On Baseball: Sandy Alderson Is Eager to Return and Solve the Mets’ Injury Riddle

On Baseball
By TYLER KEPNER

We know the end date for the long-running medical drama known as the Mets’ 2017 season. On Oct. 1 — just a week from Sunday! — it will finally, mercifully, be over. Expect the show’s creator to be the one who tweaks the next script.

The Mets have not announced a new contract for General Manager Sandy Alderson, who would not address his future on Friday. But the widely held belief at Citi Field is that Alderson will return, and he spoke Friday like a man eager to complete the autopsy and revive the dead.

“The injuries need to be taken into account, but I don’t think they can be an excuse for not doing a thorough examination of all the other aspects of the season,” Alderson said. “So that has been taking place, and it will take place.”

With a .428 winning percentage (65-87) before facing the Washington Nationals on Friday night, the Mets were on a pace for their second worst record in the last 24 seasons. Only the 2003 version, at .410 (66-95), was worse.

That was the first of Art Howe’s two seasons as Mets manager, before a six-year run of Willie Randolph and Jerry Manuel. Terry Collins has managed the last seven full seasons, longer than any other manager in Mets history. He is unsigned for 2018 and is unlikely to return, though the Mets have made no announcement, as the Detroit Tigers did Friday when they said Brad Ausmus would not be back.

Choosing a new manager — perhaps Ausmus, Sandy Alomar Jr., or a former Met like Alex Cora, Joe McEwing or Robin Ventura — is likely to be Alderson’s first priority this winter. An easier decision should be replacing the medical and training staff.

No one can say precisely how many of the Mets’ injuries could have been anticipated, prevented or minimized. But the sheer volume of debilitating physical problems to major players demands some kind of accountability.

These Mets might have been flawed in their construction. But with the injuries, they never had a chance to find out. Remove Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, Jeurys Familia, Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Conforto and David Wright, and of course the team flatlined.

Solving the health riddle is Alderson’s most important task. He seems open to ideas.

“The injuries are not just an objective fact; there are underlying causes and issues that we’ve wanted to and have examined in connection with those injuries,” Alderson said. “It’s not going to happen just at the end of the season. It’s been an ongoing review.”

As for his own performance, Alderson said, the players he sought at the trading deadline should show where he went wrong earlier. In dealing several veterans, Alderson sought one asset most: relievers. This season’s bullpen was too thin from the start.

“I think that’s sort of a tacit recognition that, look, we need to get better there,” he said.

Alderson was right last winter not to match the Atlanta Braves’ one-year, $12.5 million offer to Bartolo Colon, who had steadied the Mets’ rotation for three memorable seasons. Colon looks finished now. His 6.63 earned run average, with the Braves and the Minnesota Twins, is the worst in the majors for pitchers with at least 20 starts.

But the Mets were not as deep in starters as they thought. By Memorial Day, they had given desperate promotions to Tommy Milone, Adam Wilk and Tyler Pill, who have combined to go 0-7. Clearly, they need more than just bullpen depth.

“We also are going to have to look at the rotation and see whether there’s some stabilizing addition we can make that will help us bridge some of the uncertainty that comes from pitchers who’ve been hurt and are coming back,” Alderson said. “We’ll be in a similar situation next year as we were this year, and hoping for better results — but perhaps planning for the possibility that they don’t all come back.”

With few high-impact starters besides Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish on the free-agent market, the Mets might have to overpay for a reliable mid-rotation arm like Andrew Cashner, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn or Jason Vargas.

Whomever they pursue, Alderson acknowledged that with so much uncertainty in the rotation, the Mets would have to pay closer attention to defense. Shortstop Amed Rosario has been a revelation in the field, but can the rest of the lineup bash enough to support Juan Lagares, who has a weak bat but a sterling glove in center field?

“When your pitchers aren’t striking everybody out, as we’ve had the benefit of in the past, the defense becomes a little more important,” Alderson said, adding that there has been “a recognition after this year that if we’re going to have pitching that puts the ball in play a little more, then the defense is going to have to be more of a priority.”

If only the Mets had forgiven Daniel Murphy his defensive shortcomings, instead of letting him leave after his slugging led them to the 2015 World Series. Murphy came back to town this weekend hitting .316 with 22 homers in the second season of a bargain three-year, $37.5 million contract with Washington. Murphy was out of the lineup Friday, resting for another playoff run. His Mets replacement, Neil Walker, was traded last month to Milwaukee.

Maybe Murphy will start on Saturday to face his old teammates, Syndergaard and Harvey, who will pitch for the Mets. Syndergaard has not pitched since April 30 because of a torn right latissimus muscle, and he will work the first inning only. Harvey, who has been shelled in his return from shoulder trouble, will follow.

Not long ago, they were swaggering superheroes, Thor and the Dark Knight. Their return will be a bittersweet episode of a failed series.

“In the back of your mind, you’re saying, ‘If we could have had these guys …’ ” Collins said. “But you didn’t. That’s the reality of it all. You try not to get caught up in what could have been, because it didn’t.”