Discussing Sandy Alderson’s biggest mistake as Mets GM

There was a New York Post article where former GM Sandy Alderson was quoted as saying that he wished he had re-signed Daniel Murphy. It’s an easy thing to say in hindsight. Murphy was great in 2016 and 2017 before an injury-marred year last season. But you don’t get to make decisions in hindsight and the decision in real time was easily a defensible one.

They extended Murphy the Qualifying Offer (QO) and he rejected it, instead looking for a multi-year deal. Murphy got the multi-year deal but only after the Nationals had been turned down by other free agents they chased that offseason. And Murphy’s multi-year deal did not reach the average annual value that he could have had if he took the QO.

Just as Alderson says that he regrets not re-signing Murphy, you could make an excellent case that Murphy blew it by not signing the QO. Murphy signed a 3/$37.5 contract with the Nationals and this offseason he inked a 2/$24 deal with the Rockies. If Murphy had signed the QO, he would have gotten $15.8 million in 2016, nearly twice as much as the $8 million he received that year in the heavily-backloaded deal he ended up signing with Washington.

But then Murphy would have been eligible for free agency again, without any draft pick compensation, as the Mets wouldn’t have been able to extend the QO again. And he would have been hitting free agency after a season where he put up a .985 OPS and finished second in the MVP voting. If he was able to get a 2/$24 deal this offseason, coming off a .790 OPS as a 33 year old, what would he have been able to get two years earlier at significantly greater production?

In the 2016-17 offseason, Ian Desmond got 5/$70 and it’s hard to imagine that Murphy wouldn’t have beaten that mark. Dexter Fowler got 5/$82 that offseason and while you can claim that he got that much because he was a center fielder coming off a good offensive season, he had an .840 mark, or 145 fewer points than Murphy. Was the position worth that much compared to the production shortfall? Maybe but it seems to me far from a slam dunk.

The top free agent contract handed out that year was the one given by the Mets to Yoenis Cespedes, who got 4/$110 after his .884 OPS season. What would the Mets have done if they had to choose between Cespedes and Murphy? It might have been a fortuitous thing if they had that choice and opted for the home-grown player. But that’s far from a sure thing. Regardless, it seems reasonable, perhaps even conservative, that Murphy could have gotten a 5/$80 deal that offseason.

So, by rejecting the QO, Murphy ended up with five years and $61.5 million. With the QO, the speculation here is that he would have received $95.8 million over six years.

Whenever Alderson was interviewed, he always came off as extremely bright, if not always completely honest. If we were somehow able to get the truth from Alderson, it would be interesting to see if his biggest regret was re-signing Cespedes to that contract in the 2016-17 offseason. So far, the Mets have paid him $51.5 million and have received $20.4 million of production, according to FanGraphs’ Dollar Value calculation. And that deficit figures only to increase this season, when Cespedes is expected to miss at least half the season.

ESPN’s David Schoenfield listed the remaining two years of Cespedes’ deal as the worst contract on the Mets, surpassing even the 5/$100 the club owes Robinson Cano for his age 36-40 seasons. Time will tell which one was worse but either way, the Cano deal did not happen on Alderson’s watch.

But as a Mets fan, my belief is that the biggest regret of the Alderson regime was not the failure to re-sign Murphy nor the actual re-signing of Cespedes. Instead the wish here is that he would have overhauled the way the club handled injuries earlier than the 2017-18 offseason. It was an inherited problem and one that reared its ugly head in one way or another each year he was in charge. So, why did he wait so long to say this needs changing?

How many bad starts by Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler could have been avoided with a more professional communication/diagnoses/treatment regimen? Would this system have gotten to the root of Cespedes’ hamstring problems earlier? Would it have meant different outcomes for Dillon Gee and Mike Pelfrey? And that’s not an exhaustive list, either.

And if somehow you want to limit this theoretical discussion to personnel moves, we should also mention Alderson turning down Eduardo Escobar for Gee and the chain of events around that move. Escobar has put up a .750 OPS in the four years since the Mets turned their nose up at him while Gee ended up 0-3 in his final eight starts with the club after they missed their chance to move on from him. And when they didn’t get Escobar for short, they ended up playing Wilmer Flores there. That was a pretty big fail all the way around.

25 comments for “Discussing Sandy Alderson’s biggest mistake as Mets GM

  1. February 3, 2019 at 7:51 am

    Biggest mistakes:

    1. Letting Justin Turner go
    2. Murphy
    3. Not trading Reyes when he was prepped to walk as an FA/Bringing him back for an encore in 2018
    4. Passing on an Ike Davis for Sterling Marte deal
    5. (tie)The day in 2011 when he traded Pagan and signed Frank Frank/Selecting Gavin Cecchini over Bellinger in the draft.

    David Wright’s contract isn’t on the list as the Mets did recoup some of his money. Cespedes may yet contribute. Frazier and Vargas might prove costly if they prevent the Mets from signing more valuable replacements.

    Overall, with the exception of Turner, there is nothing really disastrous in any of these moves. They lost two great years out of Murphy, which might have altered the course of the franchise (no Cespedes, maybe they are in on Harper or Machado). But there is no Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi or Tom Seaver for 4 warm bodies, or even a Kevin Mitchell for Kevin McReynolds in any of these five flops.

    Sandy was always a very cautious GM, so it does make sense that he made no really terrible moves.

    • TexasGusCC
      February 3, 2019 at 10:00 am

      Nice list Dan. Have to say draft picks are not such a sure thing, but the Francisco signing was a disaster. Pagan was at Collins insistence that they get a better defensive CF. Remember, Pagan was pretty embarrassing at times out there.

    • MattyMets
      February 3, 2019 at 10:28 am

      Dan – the list is long. At least with Murphy we made an offer and you could argue that ownership tied Sandy’s hands and wouldn’t let him sign both Ces and Murph. Similarly the Mets were only allowed to sign Wright or Reyes when both should have been kept. Alderson’s biggest failure was his rigid commitment to the only approach he knows. He came in with an AL style (HRs and power, speed and defense don’t matter) and the Mets roster talent didn’t support that. We had a fast team with guys like Reyes, Pagan, Castillo and Beltran and a big ballpark that gave our pitchers a real home field advantage. Alderson turned that all upside down like a conservative parent trying to push their artsy musician kid into med school.

      • TexasGusCC
        February 3, 2019 at 11:11 am

        Matt, we may disagree here, but I would have traded both Wright and Reyes to stock up. Alderson said up front that he wanted to rebuild, and those were big chips. Reyes got hurt right before the deadline, but he still had value. Instead, the Mets made an announcement that they kept him because they never had a batting champion. All Mets’ moves are in the name of getting the dollar today, and let tomorrow worry about itself. Hopefully they can become strong enough to also invest in tomorrow.

    • February 3, 2019 at 11:19 am

      The Turner thing is 100% hindsight.

      If anyone out there at the conclusion of the 2013 season said they thought Turner would develop into a MVP-type player – well, they’re full of crap.

      I’m not interested in what decision looks the worst in hindsight. I’m interested in decisions made or not made that an intelligent guy (Edit to follow) should have done the opposite with the information available at the time.

      Certainly, there’s more of a case to be made that Murphy had shown enough that his transformation was real than what Turner had. And the Mets made an attempt to keep Murphy. Should they have made more of an attempt? Certainly hindsight says so.

      • Chris F
        February 3, 2019 at 12:38 pm

        C’mon Brian. If its in front if your eyes, the mistake doesn’t need any comment. By the World Series Murph was already back to being Murph. Furthermore, his rise came from nowhere. In any event, the mets had zero depth at 3B. Turner was excellent off the bench. The moment Wright went down, someone was in place. We were sold a bill of crap when we were told Flores was a natural 3B… Possibly on a high school softball team, but not more than that. The plain fact is Turner was disliked by Alderson, and so he let a 140 OPS+ guy walk. Where are the advanced metrics and scouting? Where is the internal stuff that identifies talent that would have said Turner was more?

        Anyway, if you just want to look at the decisions we can evaluate:

        1. Alderson regularly misjudged talent at almost all levels, and made terrible decisions almost across the board.
        2. Alderson played a game from a different generation and made personnel decisions that matched that, many of which were poor.
        3. Alderson did not invest in a serious analytics division, a disastrous decision.
        4. Alderson invested in aging has beens, almost all total busts.
        5. Alderson failed to trade Reyes as he was headed for a batting title and could easily have gotten something good for him.
        6. Alderson failed to fire Collins.

        • February 3, 2019 at 1:07 pm

          When Alderson let go of Turner, he had a career 95 OPS+ with the Mets. It wasn’t until after he left that he became a 140+ guy. And no one thought he was going to become a 140+ guy. Anything else is revisionist history.

          Where were the advanced metrics and scouting? Well, Turner cleared waivers. Not one club said, “Hey, here’s a diamond in the rough we can get for a waiver claim!” The Mets cut him in December and he was unclaimed until February. That’s what the scouting/metrics of every single MLB club thought of him at the time.

          As for your numbered list:

          The first four are so vague as to be meaningless.
          Number five ignores the fact that Reyes was hurt at the time when he could/should have been traded
          I can get behind #6

        • February 3, 2019 at 1:31 pm

          I just went through and looked at various posts here on the site about Turner leaving. Here’s a snippet of the comments section from a 3/21/14 article by former writer Sean Flattery entitled, “Wilmer Flores should be this year’s Justin Turner.”

          Name
          March 21, 2014 at 11:59 am (edit)

          Little bit off topic but… Justin Turner, opening Day 2nd baseman for the Dodgers. If he were on the Mets, people would be crying foul over the management for letting that happen and there would be mass panic and proclamations of a sub-70 win team among fans.
          Reply

          Chris F
          March 21, 2014 at 2:17 pm (edit)

          People are crying out. This Australia business is making it a bit of a disaster. Hes not an every day 2B. Sure its a feather in his cap, but Red wont be playing there for long.

          ***

          Here’s one from before he was released, 9/10/13 by former writer Julian McCarthy entitled, “Should the Mets give Justin Turner an extension?”

          Rob Rogan
          September 12, 2013 at 4:57 pm (edit)

          No.

          Ah the old clutch argument. Meh. Turner’s continued presence on the roster continues to annoy me. I’ve come to realize that annoyance is based strictly on this “clutch” aspect and his use by Terry Collins. Why Turner is EVER playing 1B just boggles my mind.
          Reply

          Chris F
          September 12, 2013 at 5:55 pm (edit)

          Because we dont have enough AAA-to-so/so-MLB-level people that can play 1B in the organization!
          Reply

          Sean Flattery
          September 12, 2013 at 5:43 pm (edit)

          Meh…His versatility is an asset, he’s a tough out, clutch,etc.. I’m fine with him on roster but think he will be replaced next year..He’s a good utility option
          Reply
          za
          September 12, 2013 at 7:09 pm (edit)

          Let’s see – he’s not good enough to be a starter, EYJ can play LF/CF/2B, Tejada can play 2B/SS better than Turner, Satin can play 1B/3B… so the answer is a resounding no. If we go into 2014 with him on the 25 man, it will mean that Sandy didn’t do a good enough job filling the team with talent, period

          *****

          There were also two other articles at the time talking about Turner but you did not comment on either one of those.

    • February 3, 2019 at 3:18 pm

      Reyes was injured at around the trade deadline in 2011 but he did return ten days before but he didn’t look to be moving all that great. I dunno that the Wilpons would have allowed Alderson to move Reyes given fan sentiment and the don’t trade rallies.

    • February 3, 2019 at 10:32 pm

      Bellinger was drafted the next year it was Chech over Seager.

  2. Mike Walczak
    February 3, 2019 at 9:00 am

    I do not blame him for not resigning Murphy or signing Cespedes. I was thrilled when they resigned Cespedes to be the big bat in the lineup.

    Here is what I do blame him for. He knowingly loaded up the team with a bunch of awful and mediocre players. The list includes Gonzalez, Reyes, Bautista, Frazier, Vargas, etc … The worst to me was sticking with Jose Reyes and his terrible performance for way too long.

    His approach with the awful players should have been what Van Wags is doing. Sign players like Santiago, Rajai Davis and Alcantara and let them compete for a roster spot.

    Alderson was too timid. Except for trading for Cespedes, he never really tried to shake up the team and go for it.

  3. February 3, 2019 at 9:47 am

    How could you not even mention Justin Turner here? That was the biggest mistake and one that there was absolutely no excuse for.

  4. NYM6986
    February 3, 2019 at 9:56 am

    The biggest failure was putting up with a training staff that was a proven failure at keeping Met players on the field. Hopefully their current arrangement will prove more successful. At least with their talented bench they are more ready for a calamity. And Murphy, who was subpar in the field, was as big a reason for getting to the 2015 series as anyone. We all thought a one year $17 mil QO was fair to see if he could repeat his year of clutch hitting but three-four years would have stuck us with a poor fielding second sacker. Hindsight is always 20-20. After all Nolan Ryan was a raw talent but no one expected him to be so great. Looking forward to the start of SP!!

    • February 3, 2019 at 3:21 pm

      Mets have among the most dl stints since 2000 the injuries and how they handled injuries predated Alderson.

  5. TexasGusCC
    February 3, 2019 at 10:00 am

    As I recall, the Mets never even made contact with Murphy’s camp, much less an offer. Murphy accepted the 3/36 from the Nationals because no one was offering better. Also, the Nationals had always spoke respectfully of Murphy when he was in Queens, so it was easy to see why he gave in from his much higher expectations and went there.

  6. Chris F
    February 3, 2019 at 10:18 am

    I would repeat my comment from yesterday. Letting Turner walk was far and away the greatest mistake of his tenure.

    Murph would have helped in 2016 to be sure, but his 16-17 season are a distant memory, and he’s back to being the Murph we say for ages. That magical overlapping of timing matters, getting the stars aligned at the right time, and we missed that. However, Murph was riding a hot streak that burned bright, but I think its over for the most part.

  7. Brendan Vachris
    February 3, 2019 at 9:59 pm

    I was very passionate about the Mets needing to resign Murphy in the 2015-16 offseason. Even in September before his playoff heroics you could see he was the heart and soul of the team with Wright off the field. Resigning Cespedes was secondary to Murphy in my opinion, and his Christmas Eve signing with the Nationals still stings. It seemed they moved on based on his defense when a shift to first base seemed to have been the move, especially when Duda’s defense wasn’t great at first. He too had an costly WS error yet was kept. What Duda didn’t have was 7 postseason homers.

  8. TJ
    February 3, 2019 at 11:24 pm

    I have to agree with Turner being the biggest mistake. It was not so much that anyone saw his future at the time, it was that he was let go when it cost virtually nothing to retain him. Now, the caveats are that we don’t know exactly what bothered Alderson so much about Turner, and we don’t know if he ever would have developed into the 140+ OPS guy with the Mets. Likely not.

    Muprhy was a tough one, given that they did give him the QO. We know about his playoff run, but his play at 2B and on the bases was hard to watch. I have nver seen another big leaguer do as many mystifying things in the field in my 40+ years of following baseball. Had Sandy believed in his power surge and saw him as a better 1B than Duda, that would have been great. But, Walker for Niese wasn’t a bad plan B, it just stunk watching Murphy kill the Mets for most of the three following seasons.

    • February 4, 2019 at 8:41 am

      Sure, as long as you ignore the fact that he was going to arbitration in a year where the Mets cut payroll by $10 million. Additionally, they had Josh Satin come up in 2013 and outhit Turner by 77 OPS points and had him at minimum wage.

      In hindsight, the decision was a spectacular failure. But no one was ruing the decision when it happened. It would be like if in 2019 Wilmer Flores went out and put up a .900 OPS season. Except Flores had a ton more backers than Turner ever did and better offensive production to his name at the time they were cut loose. Flores became more expensive than his role and the Mets had cheaper alternatives. Same story with Turner.

      • Name
        February 4, 2019 at 9:37 am

        Not only that, but they had just given David Wright the extension 1 year prior and he was coming off a 904 OPS season while Murphy had just completed two consecutive years of 155+ games played. Had Turner stayed in 2014, he would have continued in his backup role and not gone on to post a 900 OPS. Continuing this what-if scenario, would the Mets have kept him again in 2015 when he might have finally got a chance to start when Wright gets diagnosed with spinal stenosis? But you have to wonder if they would have given Turner that shot or instead to someone else like top prospect Dilson Herrera at that point. It’s not inconceivable if Turner stayed with the Mets he would have been a career backup his whole life.

        • TJ
          February 4, 2019 at 9:44 pm

          By no means am I claiming that Turner would have had the career that he does had he stayed or that I or any other upset fans saw an all-star. But it is not hindsight as I clearly recall discussing belwilderment with several Met fans at the time. Comparing to Satin he showed a bit more pop, and just looked better in the field, although both had limitations. The biggest issue at the time was that the additional cost of his first arb year was only another $500k, so this had the continued stench of Wilpon cheapness. Murphy was more established, but Turner was the continuation of Madoff nonsense that was nauseating.

          • February 5, 2019 at 8:07 am

            But that wasn’t ultimately Alderson, was it?

      • February 4, 2019 at 10:03 am

        Mets had room for both of them on the roster, imo and Satin put up a pretty high Babip in 2013. The Mets gave up away at bats to Omar Q in 2013-2014 and then there’s the Campbell saga from 2014-2016 and we know how that worked out.

        • February 4, 2019 at 11:53 am

          Turner wasn’t going to start for the Mets. Most all teams carry a backup 1B/3B and a backup 2B/SS. Satin had surpassed Turner, being cheaper and more productive, at the corner slot. Could they have used Turner as the backup middle infielder? Sure, I suppose like the 2019 Mets plan to use Jed Lowrie as their backup SS. Hope he doesn’t kill you playing there twice a month. But Lowrie is coming off a 4.9 fWAR season while in parts of four years with the Mets, Turner had a combined 1.1 fWAR.

          Turner was essentially a league-average bat. If teams viewed him as being a capable backup middle infielder, he would have been signed immediately after he was let go by the Mets. For a modern comp, he was basically Brad Miller. You could carry him as your backup middle infielder but no one’s likely to do that in 2019.

  9. February 4, 2019 at 5:50 pm

    My opinion is that Sandy’s “biggest failings” are not on the list…although both the Turner and Murphy decisions may have been reflective of an Organizational approach that failed to recognize Versatility and Quality depth.

    Turner would have been a “cheap depth” move…and Murph could have easily been utilized as a Utility Player— The Organization (Maybe Sandy Himself) seemed to trail the thought leaders in baseball who were looking at Rosters with a more creative approach.

    The fact is that Sandy’s Rosters were “Perfect Plans”…. no fat, no give….. and often, no substantial depth or quality. The team lacked a plan for “Next Man Up”….. They played with a short roster for a stunning number of their games when Sandy and Terry were in Charge—it was easy to do when Todd Kelly was the most compelling call up.

    Murph and Turner could have addressed those needs—– beyond those guys, Lot’s of players could have addressed those needs—they were never addressed.

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