Sandy Alderson and the Mets’ payroll drop

Loyal reader Metsense recently posted this thought:

I feel sorry for Sandy Alderson. I believe, when he initially signed on, he thought of the Mets as Moneyball only with money. Imagine if he took the $142M payroll, lopped off the Perez and Castillo contracts and went into this winter with a $128M to spend. I think he would have done a few things differently to put his stamp on the franchise and we would be contending in 2012.

This would have given Alderson around $30 million more to spend than he actually did have this offseason. He could have re-signed Jose Reyes. He could have chased one of the high-end pitchers like C.J. Wilson. Perhaps he would have sought a catcher and traded for Chris Iannetta. It’s even possible he would have gone for an established closer and bid for Jonathan Papelbon. The mix and match possibilities, while not quite limitless, are more than I want to get in right now.

But I want to focus on another possibility – What if Sandy Alderson knew exactly what the situation was going to be when he signed on?

Here’s what we know for sure:
Fred Wilpon and Bud Selig are friends
Selig encouraged Alderson to take the job
The former Marine Alderson is a take-no-grief kind of guy
From the very beginning, Alderson talked about getting the payroll down

Let’s look at the last two items. Pretend for a moment that you are Alderson. You’ve accomplished a ton in your career in the majors and you are held in high regard in almost all quarters. Are you really going to sit back and accept being lied to by Wilpon in this situation? If you took the Mets job because it was a chance to work with a Top 5 payroll wouldn’t you feel cheated when it turned out to be a middle of the pack payroll and nearly all of the money was already allocated to players on hand?

You have a sharp wit and an acerbic tongue and your only response is to go to Twitter a year later and make 142 character or fewer jokes?

Obviously I have no inside knowledge of the situation but this just doesn’t pass the smell test for me. I think Alderson knew exactly what he was getting into with the Mets and the reason he took the job was not to see what life was like on the other side of the fence with piles of cash, but rather because he knew how to survive on a shoestring budget. And he could get something (besides cash) in return for his efforts.

My thinking is that Alderson took the job as a favor to two people – Selig and Paul DePodesta. He helped Selig help his friend Wilpon and in the process sets himself up to be the next commissioner of baseball when Selig steps down. What better way to curry favor with the other MLB owners than to be a good solider and be the point man for an unprecedented payroll drop? And Alderson helps DePodesta by rehabilitating his image and establishing DePo to be his replacement when Alderson leaves the Mets.

Continue to play devil’s advocate with me. If you had to sell the fan base on an historic drop in payroll, how would you do it? Would you come right out and say, “We’re broke and we’re going to drop our payroll $50 million” or would you cut it in $10 million increments over a period of time, knowing full well that additional bad financial news would come out along the way to help sell the decrease?

Essentially, I think Wilpon told Selig how bad his short-term financial picture was and Selig told him he had just the guy to get him over the next couple of years when things would be at their worst. Alderson took the job knowing full well that payrolls under $100 million were on the immediate horizon. He does his best to position the Mets for the post-2013 landscape when most, if not all, of the big contracts come off the books.

While Alderson may not be the beneficiary of that payroll flexibility down the road, he sees to it that DePodesta (sub in J.P. Ricciard if you think he’s the more likely choice) is his replacement and gets to have the extra money to use on the major league roster. DePo, who got run out of town in Los Angeles despite doing a fine job, gets to show once again that he’s got the right stuff to be a successful GM in a big market.

If all of this is true, I do not begrudge Alderson for carrying water in this situation. But I still wish he hadn’t spent $3.5 million on Jon Rauch.

4 comments for “Sandy Alderson and the Mets’ payroll drop

  1. February 17, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    That’s an interesting idea you’ve got going on there.
    I agree there is no way Sandy had no clue what was going to happen. I assume anyone mildly connected to the team had a sense it was coming.
    Still, it would have been nice if they were honest just how much they were going to cut instead of misleading fans with non-signings and rumors of lower and lower payrolls.

  2. AJ
    February 17, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    A tidy analysis, and I think it’s probably close to the truth. I agree completely that Alderson knew exactly what he was getting into. It seems completely logical that he would look out for himself, too, driving some kind of bargain to make it worth his while to deal with the crapstorm that he knew was waiting for him. Someday, when this current era is past and done, the full story will finally come out about all the behind the scenes negotiations and midnight deals struck deep in the bowels of the Wilpon’s bunker, as they maneuvered to maintain their grip on the Mets while fighting for their financial lives, and then we’ll know what happened.

    In the meantime, here we are on the verge of a season of greatly lowered expectations. No one in their right minds truly believes the Mets will be legitimate contenders this year, and yet there’s still plenty of interest for the loyal fans, and even a whiff of hope here and there (Ike! Murph! Duda!)

    Here’s a positive way to look at it: When all the prognosticators agree that your team sucks, and they say your season is over before it even begins, there are only two possible outcomes – you’re either going to meet expectations or exceed them.

    Let’s go Mets!

  3. Metsense
    February 17, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    Interesting conspiracy theory, and the theory is plausible. I really think if Alderson had $128M he wouldn’t have spent all the money. He was always looking for value. Papelbon was too expensive for a closer, Wilson too many years and money. Reyes, I’m not sure of what he would have done. The point is, I don’t think he would have spent it for the sake of spending it. It would be maneuvers like the Pagan trade but maybe on a grander scale. He might have plugged a hole or two with short term signings (Jackson, Madson, Oswalt type) that would have made the Mets competitive in 2012 while still leaving money in the budget if they were able to make a run at it,(I actually feel he is doing that now), and flexibility in the roster if they failed. Thanks Brian for putting your take on the subject, it was appreciated.

    • Brian Joura
      February 18, 2012 at 9:22 am

      I would have liked to have seen Jackson and Oswalt on one-year deals. If Santana was healthy, that means we could have moved both Gee and Pelfrey to the bullpen.

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