One of the first moves that new Mets owner Steve Cohen announced as he worked through the sale approval process was the return of former General Manager Sandy Alderson as the team’s president. This move was generally met with praise, and to some a sign that Cohen wasn’t simply going to storm in with his Scrooge McDuck money and recklessly flood a free agent market impacted by revenue losses incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you were a Mets fan, the thought of the team being one of only a handful with the ability to spend big was seemingly a dream come true. If you were an opposing owner tasked with approving Cohen’s purchase, that thought was most assuredly a less appealing scenario.

Much to the delight of Mets fans, Cohen appears to be wasting little time in shoring up the organizational shortcomings that were a perverse mainstay of the Wilpon era. Cutting corners across organizational operations, refusing to go all in on building a robust advanced analytics department, and ownership meddling in roster management and day-to-day baseball operations represented just a sliver of the underlying dysfunction that all too often justified the “LOLMets” moniker that haunts the franchise. With Cohen that all seems apt to change, and his first order of business appears to be putting the adults back in charge.

Restoring a bit of order, however, likely means the freewheeling spending of Cohen’s coffers some fans dreamed of might not come to fruition. The Mets had some work to do on their roster heading into the offseason, and it just so happens that three of their biggest needs were tied to three of the biggest free agents available: catcher (J.T. Realmuto), center field (George Springer), and starting pitcher (Trevor Bauer). Was it likely that the team was going to sign all three of these big-ticket players in one offseason? No, obviously, but the team’s signing of James McCann to a four-year $40 million deal so early in another painfully slow hot stove season may portend an unforeseen consequence that may come with bringing back the overseer of the Mets’ lowest period of austerity: attempting to outsmart everyone while spending less.

To be fair, the Mets’ stated intent was to hire both a President of Baseball Operations as well as a General Manager. Having failed to hire the former (mostly due to the best candidates’ current employers denying them interviews) and only just hiring the latter (Jared Porter), Alderson is once again in the driver’s seat for the team’s offseason roster-tweaking for 2021. On the surface that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, as Alderson is clearly a measured and calculating individual that doesn’t tend to act on impulse. In a vacuum, that’s the type of management you want in place to ensure the new owner’s significant funds aren’t spent so recklessly that it actually hamstrings the team in the future. The potential downside is that Alderson might not be able to shake the miserly nature in which he was forced to operate the last time he had his hands on the wheel in New York.

The general consensus seemed to be that McCann would sign for two or three years at roughly the average annual salary to which the Mets inked him. The fourth year he received from the Mets, it would seem, was the cost for the team to secure his services so early in the offseason.

The obvious first question after the signing concerns why the team jumped on McCann when Realmuto was (and is) still available. The answer is just as obvious: his exorbitant price tag and his rumored lack of desire to play in New York. Both of those points play on each other, as an already high price would theoretically be higher for a team for which he would rather not play.

The second question is, of course, how to square the concept of the team (potentially) not wanting to meet Realmuto’s price while also overpaying for McCann. The most palatable answer is that the team plans on being aggressive players in the Springer and Bauer sweepstakes and were not inclined to pay big for Realmuto’s twilight years. In this scenario, the team was being aggressive on McCann to avoid having another team snatch him up while everyone’s focus was on Realmuto. If this is the case, it’s a great example of Alderson strategically leveraging the financial resources now at his disposal and a good sign that the team will start acting as the large-market team its fans and new owner demand.

What if the Mets sign no other big-ticket free agents, though? What if their biggest acquisition this offseason ends up being McCann based solely on monetary reasons? It certainly wouldn’t be for a lack of funds, and as far as Cohen has conveyed publicly it wouldn’t be for a lack of desire to win. In this scenario, we have to question whether or not Alderson has the stomach to spend like a large-market club rather than continuing to attempt to outsmart the rest of baseball with ostensibly shrewd roster decisions.

There’s a long way to go before we can fully assess the Mets’ first offseason under new ownership, and there are several big fish still out there that would dramatically improve the team’s roster should they so choose to dole out the funds. We should obviously exercise caution in reading too deeply into the team’s early moves when there is still so much to be done before the 2021 season. Still, it’s not unreasonable to wonder just how far Alderson will go in what are essentially uncharted waters for the old school moneyballer.

Sports agent caricature Scott Boras once chastised the Mets for shopping in the “fruits-and-nuts category” in the free-agent marketplace. It was a harsh but fair assessment of the state that the franchise was put into by the bumbling Wilpons. That iteration of the team was also run by Alderson, though under drastically different circumstances. We’re just two months away from the official start of Spring Training, but that’s plenty of time for Cohen and Alderson to show fans and the sport whether or not we’ve truly entered a new era of Mets baseball that no longer justifies regular “LOLMets” quips.

6 comments on “Sandy Alderson and the remnants of austerity

  • NYM6986

    Liked your column today for the slap of potential reality but remember that Alderson and his moneyball background comes from one organization trying to maximize their resources and one that hamstrung him from spending above some cheap catch lightening in a bottle free agents. There has also been little free agent activity thus far but I believe not only will that pick up but the Mets will not lose potential players over a few million dollars. McCann is a solid signing at dollars that can be lost if he needs to go sooner than later. There are reports of Springer becoming a Met for $125 million over 5 years. That signing shores up the outfield by also moving Nimmo to left field where he is much stronger defensively. And yes, the addition of a solid #2 to fight Stroman for that designation would make us contenders, even if we decide to favor Davis’ bat and accept his glove at the hot corner. So I believe Alderson with money to spend is a good choice to help build the ML roster, beef up the Syracuse players waiting for a chance to play on the big stage, and bolster the minors with educated selections of talent. Then of course there will be the greatly expanded analytics department, something the Wilpons didn’t want to finance throwing themselves behind many teams in evaluating the best choices for a given situation.
    Rome was not built in a day which is why Cohen said he wants a sustainable winner in 3-5 years but you know deep down he wants that in 2. Let the Hot Stove heat up!

  • TJ

    Even top payroll teams need to make choices on spend, and need to spend as wisely as possible. The Cohen/Alderson Mets are no different. In addition to filling out remaining holes and garnering fan excitement for 2021, they do need to keep in mind Stroman, Syndergaard, and Conforto will be free agents after 2021, and they will liely want to extend at least two of them. Realmuto and Bauer are currently top players, but investing top multi-year dollars in a 30 year old catcher and a pitcher that put up his best season in a shortened schedule against limited competition may not be the best play for sustainable winning.

    Besides being a double fit with the PH power bat and CF defense, Springer may likely be the least risky longer term deal, as he can age into a corner OF spot and likely continue to produce above average offense further down the road.

  • Rich

    “The second question is, of course, how to square the concept of the team (potentially) not wanting to meet Realmuto’s price while also overpaying for McCann. The most palatable answer is that the team plans on being aggressive players in the Springer and Bauer sweepstakes…”

    Very good to see you guys get this. Im shocked that our fans and media just cant think strategically here.

    Firstly, as a buyer, when you find yourself at a financial advantage you use it. The Yankees did it first and the Dodgers have now followed. You buy (invest) big out of the gate in order to build value. Once the team is valued at more than you paid you are playing with house money so you want to get there are fast as possible.

    I think McCann is the perfect example here. You had to have a catcher and there were 2 options. You overspend (a little) there while in the process saying, we dont need or expect A, big offense, we just want B and C, defense and leadership. Thats how we value the position on our team.

    Now having taken care of your biggest need you go for the big guy(s) and if the market is in your favor you keep adding. You have also tapped down anyone crying “evil empire” if you get two because you showed restraint on McCann. Now that might not matter to SC. Do you think he cares what the other owners think? I think hed like to be liked but he knows winning is the best excuse for any other sins.

    The Mets are in such a dominate financial position right now you have to take advantage of it. And this is a guy who has made $15 billion by based on that exact theory, using money to make more money. Its called investing. No one considered that when George went wild in the 80s and 90s. He didnt have more money than the other owners, more revenue maybe, but not more money. And look how its turned out. Thats where we want to go, and further. The way you do it is to invest in players. Yes, there will be some bad contracts. McCann wont be one because his expectations wont be so high and if its an overpay its a small overpay that doesnt affect your future. It would be hard to sign Springer to a bad contract, maybe the last year, but no one worries about that. Bauer I dont know but I think they want both and maybe Sugano if hes as economical as they say hes going to be.

    Bottom line, All the Twitter and YouTube is marketing. I dont think hes faking it, I think he loves being King of Metland, but that side is different than the business side. This man made (won) $15 billion in his ultra competitive industry, he has told you hes going to win here too. I believe him.

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  • Brian Joura

    My opinion is that the Mets will spend plenty of money this offseason so I have zero worry about austerity.

    I do think it’s fair to wonder if the McCann deal was the right one for the club. And I do more than wonder when it comes to keeping Gsellman and cutting Shreve.

  • Mike W

    I think they will invest wisely. It may feel great to sign Realmuto, Springer and Bauer, but it could really hurt us in years three, four and five of their contracts.

    As for catcher, they were thinking of the development of Francisco Alvarez. That’s also why it makes sense for McCann.

    I do believe that they will sign two tier two starters for a lot less money than Bauer. If Bauer had a track record of three to five years of dominance, it may be a different story.

    I do think that they will sign Springer. And in think it will be soon. If they sign Springer, keep an eye on the Korean third baseman. He won’t cost a lot of money and he has to sign by January 6th. If they dont sign Springer, then they may go after LeMahieu as the big right handed bat.

    All and all, it is really a lot if fun to even think of moves like this rather like the past where we knew that all they would do is shop in the clearance section.

  • Syd

    As I’ve posted previously, I don’t like the return of Alderson, hopefully I’ll be proven wrong. Hopefully his previous poor performance was due to lack of funds to spend and not what I perceive as his “smarter than all the other general managers persona” without showing those results.

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