Harper: Alderson, Mets content with not over-spending

By on January 10, 2016
John Harper


Saturday, January 9, 2016, 4:40 PM

Denard Span (c.) smiles after inking a three-year, $  31 million deal with San Fran Giants.Jeff Chiu/AP

The Giants are taking a three-year, $ 31 million gamble on Denard Span, one that seems reasonable, based on the price, for what the free-agent center fielder can provide if he returns to form after last summer’s hip surgery.

The Mets weren’t willing to take that risk, and it’s possible they’ll be proven smart for passing. Time will tell. But their underwhelming off-season leaves such decisions open to harsh interpretation.

Indeed, by choosing to sign Alejandro De Aza to a one-year, $ 5.75 million deal last month rather than take a chance on Span, never mind Yoenis Cespedes, the Mets added to the perception that their decision-making this winter is being driven by ongoing payroll concerns.

However, GM Sandy Alderson insists that’s not the case.

“The biggest issue for us (regarding Span) was the injury,” Alderson said by phone on Friday. “It wasn’t payroll.”

It’s a frustrating subject for the GM because he knows fans are skeptical — understandably so, after years of post-Madoff budget-crunching. But the way Alderson explains it, a free-agent market that didn’t match up well with the Mets’ needs in center field and shortstop dictated the low-profile moves this winter.

“I feel good about what we’ve done,” he said. “You’d always like to have a little more sizzle, but that was more about the market. The players weren’t there. That’s why we were all-in on (Ben) Zobrist.”

The Mets lost out to the Cubs, of course, but they recovered nicely there by trading for Neil Walker. And by adding Asdrubal Cabrera and De Aza, Alderson seems to feel the Mets have created enough depth and versatility to be solid offensively, in part by taking advantage of platoon possibilities at second base, center field, and perhaps first base as well.

In addition, the Mets believe De Aza will be productive against righthanded pitching — he had an .800 OPS vs. RH last season — and they seem convinced he can still play an adequate center field, even though he’s played there sparingly the last two seasons.

They also feel strongly that Juan Lagares will return to Gold Glove defensive form in center, figuring he’ll replace De Aza in late innings against righthanded pitching, and they have high hopes he will still blossom offensively.

Alderson also made it clear he preferred a short-team deal for De Aza, as opposed to multi-year deals for Span or Gerardo Parra, to maintain financial flexibility in case an attractive free agent’s price drops dramatically.

Like Cespedes, for example?

Alderson wouldn’t discuss such a possibility, and it’s highly unlikely Cespedes’ market would fall to that level, but with the Giants signing Span and the Nationals trading for Ben Revere on Friday, the landing spots for Cespedes and Justin Upton are dwindling.

Still, teams like the Tigers, Angels, and perhaps the Orioles seem far more likely to jump in before the Mets would. In fact, the sense you get from talking to others in the Mets’ hierarchy is that they would only sign Cespedes if he decided to take a one-year deal, with the idea of being more in demand as free agent next year in a thin outfield market.

If that is indeed the case, it’s fair to ask why the Mets are so firm in their stance.

However, Alderson wasn’t biting on Cespedes questions, and other Mets people tread carefully on the subject. But one executive from another team said he believes the Mets, and perhaps other teams as well, worry that Cespedes’ reputation as a diva is deserved and fear that his effort level will waver if he gets a long-term deal.

So chances are the 2016 roster is set offensively, other than adding a righthanded-hitting backup outfielder. Is it good enough? Alderson was emphatic in saying he feels it is, though he also indicated he’ll have money to make moves at the trading deadline as he did last year.

By then we’ll also have a better idea if the Mets were wise to pass on Span, and Cespedes too.


The Nationals made a solid move on Friday, trading for Revere as a replacement of sorts in center field for Span. By adding two lefthanded hitters, Revere and Daniel Murphy, the Nats are more balanced offensively than last season.

To get Revere they gave up reliever Drew Storen, who was never the same after being demoted from closer to set-up man after Washington dealt for Jonathan Papelbon last summer.

The problem, of course, is that it indicates Papelbon is staying. No team has been willing to take his $ 11 million contract for next season in a trade, and on Saturday Nats GM Mike Rizzo told reporters that he expects Papelbon will be “one of our late-inning relievers” next season.

Bryce Harper has to be thrilled.


Some Takeaways From Last Week’s Hall of Fame Vote:

– Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens aren’t ever getting to Cooperstown.

Neither of baseball’s most notorious steroids users received the expected big jumps in voting percentage in a year when they were supposed to benefit greatly from the BBWAA’s reduction of the voting body — 109 fewer voters.

The old guys — anyone who hadn’t covered baseball in the past 10 years — were out, and the assumption was that they were mostly hard-liners on steroids, theoretically opening a door of sorts for Bonds and Clemens.

Furthermore, some of the early public ballots, including some from national writers who changed their previous positions, indicated a possible widespread shift in thinking about steroids users.

Instead, the two tainted stars made only small gains, as Bonds went from 37% to 44% and Clemens 38% to 45%. Though each has six years remaining on the ballot, more than half of the remaining no voters would have to change their minds for Bonds and Clemens to reach the 75 percent threshold.

– How is Trevor Hoffman miles ahead of Billy Wagner?

I’m all for relievers getting their due in the Hall of Fame, and it looks like Hoffman is a lock after he received 67.3% in his first year on the ballot. Yet Wagner received only 10.5% of the vote, which is hard to believe.

Hoffman has the higher save total, yet Wagner was more dominant in practically every significant pitching category, which is why I voted for him. I expect to vote for Hoffman next year, when the ballot will be a bit less crowded, but Wagner deserves more support.

– Shortstops don’t get enough respect.

Alan Trammell is off the ballot after failing to get in on his 15th and final try, and that’s too bad because the former Detroit Tiger was one of the top 10 shortstops of all time, factoring in his offense and defense, and deserved better.

Derek Jeter is a shoo-in, of course, in four years, but more intriguing to me will be Omar Vizquel, who is two years away. He didn’t do backflips while taking the field, like Ozzie Smith, but Vizquel was every bit the same wizard with the glove, winning 11 Gold Gloves along the way. He didn’t hit much, but his defense should make him a slam-dunk.

– Does Mike Piazza’s election bode well for Ivan Rodriguez next season?

Piazza got in on his fourth try because enough voters, including myself, decided that it’s not fair to deny a player a Hall of Fame vote based strictly on suspicion of steroids, no matter how strong, and Jeff Bagwell is headed in that direction.

So Pudge will be an interesting case next year. Manny Ramirez is also on the ballot, but as great a hitter as he was, he figures to have no shot because he has two failed drug tests.

Rodriguez, meanwhile, who won 13 Gold Gloves, falls more in the Piazza category: tons of suspicion, and a dramatic weight-loss late in his career too, but no hard evidence. That is, unless you count Jose Canseco’s claim in his book that he injected Pudge with steroids while they were teammates with the Rangers.

Piazza didn’t have to deal with anything that messy.

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