PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Sandy Alderson has pretty much seen it all.
From his dynamic teams in Oakland to a rebuilding project in New York -- not to mention stops in San Diego and the Commissioner's Office along the way -- the 69-year-old Alderson has been one of the game's most successful executives since he broke into the game more than 35 years ago.
After watching his Mets fall to the Royals in the 2015 World Series and fall in a quick one-and-done in last October's National League Wild Card Game, Alderson is hoping to get back to the Fall Classic this season to finish the job he started in '11.
Alderson sat down with MLB.com for an extensive interview in his offices at First Data Field, discussing the beginning of his career, what he's learned along the way and what his future may hold. This is a three-part series that will begin with Alderson's thoughts on the current state of the Mets.
MLB.com: In a September 2011 interview with Newsday, you said of your first year as the Mets' GM: "In building a team for the long haul, my goal this season was to try to change the perception of where it's headed." It's safe to say that has happened, but when do you think that turned?
Alderson: It's funny; I think it took some time. First of all, you have to be able to articulate a strategy, and then you have to be able to stick to it. Eventually, that kind of strategy or idea is punctuated by certain events. As I go back, I think of several events. One of them was probably the trade for Zack Wheeler that we made. We signed David Wright. We traded R.A. Dickey for some players [Noah Syndergaard and Travis d'Arnaud included].
I think the key thing for us was: There's no question for the first 4 1/2 years that I was here, we were selling an idea. I think Mets fans were very patient and they did buy into where we were headed. Part of the process of buying in was the fact that fans today know so much more about farm systems than they did before. There was a belief in what was happening over here in the farm system even though things weren't going particularly well at the Major League level. Because fans' knowledge of their team is greater today than it was probably 20 or 30 years ago, it allowed the fans to embrace the whole strategy.
MLB.com: You guys spent a lot of money this offseason re-signing Yoenis Cespedes, Neil Walker and others, but you're essentially returning the same team as you had last season. Was that the plan going into the offseason?
Alderson: It wasn't the plan to bring back the same team, but we liked our players. … We do put a premium on their ability to play and have success in a place like New York. We put a premium on character and what players represent in the clubhouse, so we knew these players and had a need at those positions, and that's how it worked out.
MLB.com: Your rotation is obviously a strength, but the starters are going to start making some more money at some point here and eventually will hit free agency, with Harvey as the first one. With that in mind, do you view the next couple years as your best window to win a World Series?
Alderson: Not necessarily, no. I think there are ways to stay within that window with an ever-changing roster of players, if necessary. We kept our players together this season, and we'd like to keep players together going forward. But again, with fans in mind, fans like stability, but they like change, too. What's the new thing?
MLB.com: The shiny new toy.
Alderson: Yeah. People don't drive the same car for 10 years. They like a little change every once in a while. I recognize that; I do, too. Sometimes you stick with it because that's kind of how it turns out, not because that's how it's drawn up, necessarily.
MLB.com: So much gets made of your four big starters, but few teams make it through a season with the same five-man rotation. With that in mind, how important is the depth you have beyond those four -- with Wheeler, Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman -- to the success of the season?
Alderson: The depth is very important -- and it's the kind of depth that we didn't expect to have last season. When Lugo and Gsellman came up, they pitched, really, better than we could have expected. So we were fortunate in that regard. In some ways, the fact that we had those injuries last year has put us in a better position this year because of the experience they had last year and the fact that we are legitimately seven deep at this point, subject to whatever begins to happen over the course of the season.
MLB.com: Your decision to bring Jose Reyes back was controversial coming off his suspension for violating MLB's Domestic Abuse Policy. How difficult was that? Did the fact that the Yankees had a similar situation by dealing for Aroldis Chapman, seeing how that played out, did that serve as a guide at all to knowing how this could go?
Alderson: We knew the Chapman situation was controversial, so we expected some controversy. In our case, what made it easier for us was the fact that Jose had been with the Mets. He had grown up with the Mets, been part of the organization for a decade, maybe. We felt we knew him pretty well, could trust him and had confidence not only in his continuing ability, but more importantly, his confidence that he was contrite and confidence that that was an incident that wouldn't happen again.
MLB.com: Your contract is up at the end of the season. Have you thought about how much longer you want to do this?
Alderson: I haven't thought about how much longer I want to do it. But I'd like to do it a little longer.
MLB.com: Did your cancer diagnosis and the treatment affect your mindset about how long you see yourself doing it, want to do it or have the desire to do it?
Alderson: That's a good question. A lot of people at my age say they want to retire so they can spend more time with their grandchildren. Well, one of the reasons I took this job is because my grandchildren live in New Jersey. So I get to see them -- and they've probably seen just about enough of me, is my guess. So I'm going to have to search for another reason to retire.
MLB.com: Hindsight is obviously 20-20, but what was it like to watch Daniel Murphy leave and have the type of season he did -- not only for another team, but for a division rival?
Alderson: First of all, Daniel is a great guy. I'm happy for his success last year. Obviously, we would not have gone to the World Series in 2015 without him and had the success that we did in the playoffs that year without him. Any time somebody does well for someone else, you think about how it might have been different. The only thing that might have assuaged the sense of loss was the fact that Neil Walker played so well for us. It was good for [Murphy], and we were happy for him. I think we take pride in the fact that it was something that happened here in '15 that led to that. Had we thought that could be sustained, we might have made a different decision. But it is what it is.
MLB.com: How encouraged have you been this spring by what you've seen from the guys coming back from injury?
Alderson: With one exception, that being David Wright, I think we've been very encouraged. I think we knew that David was going to take a while. When you have that length of inactivity from a neck injury that requires just basically rest, some of that physical athleticism is probably going to be lost and has to be rebuilt. … Other than that, I think we've been very happy with what we've seen so far. [Jacob] deGrom pitched well his first time out, [Matt] Harvey was pain-free and had decent velocity and good command for his first time out, so I think we're pretty happy with where things are. Lucas Duda is another one that's kind of coming along a little slowly, but by and large, we're happy with where things are.
MLB.com: Speaking of David Wright, what does he mean to this team on and off the field?
Alderson: Well, he's meant a tremendous amount to the team, to the organization, and actually, to me personally. He's the captain of the team. He's one of the most accomplished players in Mets history. He's an outstanding individual. We talk about the stability that fans enjoy and appreciate -- he personifies that. He has been the New York Mets for a long period of time. In my case, we talked about selling an idea, and his endorsement of that idea when he signed the contract -- not just by signing the contract, but by verbally expressing confidence in the direction that we were headed -- I think had a tremendous impact on our fan base.
MLB.com: Like you, Terry Collins is entering the final year of his contract. Do you ever worry about how a lame-duck status could impact a manager in either or both his game strategy or the way the players respond to him?
Alderson: No. Terry is at the point where he's expressed some consideration of retiring. People ask him that question, ask me that question; it doesn't really bother me, so I assume it doesn't bother him. I think if players have respect for their leader, it doesn't matter whether they're viewed as short-term or long-term.
MLB.com: Some teams in your division made some moves to upgrade this offseason; do you find yourself ever "scoreboard watching" in the offseason when you see teams in your division making moves? And does that, in turn, create pressure for you to make moves?
Alderson: I definitely "scoreboard watch" in that regard, but I don't think it puts pressure on us to respond. I think you have to be aware of what your competition is, but you have to focus on your own organization and strategy and the quality of your own team, not worry so much about anybody else. It's like schoolwork; you have to study to get a decent grade. It really doesn't matter if somebody else gets a B or a C; it's not going to help you get an A.
MLB.com: Who do you think is the most underrated player on the Mets in terms of how he affects the team day to day?
Alderson: A couple players come immediately to mind. One would be [Asdrubal] Cabrera, because in David's absence over the last year, Cabrera has become a key figure in the clubhouse. I don't think Curtis Granderson gets as much credit for his quiet, lead-by-example leadership that he provides. Those are the two that come immediately to mind.
MLB.com: People often talk about whether New York is a "Yankees town" or a "Mets town." Do you care about that, or is that just something for talk radio to talk about?
Alderson: No, I find that important. I kind of view the Yankees-Mets thing the way I viewed the Giants-A's thing. In the Bay Area, the default team was always going to be the Giants because they were there first, primarily, and it's San Francisco and not the East Bay. As long as Oakland played well, and depending on what the Giants were doing, we could be the predominant team -- and we were for quite a few years. But the Giants were always going to be the default team. I kind of view it the same way in New York. We've got to play well for a long time to change the default. But that's part of our mission.
MLB.com: You were part of a Bay Bridge World Series. What would Yankees-Mets be like for you?
Alderson: It would be big. But I'd sure want to win. (Laughs)
MLB.com: How have your views or philosophies toward the game changed since the start of your career?
Alderson: I don't know if my views have changed. I've learned a tremendous amount just in the last six years, from people around me, from others in the organization as well as just the experience. I feel much more capable today than I did in 2011. Whether I am or not, I don't know. One of the things -- I'm now the oldest GM, probably, which requires some adjustment on my part in terms of communication and building relationships with others who are a little bit younger than I am. When I first started, I was the young one, I was the outsider, and now I'm the one that's been around the longest.
In either case, you have to purposefully reach out and make sure that you are creating and maintaining relationships, and rethinking your approach to account for new ideas and new information. The biggest change is not about ideas; it's about information. There's so much more information available, and trying to stay current with that and being open-minded.
MLB.com: Is it strange for you to make calls and do business with other GMs who literally weren't born when you started in this business? The age gap is so large with some of the guys in their late 20s or early 30s.
Alderson: I've never thought of it that way.
MLB.com: Sorry. (Laughs)
Alderson: I don't find it strange. I just find it necessary to be mindful of that and respectful. I'm just as respectful of them as I was of people who were 30 years older than I was when I was younger. I respect their positions and their control over 1/30 of the market.
MLB.com: With the season a few weeks away, what would you say right now is the Mets' biggest weakness that needs to be addressed between now and Opening Day -- or between now and whenever, since a lot of these things don't get addressed by Opening Day?
Alderson: I'm not sure these things will be addressed over the course of the spring, but I'd say the biggest question mark is the bullpen, just because of what's in store for [Jeurys] Familia. The kinds of things we'd like to see this season? Less reliance on the home run, better with men in scoring position, a little higher on-base percentage. Those are things from an offensive standpoint. While the rotation is a strength, the five guys have got to go out there and pitch every fifth day. That's something we'll really know over time.
MLB.com: Which was more satisfying to you: Getting to the World Series for the first time with Oakland in 1988, or getting the Mets there in 2015?
Alderson: I'd have to say 2015, because I was kind of a neophyte in '88. It was like, "Wow." All of our young players said, "Well, we lost in '88; we're going to be back here again." I didn't have any reason to think otherwise, either. It's a very hard thing to do. Last year, with what transpired at the Trade Deadline, the fact that we were behind and we played so well, it was an exciting final two months of the season, and then it was an exciting series with the Dodgers. The whole thing came not out of nowhere, but it all came together in ways that it doesn't usually. The fact that it had been four or five years that we had been working toward this, at the very end, things kind of accelerated in a positive way. That was very satisfying.
MLB.com: How important is it to you personally to finish the job and win the World Series with this team?
Alderson: Look, I don't lose sleep over it, because again, we try to focus on the process, the day to day, and improve our chances. Ultimately, things happen in the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series, so I don't think you can get too caught up. People like me recognize there are certain things they can't control. So I don't get too caught up in it.
Mark Feinsand is an executive reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.