Before the Mets? pitchers and catchers report Sunday, general manager Sandy Alderson took a swing at some spring training Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.
Q: Why should Mets fans be excited about this year?s team?
A: Over the last couple of years, the team has performed at a much higher level, and I think we can do that again. I think that while we haven?t seen a lot of new faces or won?t see a lot of new faces in spring training, other than some young players that we have coming through our system, we?re gonna have players coming back who weren?t able to perform, mostly for health reasons last season, and as a result I think we?ve got the potential to be better than we were last year and comparable to what we were in 2015. We?ve got starting pitchers coming back, we?ve got position players coming back, we?ve got some young players with room to grow. ? I just think the potential is there to be very good.
Q: If your Core Four starting pitchers stay healthy, could this be your best team?
A: Well, it?s a possibility yeah. First of all, we have some very good starting pitching, but we also have some very good depth for the rotation, so we are very optimistic about those four pitchers you mention ? as well as Zack Wheeler and [Robert] Gsellman, [Seth] Lugo pitched well last year ? so looking at our depth going into this season, I?d say that it?s probably better than it was last year, but the frontliners should all be ready to go.
Q: How is Matt Harvey?s health?
A: I haven?t actually seen him throw off a mound, but I?ve seen video, know he?s in excellent shape. ? He?s in good spirits, he?s been working hard and has been throwing. And so from all of those indications, it appears that he?s right on track. I always caution and remind myself that we?ll know a lot more in spring training as Harvey and others progress through their throwing programs. But right now everything looks very good.
Q: How would you characterize the relationship between Harvey and the Mets?
A: I say it?s very positive. He has gone through some health issues that obviously have been some disagreements over how to address those health issues and so forth, but I think that?s largely in the past. I think he?s in a very good frame of mind. We?re very high on him. So I think the relationship ? probably better than people perceived it to be a couple of years ago, and it?s just as good now.
Q: What sense do you get about how hungry he is to recapture his old form?
A: We haven?t discussed it at all, but knowing the competitor that he is, knowing how he enjoys pitching in New York and the feedback that he gets from the fans, I think he?s anxious to get back to that level. There are lots of motivating reasons, but I don?t think there has ever been any doubt about his desire to succeed and perform level.
Q: What do you like best about Noah Syndegaard?
A: First of all, his phenomenal growth and maturity over the last two, 2??/? years. From the young pitcher that we acquired from Toronto, to the successful major league New York icon (chuckle) that he?s become. It?s just a phenomenal metamorphosis. I really enjoy his personality, his wit and the way he allows himself to enjoy what he?s doing.
Q: At the time you made that trade, what did you envision him to be?
A: With his size and with his velocity, the only question with him at that time was whether he was gonna develop a breaking ball. And I would say since that time, not only has he developed a secondary pitch, but his command is extraordinary as well. He had the size, he had all the potential in the world ? had that amateur pedigree. ? He had all those things going in his favor, and I give a lot of credit to our player development system for growing that potential out of him, and to himself obviously.
Q: What do you like best about Jacob deGrom?
A: He?s overstated in a way, and understated in a way. It?s always positive when fans identify with a player for their performance as well as for something unique about them, their personality. But the other thing I like about Jacob is that his personality is understated. He?s a regular guy, enjoys what he?s doing, he?s a very honest, authentic individual. He?s a great complement to Harvey and Syndergaard and their sort of outsized personalities, and Jacob is just quietly outstanding but also has his own flair.
Q: What enabled him to become a star?
A: It?s velocity, it?s movement on his fastball, it?s command of all of his pitches. He doesn?t have the overwhelming velocity that for example Syndergaard may have, but even when his velocity was down last year, he was still a very effective pitcher. So in a way, that might actually hold him here in good stead going forward knowing full well that he can be successful without necessarily having to top out his fastball at 95, 96.
Q: How high is up for Steven Matz?
A: He has potential to be much better than he has been, and he?s been very good when he?s been healthy.
Q: All four of them have the same mentality in different degrees, don?t they?
A: I?d say very definitely, yeah. I think they?re all aggressive, they all have good mound presence, and they?re not afraid to go after hitters.
Q: What do you envision for Zack Wheeler?
A: We?re not looking to put him in the bullpen, but we also have to be mindful that he hasn?t pitched in two years and that may affect how we can use him, or how many innings he can pitch. I think he wants to be a starter, and certainly understand that, but we?ll make that decision when we get down to spring training.
Q: What tells you that Yoenis Cespedes has the perfect makeup for New York?
A: I think just the way in which he approaches each game. He has a flair that people have come to appreciate. That flair comes with outstanding ability as well. You can tell he?s superconfident, he?s an outstanding athlete ? and a bigger-than-life aspect to his game with his power and his arm. Fans enjoy winning games, but I think that in New York, personalities stand out as well. He hasn?t heretofore communicated all that much, but there?s that quiet, mysterious aura of power and speed and strength, it?s manifested quite often at the plate. People are intrigued by it. Hard to ignore that (chuckle). ? What I?m most [excited] about is that he?s been working out in Port St. Lucie pretty regularly and I think is really motivated to play well and be healthy this year, and that?s a very good sign.
Q: You have no issues with his golfing?
A: No, I really don?t. Last year there was an unfortunate juxtaposition between the golf and the leg injury that didn?t sit well with some fans, and wasn?t looked on favorably by the media. I don?t think there was any real connection between the two.
Q: David Wright?
A: We just have to wait and see. I hate to put any limitations on David, because until we get to spring training, we don?t know exactly what his physical capacity will be. But we have to deal with the uncertainty that exists, and I think we?ve done that by accumulating a number of players, infielders who give us a lot of flexibility, versatility and coverage, not only at third but the other on-field positions as well. I don?t want to really speculate on what Plan B is if David can?t go, but obviously Jose Reyes played well there last year and we expect to play there this year if he had to. But at this point, we?re looking forward to seeing David in spring training and having a healthy David Wright to open the season.
Q: What is the state of your bullpen with Jeurys Familia?s uncertainty ? with a domestic-violence suspension looming?
A: I think what we have now is probably as solid as anything we?ve had to begin any season with since I?ve been with the Mets.
Q: Any concern about Familia overcoming his postseason woes?
A: First of all, he?s a very hard worker, and success it not on any occasion, he handles the pressure really well, so I think that will be the case this year as well. We still have tremendous confidence in Jeurys, and expect he?s gonna have another good season.
Q: How much of a concern is Travis d?Arnaud?
A: I?m not concerned about Travis. Look, we understand that he?s got great potential, he?s been injury-prone, didn?t hit as well last year as he might have. Probably didn?t catch as well as he might have, but he?s been doing a lot of work in the offseason with our new catching instructor/third base coach Glenn Sherlock, and he?s been working with Kevin Long also on the hitting side, so I?ve got a lot of optimism about Travis.
Q: What will you outfield defense be like with Jay Bruce in right field?
A: If Bruce is in right and [Curtis] Granderson and [Juan] Lagares in center, Cespedes in left ? Cespedes is an excellent left fielder, Granderson did a nice job for us in center last year, Lagares is excellent, and Jay Bruce I would say he?s league average at least. He?s got a good arm and he makes the routine plays. He?s not gonna save 100 runs for us out there, but we?re not unhappy with our outfield defense.
Q: Where would this leave Michael Conforto?
A: Well, that?s something we?d have to work out in spring training. I don?t think that Michael is the kind of player that we want to be sitting on the bench.
Q: But you still believe in Conforto, correct?
A: Oh, absolutely, yeah.
Q: How is Lucas Duda?s health?
A: Right now everything?s definitely a go. Opening of spring training he should be 100 percent and getting ready for spring training on a normal routine.
Q: How close is prospect Dominic Smith?
A: I would expect right now that he?ll end up in Las Vegas and start the year. Had a very good season in Double-A, big defensive first baseman, starting to show some power, always had a very good approach to the plate. He?s gonna be a very good player. He?s not that far away.
Q: What is the state of your farm system?
A: I think our farm system?s in very good shape. We?ve got a number of position players that are on the cusp of the major leagues ? you mentioned Smith, we?ve got Ahmed Rosario, we?ve seen of them briefly last year, Brandon Nimmo, [Gavin] Cecchini, T.J. Rivera. ? We?ve got a number of very good players at the top end who give us the kind of depth that we didn?t have the first couple of years that I was here. But also we?ve got some pitching depth. And we?ve got some very good players at the younger end too we?re very excited about. I think our system?s in good shape.
Q: Why is Terry Collins still the right manager for this team?
A: We had some success in 2015, and in spite of injuries last year we made a big run at the end of the season and ended up in a wild-card spot, so players continue to respond to him, so if that continues to happen, he continues to happen, he continues to be the right guy.
Q: Describe the NL East.
A: More competitive than last year. Philadelphia?s getting better, Atlanta?s getting better, the Nationals will still be very good, and Miami was very good last year, and suffered that terrible tragedy losing Jose Fernandez, and from their standpoint, hopefully that will not be a hangover from that loss.
Q: The Nationals would be the team to beat, right?
A: I?m sure they think they are (laugh).
Q: What do you think?
A: They?re a very good team. They should be deemed favorably, yeah.
Q: Other than health, where does this team need to step up to reach the next level?
A: I think the key thing for us is offensively scoring more runs, which really means getting on base more frequently, and with having more traffic on the bases. We hit a lot of home runs last year, but we need to do all the other things that contribute to run production, and I do think we have the potential to do that.
Q: How much longer do you want to do this?
A: That?s a good question, but the foreseeable future, so what does that mean? I don?t know. Right now I?m healthy, and still energized by the job. So no plans on retiring, or voluntarily anyway (laugh). I don?t expect to be doing it for another 20 years, but other than that, I don?t really set any limitations.
Q: Your working relationship with the Wilpons, and how has it changed from when you first took the job?
A: Well I think, not surprisingly, after six years or so, the relationship is better and stronger than it was the outset, only because I think I know Jeff and Fred and Saul [Katz] better and they know me better, and through common experiences, the relationship has gotten stronger. We went through a dry period, we had some success recently, and I think certainly I?ve learned from both of those sets of experiences.
Q: Is it heartening to you that the Mets are no longer viewed from the outside as a small-market team?
A: To the extent that that perception has changed, that?s a credit to the Wilpons and Saul Katz. I think they realized that we were gonna have to go through a dry period at the major league level at least to get back to where we wanted to be, and at the same time, they were prepared to invest in the team when the time was right. I think they?ve demonstrated that.
Q: Was it frustrating for you during that dry period when the payroll was less than $100 million?
A: No, because we needed to focus on talent acquisition at the lower levels and increasing our payroll flexibility during that time, and when those things were accomplished, we would have the opportunity to improve. No I wasn?t frustrated by it at all.
Q: What have you observed about Bill Belichick and the way he runs that Patriots organization?
A: A lot of it has to do with Tom Brady, but a lot of it has to do too with the organization and the system and the processes that that team has put in place to maintain their continuity and also be able to replenish their player roster over that long period of time. They have a plan, and they execute it, and are not afraid to stick with it, and you really have to hand it to them.
Q: Who are leaders in other sports or outside the realm of sports you admire?
A: Geno Auriemma [UConn women?s basketball coach]. An incredible string of success, but it?s not predicated on doing one thing right and then living off of that for the next few years. It?s a matter of doing things well over and over again, and facing challenges from year to year. ? One guy was a company commander of mine [in Vietnam], in the early ?70s, his name was Jim Jones. He later became commander of NATO and actually served as the National Security Advisor for Barack Obama for a short period of time.
Q: If all goes well and your starters all remain healthy, do you think you can challenge the 3 million attendance mark?
A: Yeah, I think that?s possible.
Q: Thoughts on Lady Gaga?s Super Bowl halftime performance?
A: I really enjoyed it. It was theatrical, it was physical and athletic, and it was I think pointedly patriotic and not controversial, which, in its own way, made it controversial (laugh). So I think she hit just the right note, because it kept the topics for the day top of mind, but didn?t hit you over the head with ?em in a way. And I?m looking forward to seeing her when she comes to Citi Field [Aug. 28].
Q: What would it mean to you to bring a championship to New York?
A: It would be gratifying for all of us in the organization, especially to be able to do it here in New York City largely because I know how much it would mean to Mets fans here in New York, ?cause I know how much they cherish their memories of 1986, and in some cases 1969. It would be great to make that a trifecta.
Q: Did it take you a little while to get over the sting of losing the 2015 World Series?
A: I don?t think one ever gets over the sting of losing a World Series (chuckle). I lost a couple in the 1980s, and I?m still not over that. I certainly have never acquiesced in the notion that Kansas City is a better team. They played better than we did during that period of time when it was critical, but we had our chances, and it could have gone the other way. But it didn?t.