This was spring training a few years back. The Mets changed media rules for seemingly no reason, restricting clubhouse access.
It had Jeff Wilpon’s fingerprints on it. I was the senior reporter in camp at the time and was asked to see if I could get a reversal. I thought Sandy Alderson would provide a fair hearing and potentially help, so I had the case presented to the then-Mets GM. The answer I received was Alderson agreed with the argument and thought the new policy was poorly conceived and pointless.
However, he had learned through the years that when dealing with the Wilpons he only had so many bullets in the gun. So I was nicely informed that while Alderson may concur, he would not be wasting a bullet on reporter access when time, energy and persuasive points might be needed to convince a Wilpon at any time of day or night who to promote, demote, acquire or trade — or simply to talk one of the owners out of something ill-conceived that impacted baseball operations.
If you are wondering why Alderson would return — if Steve Cohen is approved as owner, that is — when he is a cancer survivor who turns 73 in November, consider that story. His friends in the game will tell you more like it. Lots more. By the end of his eight-year tenure, Alderson was worn down not by age or the cancer, those allies will tell you, as much as the endless meddling from above, the bizarre requests, the inability of his bosses to see beyond the next press conference. He was exhausted at figuring out which battles to fight when all were important at varying degrees.
He would have always wondered what could have been done with this big-market franchise if he had been left to run it with oversight from above rather than one of those cartoonish Wile E. Coyote two-ton Acme anvils looming overhead to hold back money, slow down decision making or act on a whim.
Now, a rewrite is possible. In a statement Thursday, Cohen announced that should the owners ratify him in a vote likely to come between Halloween and Thanksgiving, he would name Alderson as team president to oversee business and baseball operations.
Cohen’s angle is transparent. He is a flawed candidate. There are owners against him at a time when he will need 23 votes to be approved. There is worry about his history with insider trading, gender discrimination and what his $15 billion could mean to blowing out a payroll. For Cohen, Alderson is part cleansing agent, part political whip bringing votes into line.
Alderson was the GM of the Bash Brother A’s, so there are ties to an organization renowned for steroid use. But that has never really sullied his reputation. A Marine who served in Vietnam, Alderson has spent four decades working for MLB teams and inside the commissioner’s office and left each with, in general, an image of rectitude and loyalty.
One Alderson ally said, “Sandy will be (Cohen’s) regulator. He is the kind of person who will make owners more comfortable that Cohen will follow the rules.”
This is not to say Cohen does not know and respect Alderson. He has been a limited Mets owner since 2012, so during much of Alderson’s GM reign (2011-2018). They speak a common language when it comes to business, technology and long-term strategy.
Cohen recently pledged to have baseball people run the baseball department. But George Steinbrenner entered promising: “We plan absentee ownership as far as running the Yankees is concerned.” So you never know. Cohen is a powerful, though private, personality. He would show up with ideas about running the team he has rooted for his whole life and dreamed of owning. His hedge fund history is strong oversight for his executives with a produce-or-else ethos.
If Alderson were to have autonomy on baseball it will be because Cohen loves the Mets, but the hedge fund is in his DNA, and he will not divert his attention much from keeping that thriving. In that case, what would Alderson do? Cohen’s statement includes: “Sandy is an accomplished and respected baseball executive who shares my philosophy of building an organization and a team the right way.” That sure felt like a shot at Brodie Van Wagenen.
For it would help Cohen’s standing with the other owners if they thought his “right way” was more internal than to sign every George Springer and J.T. Realmuto. And time has been good to Alderson’s rep in this realm. His regime drafted two future Rookies of the Year (Michael Fulmer and Pete Alonso). His initial first-round pick was Brandon Nimmo and his final six were Dominic Smith, Michael Conforto, Anthony Kay, Justin Dunn, David Peterson and Jarred Kelenic — either Met success stories or part of so far ill-fated trades made under Van Wagenen. Andres Gimenez, Luis Guillorme, Jeff McNeil and Seth Lugo also were originally signed during Alderson’s tenure.
So it would be an upset if Van Wagenen were retained because: 1) Van Wagenen is seen as aligned with Jeff Wilpon and Cohen dislikes Jeff Wilpon, and 2) Alderson did not appreciate how his end game went down with the Mets and has remained publicly silent because that is his nature — plus his son, Bryn, still works for Van Wagenen as the pro scouting director.
If Van Wagenen goes, what would Alderson do? The general manager will be viewed as a junior partner. Alderson has a collaborative style, but he will be the final vote. Thus, those who expect to make the recommendation to ownership such as Theo Epstein or David Stearns would not come. Alderson has strong ties to one of his former top lieutenants, Paul DePodesta, but word is DePodesta is comfortable as the Cleveland Browns chief operating officer.
Two of Alderson’s most trusted aides with the Mets, J.P. Ricciardi (now a special advisor with the Giants) and John Ricco (who stayed with the Mets, but in a non-baseball role under Van Wagenen) could gain prominence, though likely not as the GM. Don’t ignore Alderson’s open mind. He went into his last managerial search not even knowing Mickey Callaway and tabbed him. That turned out to be a mistake, but showed Alderson has a wild-card side.
It is his steady side, though, that most appeals to what Cohen wants and needs now, while Cohen provides the former Marine in Alderson a chance to finish a mission he felt was left incomplete.