Tell me how Sandy Alderson blaming New York as a major factor in keeping qualified candidates to run baseball operations away from the Mets isn’t worse than a few of the team’s players turning thumbs down at the fans.
This is not to pardon Javier Baez, Francisco Lindor and Kevin Pillar for their derisive gestures.
But they are the employees, still relatively young men overreacting in real time. Alderson is one step down from the ultimate boss, Steve Cohen. He is supposed to be the adult in the room. He was hired by the Wilpons, then by Cohen, for his been-there-seen-it-all gravitas. He has — unfortunately for the organization — had weeks and months to think about this.
So how is this statement, from the general managers’ meetings, wise?
“Admittedly there’s a reluctance to come to New York, but I think it’s mostly about New York, and not about Steve or the organization or what have you. It’s a big stage, and some people would prefer to be elsewhere.”
“If you’re looking to be comfortable, the Mets are probably not the place to come.”
Here is another way to address candidates: Would you like a full DVD set of “Once Upon a Time in Queens?” Because if you watch the ESPN documentary, you will see just how great it all can be in New York if the Mets win. You can see that the Mets can own this town.
The problems that have hardened since surround a lot of incompetence in running the franchise, not its location. The Mets have made the playoffs just six times in the 35 seasons since 1986, when they last won the World Series. The Yankees — you know the New York Yankees — have made the postseason 23 times since then, the Braves 21, the Cardinals 17, the Dodgers and Red Sox 16. You get the picture.
In that time frame, the Mets have finished first in their division just three times. They have made the playoffs in consecutive years twice and never three years in a row. The Braves, by comparison, have won the past four NL East titles and just won the World Series. Alderson has been in charge for nine seasons over two stints, and in those years, the Mets have made the playoffs twice and won between 70 and 79 games in each of the other seven seasons.
Is that really a New York problem? Or did New York become a problem because of one dropped baton pass after another on the executive and ownership levels? Does anyone believe the Yankees — again the New York Yankees — would have any difficulty recruiting the best and the brightest to run baseball operations if Brian Cashman exited?
New York should be a selling point. The fans have stayed loyal, passionately so, despite all the losing. The stadium is outstanding. The network provides the best local broadcast in the sport, in my opinion. This owner apparently will not have qualms about investing whatever is necessary in infrastructure, personnel and payroll.
To take every one of those advantages and reach the second weekend in November without a president of baseball operations, GM, manager and most of a coaching staff is about New York as much as growing tropical fruit is about New York. Hiring Mickey Callaway, Jared Porter and Zack Scott — all on Alderson’s record — isn’t about New York, it is about process.
It is up to Alderson and Cohen to sell why fixing the Mets is the best job in the sport, not something to run away from. Buying into the anti-New York rhetoric is for vicious talk radio in the heartland, not something that should come out of the mouth of the president of the New York Mets. Would Alderson sell his house by talking about the termites?
This is about recruiting, and veteran agents will tell you that is not a strength of Alderson when it comes to their free agents. For better or worse, a full-court seduction is necessary in these things. Especially in this instance, for the top baseball job. Because there are real hurdles to overcome.
Many desirable candidates are under contract and not being given permission. It is 2021, not 20 years ago when the big cities were the desirable destination for baseball lifers, whose families would pick up and follow the breadwinner anywhere. These days the top baseball executives are better educated. They are often married to well-educated spouses who have substantive jobs in their current towns. The family unit lives comfortably in that place, in part because even small-market clubs pay well for that position, and the dollar goes further and the chances of being fired even after a bad season or three is not as overt.
So, yes, the Mets have to sell why Queens is better. I think Cohen should have gone to the GM’s meetings. He insists he is easy to work for and will let those in charge of baseball operations have large autonomy. But there is a bogeyman aspect to him carrying over from running his hedge fund, now combined with his tweet-heavy first year of ownership.
He could have demystified himself somewhat. Cohen could have sat down over a drink with a few folks who turned down even an interview and educated himself on why the industry is running from him and his team. I bet New York would be way down on that list.
A problem of the previous ownership was that the Wilpons, especially Jeff, lacked self-awareness, constantly believing the negative portrayals were wrong, biased or score-settling rather than accurate renderings. Cohen needs to avoid a similar echo chamber.
Candidates are concerned about Cohen. They also worry about Alderson’s presence and influence, including that his son was elevated to an assistant GM position, arguably without the credentials for that role. They are worried that the owner expects to win now, and the current state of the roster and payroll make that, at minimum, difficult.
For example, the three highest-paid Mets (all under contract for at least two more seasons) are a shortstop (Lindor) who might not want to play here just beginning a 10-year extension, an ace (Jacob deGrom) who will turn 34 next June and whose physical condition is a mystery, and a 39-year-old second baseman (Robinson Cano) coming off a full year absence for his second PED-related suspension.
None of those major issues are about the city the Mets play in. They are about the people running the team in New York.