NEW YORK -- General manager Sandy Alderson wants to make it clear: Yes, he is challenging his New York Mets to win 90 games this season.
Alderson spoke in no uncertain terms before Monday’s opener against Washington, clarifying an offseason report that he told staffers in an internal meeting he thinks the team can win 90 this year.
"It wasn’t a guarantee. It wasn’t a prediction. It was a challenge, a challenge for us internally -- how do we get there?" he said.
The statement was met with much scoffing and many fans found it overly optimistic, especially with All-Star ace Matt Harvey expected to miss the entire season following Tommy John surgery. New York is coming off five straight losing seasons and consecutive 74-88 finishes.
"Was I surprised by the skepticism? Am I concerned about the optics? No," Alderson said. "It’s time for us to get better. And what you can measure, you can improve. I can’t really measure competitiveness."
The Mets haven’t won 90 games since 2006, when they went 97-65 and made their most recent playoff appearance.
"What’s wrong with a hard standard? To me, the worst thing we can do is have sort of a nebulous notion of, gee, let’s try to do this or try to do that. We need to turn a corner. It needs to be a 90-degree angle," Alderson added. "The number is out there and for the most part it’s having an immediate impact on how the players on this team think about themselves and think about the team, and that was the goal in the first place.
New York has spent the past few years trying to restock its system with talent while waiting for some bloated contracts to expire. After three years of bargain shopping, Alderson spent more than $87 million last offseason to sign free agents Curtis Granderson, Bartolo Colon and Chris Young.
"What I want to emphasize is that it’s important for us to change the conversation. This team is now about being successful, and being successful is not some nebulous concept about winning or being competitive or playing meaningful games some month later in the calendar," Alderson said. "This is about concrete expectations about what we need to do.
"We’re committed to the winning. But that doesn’t preclude patience in the way you handle players or the expectations we have for players," he added. "We’ve still got a young team. We may get younger. So patience is going to be just as important as setting goals in terms of creating a winning culture here."
The Mets had an opening-day payroll of $92 million, which ranked 19th among 30 major league teams. Alderson said he has room to add to that if an attractive player becomes available.
"What I’m hoping is that as we get better and the fans respond to that improvement, that that payroll number will go up," he said.
And despite the commotion it caused, Alderson was hardly surprised his internal comments about a 90-win team became public knowledge.
"I’m never thrilled when private conversations are disclosed publicly, which happens all too frequently in connection with the Mets," he said. "Shame on me for assuming that it wouldn’t. And actually, I didn’t assume that it wouldn’t. Around here you have to assume everything that’s said eventually becomes public."