The Mets played the Nationals on ESPN Thursday afternoon, and while I was watching all I could think about was how similar the recent histories of these franchises are. The only difference is that the Nationals and GM Mike Rizzo made smart moves to put the team into position to win, and the Mets and GM Sandy Alderson are not making those moves.
Since arriving in Washington in 2005, the Nationals finished last in five out of six seasons prior to 2011. However Rizzo knew that his team was about to get better, in part because of the luck of having the first draft choices to get Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. But he knew other pieces were on the way.
He also knew the Nationals were not ready to win in 2011 (Strasburg just had Tommy John surgery and Harper was still a year away). But knowing winning was possible in a year or two, he made bold moves anyway, the boldest being signing Jayson Werth to a monster contract. Now, it is debatable whether giving a guy like a Werth $126 million but Rizzo knew he would need someone like Werth going forward, so he take the gamble.
Now look at the Mets. The Mets have had four straight fourth place finishes. They have several top-notch prospects on the way. And like Rizzo prior to 2011, Alderson knows the Mets are not going to win in 2013. The difference is he didn’t make any moves for the future.
I believe his thinking was, “Why spend money for 2013 when we aren’t going to win? Let’s save it for when we are ready.” The problem with this thinking is that the Mets aren’t suddenly going to go out and get three new outfielders once they are ready. It is a slow and steady process of acquiring key pieces. If he had signed, say, B.J. Upton, that piece would be in place.
Alderson constantly says he is building for the future, and I believe that he believes that. It’s just that he is not going about it the right way. Yes, he is rebuilding the farm system with quality players who can be stars in the big leagues, but a team also needs established players to go along with them. This is where the Mets are lacking, especially in the outfield, where there are no minor leaguers on the horizon.
Alderson is a very conservative general manager, and perhaps that is what the Mets needed after Omar Minaya. But at some point he will have to act decisively and boldly if the Mets hope to return to the top of the division.