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The Moneyball Mets

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Alderson will take some shots for a time. But the truth is, he has already brought in an impressive amount of turnaround talent, most famously the former general managers (and Alderson pals from the Billy Beane era in Oakland) J. P. Ricciardi and Paul DePodesta, the latter of whom is about to become famous as the inspiration for Jonah Hill’s character in the upcoming Moneyball movie. Bringing the three men back together has been cast as a Moneyball reunion, but it’s more, as one observer put it, a “team of rivals.” Each brings his own particular skill set to the job: Ricciardi is the talent evaluator; DePodesta is in charge of reconstituting the nearly empty farm system; incumbent assistant G.M. John Ricco provides an insider’s view of the organization; and Alderson, a Vietnam vet and a Harvard Law grad, is in charge of it all. These are men who have lifetimes of baseball experience among them and have come together, Voltron-like, to use their talents to tackle the not inconsiderable problem of fixing the Mets. This is the team you want in charge. This is better than an expensive free agent. And cheaper too.

If their moves so far have been minor, they’ve also been telling. The first order of business was taking a cold look at the expensive “talent” on hand and politely telling it to go away. The releasing of Oliver Perez ($12 million in 2011) and Luis Castillo ($6.25 million) was done prudently and respectfully; each was given a legitimate chance to make the team and then cordially shown the door when it was clear the Mets had better options. (Castillo was then signed by the Phillies, providing Mets fans the hard-earned opportunity to boo him nine times this season. The Nationals did Mets fans the same favor with Perez.) They immediately sent top prospect Jenrry Mejia, whose progress the previous administration stunted so dramatically he could probably sue, to the minors to work his way up to being a starter, something he should have been doing all along. They’ve allowed young players like Lucas Duda, Nick Evans, and Josh Thole to compete for big-league jobs rather than stick with past-their-prime veterans to provide “leadership” or, more likely, “losses.” Perhaps most intriguingly, they handed the second-base job not to Castillo or Luis Hernandez or Daniel Murphy (players with obvious limitations but more “experience”) but to Rule 5 pickup Brad Emaus, who has never faced a major-league pitch. Emaus, a patient hitter with power potential who has been compared by some to Braves second-baseman Dan Uggla, is precisely the type of player the Mets need to be taking chances on and giving at-bats to.

It was the type of decision that a franchise with a fresh set of eyes makes. It was the move a franchise that is not worried about the present, but has a plan for the future, makes. The Mets have countless issues to resolve—with their roster, their farm system, and their organizational structure. Alderson & Co. are here to fix them. Frankly, money is the least of their concerns. They’ll deal with that later. There’s a franchise to fix fundamentally first.

What does that mean for this year? A younger team, in transition, with young stars being filtered up through the system, more money spent on the draft, more importance placed on development. This won’t be a team that wins the National League East—though with all their injuries, the Phillies look more wobbly than anyone might have thought—but it won’t be a team that trots out Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo, and Fernando Tatis either. (That’s addition by subtraction right there.) Fans will get a good look at promising young players like Emaus and Thole and the entertaining knuckleballer R. A. Dickey. Let’s not forget that David Wright, Jose Reyes, Jason Bay, and Johan Santana are still on this team. Each of them has had issues, but if they were to play even close to their expected levels, a long-shot wild-card run might not be out of the question. Even if this year is a write-off, the team will be more enjoyable to watch than it has been the last four years, if only because the franchise is finally moving forward. It’s going to get better, soon. I promise, this isn’t a scam. You are forgiven for fearing otherwise. This is, after all, the Mets.

You can write to Leitch at will.leitch@nymag.com.


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