January 2011

Alderson responds to Madoff situation

The perception around baseball, fairly or not, is that Fred Wilpon’s involvement with Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme has affected the team’s bottom line — and with it, its baseball operations budget. Though admitting he is “not privy” to the crux of that information, general manager Sandy Alderson responded Monday with his take on the situation. The complete transcript, courtesy MLB.com’s Bailey Stephens:

wilpons.jpgHas the Madoff situation affected your baseball operations?
“First of all, I want to emphasize that the plan that we have pursued the last couple of months was limited by only one fact, and that was the level of the existing payroll. Our payroll going into the season will be somewhere between $140 million and $150 million. I think that is significantly higher than we’d like to be on an annual basis — a product of adding some additional players that we felt the roster needed as well as some existing [obligations]. The plan and the approach that I’ve taken over the last two months has been affected at all by any other outside factors.”

Did you know when you interviewed about the Mets’ financial situation?
“From my standpoint, when I took this position, when I interviewed and took this position, I was of course aware of the pre-existing involvement of the Wilpons and the Mets with Bernie Madoff. I wasn’t privy to all of the detail, nor am I or most of us at this point privy to all that detail. And I wouldn’t expect to be.

At the same time, none of that has affected what I have done over the last two months. I don’t expect that it will have any impact on what I do over the next several months, including into the 2012 offseason.”

What are your financial limitations?
“When I came in, I looked at where the payroll had been, what we had committed for 2011, and then took a look at the roster with others involved in management here and determined where we thought we needed to add players, add depth — starting pitching, what have you. And we proceeded accordingly. There hasn’t been any discussion about limitations other than the overall magnitude of the payroll. It’s going to be in the top four, five or six.

None of what I’ve done has been predicated on any issues related to Bernie Madoff or the overall financial strength of the Mets.”

Is there a level of concern about the future?
“No. I mean, obviously there’s a certain level of ambiguity surrounding this news. But from my standpoint, the facts are as they currently exist. And to some extent the decision to find a minority partner or some other source of recapitalizing the franchise is positive news from my standpoint. If there was an initial problem before, that can only be positive from my standpoint.”

Added pressure?
“I don’t really feel added pressure. I do believe that the best tonic for all of this is a winning team. So from that standpoint, it would be really terrific for us to have a good spring and start off the season well and perform beyond the public’s expectations.”

Worried about a negative effect on the clubhouse?
“No. I think that whatever potential distraction it might be we can manage. I think it was important that if a development of this sort were going to arise, that it come now — whatever dark cloud some have described — hopefully will be dissipated at least in part between now and the beginning of spring training and we can focus on baseball.”

How will this affect the Jose Reyes negotiations?
“Again, perhaps naively, I don’t expect that this situation will be a hindrance in that regard. I fully expect that decision will be made as it would have been, in the best interest of the team on the field, and the best interest of the overall sort of financial health as well as baseball future of the Mets — as it would be with any other team. I just again I go back to the notion that if a potential financial issue exists, ownership is proactively addressing it. At this point, I don’t expect that any financial situation will inhibit negotiations with Jose.”

Did you know selling the team was a possibility before you took the job?
“The short answer is, it wasn’t really discussed. I didn’t raise it and again from my standpoint, I’m not surprised by this development just because the Madoff situation was a backdrop to the Mets and a well known backdrop. My enthusiasm and energy for this position and my confidence in the future of the Mets is undiminished.”

Do you have a payroll target?
“At this point, is there a specific number? No. My sense is that, you may know recent Mets history better than I. I don’t know that we’ve gotten this high in the past. One never wants to rest at one extreme or the other. My sense is that our payroll is a little higher than I would have liked it to have been, but we are where we are. We will continue to spend money at very high levels.”

Would your decision to sign on with the Mets have changed if you knew circumstances would change?
“You are right to say that some circumstances have changed … Would it have changed my position? I don’t think so.”

How can you explain the difference in payrolls between the Yankees and Mets?
“The only way that I can explain it is No. 1, we have consist had one of the highest payrolls in baseball. We’ve never before or after my arrival stated that our goal was to achieve payroll parity with the Yankees. We certainly don’t have that goal now. I don’t know that I have to justify the difference … Once our attendance goes back to a more traditional levels, that gives us that much more flexibility.”

***

—–Follow along on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.

Projecting the Opening Day roster: 1/27

No major changes to the roster in the past week mean there are no changes to the projection — and it may remain that way until pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 15. Regardless, this is a weekly exercise, and so we press on:

tankersley.jpgC – Josh Thole
1B – Ike Davis
2B – Brad Emaus
SS – Jose Reyes
3B – David Wright
OF – Jason Bay
OF – Carlos Beltran
OF – Angel Pagan
Bench – Chin-lung Hu
Bench – Daniel Murphy
Bench – Scott Hairston
Bench – Willie Harris
Bench – Mike Nickeas

SP – Mike Pelfrey
SP – R.A. Dickey
SP – Jon Niese
SP – Chris Young
SP – Chris Capuano
RP – Francisco Rodriguez
RP – Bobby Parnell
RP – D.J. Carrasco
RP – Taylor Tankersley
RP – Taylor Buchholz
RP – Manny Acosta
RP – Pedro Beato

Comments: Nickeas makes the team due to the eight games remaining on Ronny Paulino’s PED suspension. The additions of relievers Blaine Boyer and Tim Byrdak, both to Minor League contracts, create even more competition for Tankersley, Buchholz, Acosta and Beato. Look for this situation to remain muddy until the final weeks of Spring Training.

—–Follow along on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.

Howard Johnson still unsure of role

Howard Johnson will be back with the Mets in some capacity next season — he just doesn’t know how or when.

“They want me back,” Johnson said Tuesday evening at the Baseball Assistance Team’s annual dinner in New York. “It’s just a matter of figuring out where I fit. As of right now, nothing has been decided. We haven’t had a lot of contact because they’ve been busy with other things.”

Earlier this offseason, the Mets announced that they would not to bring Johnson back as hitting coach, replacing him with Dave Hudgens.

“That happens in baseball,” Johnson said. “You just have to deal with it. When you take
these jobs, you expect at some point that you’re not always going to
have that job. It’s part of it.”

—–Follow along on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.

Projecting the Opening Day roster: 1/20

It’s Thursday, which means it’s time again to project the Opening Day roster, an exercise we will undertake every week here until Opening Day. There are some significant changes since last week, after the Mets all but finished their offseason shopping with the acquisitions of Chris Young, Willie Harris and Scott Hairston. Remember, this list includes only those players currently on the roster — not those the Mets may yet acquire:

chrisRyoung.jpgC – Josh Thole
1B – Ike Davis
2B – Brad Emaus
SS – Jose Reyes
3B – David Wright
OF – Jason Bay
OF – Carlos Beltran
OF – Angel Pagan
Bench – Chin-lung Hu
Bench – Daniel Murphy
Bench – Scott Hairston
Bench – Willie Harris
Bench – Mike Nickeas

SP – Mike Pelfrey
SP – R.A. Dickey
SP – Jon Niese
SP – Chris Young
SP – Chris Capuano
RP – Francisco Rodriguez
RP – Bobby Parnell
RP – D.J. Carrasco
RP – Taylor Tankersley
RP – Taylor Buchholz
RP – Manny Acosta
RP – Pedro Beato

Comments: Once again, Nickeas cracks the roster due to the eight games remaining on Ronny Paulino’s PED suspension. Young slides into the rotation, knocking Dillon Gee back to the Minors. And the presence of both Hairston and Harris does the same for Nick Evans. He’s out of options, helping his chances, but Evans will nonetheless have to hit his way onto the team in Spring Training. I still like Emaus’s chances to win the second base competition, and Terry Collins said this week that he thinks Murphy could be invaluable to the Mets as a super-sub off the bench. The only other change is Acosta making the team over Ryota Igarashi, who cleared waivers last week and has been outrighted to Triple-A. Igarashi may still make the team over Buchholz, Acosta or Beato, though the latter two have advantages due to being out of options and having Rule 5 status, respectively.

—–Follow along on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.

Previewing Mets position battles

Every Major League team has a few position battles in Spring Training, and the Mets are no exception. We’ll have plenty more on these over the next few weeks on Mets.com, but for now, a quick look at what to watch for come spring:

beltranslidingfielding.jpg1. CENTER FIELD
The contenders: Carlos Beltran, Angel Pagan
The edge: Beltran

For the first time in 13 seasons, Beltran will walk into camp without a firm grip on the starting center field job. Missing the majority of last season with right knee issues, Beltran watched as his countryman stepped in and established himself as a legitimate everyday center fielder. Upon Beltran’s return, Pagan shifted to right — but there was no doubt that he remained the better player both at the plate and in the field.

Another offseason of rehabilitation should have Beltran and his knee in better shape come spring. But at 33 years old, can he still be an elite defensive center fielder? The Mets may be better served putting Pagan in center, considering the impressive quickness and glovework he displayed last season. But Beltran’s value would be higher at his natural position, so if the Mets really do intend to trade him before his seven-year contract expires after the season, they may give Beltran the outfield edge.

All that’s clear right now is that whoever loses this battle will start in right field. And whoever wins will be entrenched in center regardless of injuries, slumps and overall results.

2. SECOND BASE
The contenders: Luis Castillo, Brad Emaus, Daniel Murphy
The edge: Emaus

For the sake of this exercise, we’ll ignore Justin Turner, Luis Hernandez and Chin-lung Hu, all of whom are effectively competing for bench spots. The real battle here is between Murphy, who has spent much of the last year attempting to prove his defensive prowess at second base, and Emaus, a Rule 5 pick from the Blue Jays. Emaus’ Rule 5 status gives him an early edge in this battle because if he does not make the team, the Mets would need to offer him back to the Jays for $25,000. In addition, Emaus would provide a right-handed bat at the bottom of a lineup that already includes lefties Ike Davis and Josh Thole. And his presence at second would allow the Mets to keep Murphy stashed on the bench, where he could serve as a sort of super-sub at first base, second, third and left field.

That’s a pretty significant edge for Murphy to overcome. But the Mets remain hopeful regarding Murphy’s offensive ceiling. If he outperforms Emaus with the bat in Spring Training, the job could (and should) be his.

As for Castillo, there’s really only one scenario in which he makes the team: he rakes in Spring Training while the other two falter. Otherwise, the Mets know, they’d be better served to cut him and the $6 million remaining on his contract.

3. BULLPEN
The contenders: Taylor Tankersley, Taylor Buchholz, Ryota Igarashi, Pedro Beato, Manny Acosta, Pat Misch, Oliver Perez
The edge: Tankersley, Buchholz, Beato, Acosta

Of what appears to be a total of seven spots in the bullpen, only Francisco Rodriguez, Bobby Parnell and D.J. Carrasco will head into camp with guaranteed roles. Tankersley, the strongest lefty candidate, is on a non-guaranteed Minor League deal but should make the team. Buchholz, barring a poor spring performance, should as well.

That leaves two spots for Beato, Acosta, Igarashi, Misch and Perez — and it’s truly impossible to handicap this battle without seeing them perform on spring. On paper, Beato has an edge due to his Rule 5 status. Igarashi is owed $1.75 million this season, providing the Mets with some incentive to give him innings. But he has also cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Buffalo, meaning the Mets won’t risk losing him if he doesn’t make the team.

The Mets like — but don’t love — Acosta as a middle-innings guy, so they’re pleased he missed the arbitration cutoff by a relatively slim margin. But that won’t guarantee him a job — he’ll have to earn it. Misch will make the team only if manager Terry Collins deems it necessary to keep a long man. And Perez? Not likely.

It’s possible also that a Minor Leaguer could surprise in Spring Training and make the team. But right now, with a little less than a month to go before pitchers and catchers report to Port St. Lucie, Beato and Acosta appear to be the early favorites to round out the bullpen.

—–Follow along on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.

Francis to Royals, but who to Mets?

The Mets lost one of their primary free agent targets Friday morning when Jeff Francis reportedly signed a one-year deal with the Royals.

francis.jpgThough he may never have been the Mets’ top starting pitcher target — they have been in talks with Chris Young for weeks — the deal should nonetheless affect them. In addition to losing the bargaining power of talking to Francis, the Mets now must come with the fact that the other teams after him — the Yankees, for one — now may focus more of their energies on Young.

If the Mets cannot land Young, they may turn toward Dave Bush or Freddy Garcia instead. Earlier this month, the club signed Chris Capuano to a heavily incentive-laden one-year deal worth a base of $1.5 million; they would like to do acquire another starter on similar terms.

—–Follow along on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.

Projecting the Opening Day roster: 1/13

This is the first in what I intend to make a weekly exercise, every Thursday, leading up to the final day of Spring Training. I will project the Opening Day roster as I see it, taking into account only what information we know — current roster makeup, special circumstances and, eventually, Spring Training performances. I will not project what free agents the Mets may still sign or what trades they may make. If you’re into that sort of thing, head on over to MLB.com’s Hot Stove Blog. So yes, the Mets are almost certain to sign another starting pitcher, and yes, they’ll probably sign a backup outfielder, as well. But they haven’t yet, so for the purposes of this exercise we’re ignoring those possibilities.

murphystanding.jpgWithout further ado:

C – Josh Thole
1B – Ike Davis
2B – Brad Emaus
SS – Jose Reyes
3B – David Wright
OF – Jason Bay
OF – Carlos Beltran
OF – Angel Pagan
Bench – Chin-lung Hu
Bench – Daniel Murphy
Bench – Nick Evans
Bench – Jason Pridie
Bench – Mike Nickeas

SP – Mike Pelfrey
SP – R.A. Dickey
SP – Jon Niese
SP – Chris Capuano
SP – Dillon Gee
RP – Francisco Rodriguez
RP – Bobby Parnell
RP – D.J. Carrasco
RP – Taylor Tankersley
RP – Taylor Buchholz
RP – Ryota Igarashi
RP – Pedro Beato

Comments: Because Ronny Paulino has eight games remaining on his PED suspension, Nickeas makes the team as a backup catcher. Pridie makes by default; I fully expect the Mets to sign a free agent outfielder between now and Spring Training, but right now, they have no other options on the 40-man roster. I have Emaus starting at second base because Murphy, despite his defensive limitations, is the more versatile bench player. Gee makes the team due to Johan Santana’s injury; a Chris Young signing would change that. And without having seen the back end of the bullpen in action, Beato and Igarashi get the edge over Manny Acosta and Pat Misch due to their Rule 5 status and $1.75 million contract, respectively.

—–Follow along on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.

Spring Training report dates set

Finally, some exciting news for Mets fans. The team announced today that the Spring Training report date is Tuesday, Feb. 15 for pitchers and catchers, and Saturday, Feb. 19 for everyone else. The first pitcher/catcher workout will take place on Feb. 17, the first full-squad workout on Feb. 21.

wrightautographs.jpgIf you’ve never been down to Port St. Lucie for Spring Training, some advice: games are fun, and come highly recommended. But if you want to get up and close with the players, consider heading down for one of the first couple weeks before the games start. Players move from field to field doing drills, often stopping at the sidelines to sign autographs and chat with fans.

The first game, by the way, is Feb. 26 at Digital Domain Park.

—–Follow along on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.

Former Mets pitcher Benson retires

In case you missed it yesterday, Kris Benson has officially called it quits after nine seasons. From FoxSports.com:

“I’m done,” Benson said. “I decided pretty much after this past season that I wasn’t going to pursue anything. I’ve been putting way too much into it and not getting enough out of it, as far as the rehab, working out, training, and then not getting the type of results I expect from myself.

Perhaps best known for his wife, Anna, who once showed up to the Mets’ holiday party in a revealing Santa suit and made several back-page comments during his time in New York, Benson was 14-12 with a 4.23 ERA over parts of two seasons with the Mets. The former No. 1 overall pick of the Pirates finished his career 70-75 with a 4.42 ERA, yet another cautionary tale of a “can’t-miss” prospect who missed.

—–Follow along on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.

Mets to hold annual blood drive

The holiday season may be over, but the Mets are not done with their annual charitable efforts. The team will hold a blood drive this Thursday at Citi Field from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in partnership with the New York Blood Center. All fans who donate will receive a voucher good for two tickets to a select Mets game in April 2011. The voucher is also good for a 15 percent discount at the team store.

Fans may park in Lot G on 126th Street between the Right Field Gate and Roosevelt Avenue.

—–Follow along on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.

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