre-planned, but rather forced upon them due to atrocious play. What GM is not going to sell when you’re 20 games behind by the trading deadline?

                  To recap, it seems stupid to me that tons of Mets fans still try to compare the Mets situation with the likes of the Astros/Cubs and lament that Alderson didn’t try to tank like them.
                  The Astros were forced to tank midway thru the GM’s first year. We all know what a mess the Cubs were when Epstein was hired and that a rebuild was a must. It was a pretty easy decision for both clubs. It’s not like the GM was going against popular opinion when they decided to rebuild.
                  It wasn’t that clear cut decision for the Mets. Sure, they had the Madoff problem, but they had success the year before Alderson was hired, and they had early season successes in both his first and second season years here. There is nothing to suggest that tanking was a must for the Mets

                • February 24, 2017 at 7:49 am

                  I don’t disagree with your point in the final graph.

                  I just don’t see how you can look at the situation the Astros were in at the beginning of the decade and call it anything but tanking. Preseason expectation in 2011 is not the place to investigate. You can argue whether the deadline deals that season were the start of the the tanking. But I don’t see how you can look at the sum total of moves executed by the club from October 2011-Juy 2012 and rationally come to any other conclusion.

                  In that time span they traded their starting catcher, their starting CF, their starting LF, their starting 3B, their closer, their top 3 SP and two other bullpen guys — and didn’t sign a single noteworthy free agent that I could find.

                  The team’s new GM had a strong scouting background. Did he sell ownership on tanking or was ownership going to do it and then hired the guy they decided could best figure it out? I don’t know the answer but in the end it doesn’t really matter.

                  As for the Mets, I think it’s clear ownership placed value on being competitive while the rebuild was going on. If ownership didn’t care, would Alderson have tanked? I don’t know but if forced to guess, I would say no.

          • Eraff
            February 24, 2017 at 6:38 am

            Sandy entered with the team on the brink of financial collapse. Those early “Sandy Era” teams could have been “completed to compete”, but they didn’t have money to add pieces in-season or off season.

            The $80 million payroll was a response to financial needs, not baseball needs.

  7. NormE
    February 23, 2017 at 6:43 am

    John,
    Good article, but I think one missing factor is the budget available to the gm each year of the comparison.

  8. Eraff
    February 23, 2017 at 10:47 am

    Alderson operated under different restrictions than Theo, but the next 5 years will probably see a 180 degree swing in the Cub and Met Roster Contruction.

    The Mets Pitchers will begin getting paid, and the “rotation” to younger and cheaper positional players will be in place….. the Cubs will begin paying their Positional Players, and they’re likely to have a few younger pitchers.

    Both teams will probably grow payroll, with continued on-field success— likely, the difference between the Pitcher/Positional Payroll mix will moderate for both.

    This has been entirely situational.

  9. TexasGusCC
    February 23, 2017 at 7:00 pm

    Very disturbing news, and I don’t see Theo Epstein doing this:

    http://metsmerizedonline.com/2017/02/mets-discussed-trading-michael-conforto-for-j-d-martinez.html

    For one f@&$ing year of Martinez control?

    • February 23, 2017 at 7:05 pm

      While you look for a paper bag to breathe in, consider that the Tigers asked for that and Alderson in a polite way declined.

      • TexasGusCC
        February 23, 2017 at 11:14 pm

        I found the paper bag, but also this way down in the second section concerning the Mets:

        “The Mets seriously discussed a straight-up swap of Michael Conforto for J.D. Martinez before re-signing Cespedes but ultimately decided that one year of Martinez for Conforto wasn’t enough. For a while, though, it was a real consideration … ”

        Ok, now can I be pissed? What was the rationale for this to even be considered “seriously”?

        • February 23, 2017 at 11:41 pm

          No.

          Martinez is a RH hitter in the prime of his career who put up a .908 OPS last year and the year before hit 38 HR. You want your GM finding out the acquisition cost of a guy like that, especially since there doesn’t seem anyone in the farm system like that.

          You hope Conforto can develop into that type of hitter. And as we saw last year, there are no guarantees.

          It’s too bad Martinez was hurt at the trade deadline last year. He came back on August 3 and in the final 55 games of the year he put up a .945 OPS. Would have been nice to have that rather than whatever Bruce ended up giving the team.

  10. David Groveman
    February 24, 2017 at 1:09 pm

    The Cubs built up their farm after years of failure amassing large quantities of players.

    The Mets lingered in mediocrity and never truly rebuilt because of ownership.

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