The reboot that helped send the Mets to the World Series was set into motion around the time that David Wright signed an eight-year, $138-million extension to remain the face of the franchise.
Sandy Alderson, a graduate of Dartmouth University and Harvard Law School -- and an ex-Marine -- methodically constructed a plan that turned a financially plagued also-ran into the team that began to click in early August and rolled into the postseason.
Alderson, once general manager of the Oakland A's, is considered the pioneer of a still-evolving movement that has made Major League Baseball as much a landing spot for the nation's best and brightest as Silicon Valley or Wall Street.
Alderson's recruiting trip to visit Wright in Norfolk, Virginia, after the 2012 season coincides with the time period when the general manager officially revealed his blueprint for transforming the Mets into a championship team.
It had been two years since Alderson replaced Omar Minaya and the Mets still were in turmoil, digging out from the financial rubble of the Bernie Madoff Ponzi-scheme disaster and another second-to-last finish (74-88) in the National League East. That March, principal owner Fred Wilpon dodged a $1-billion lawsuit filed by the trustee seeking damages and agreed to a $162-million settlement instead.
The Mets' Opening Day payroll for that season was $94 million -- down from $142 million the previous year -- and it would plummet to $84 million for 2014. In the middle of all this, with the Mets scrambling to rebuild, Wright listened to Alderson's sales pitch.
And on Saturday, after the Mets' workout at Citi Field, Wright recalled the GM's vision and how, three years later, Alderson had delivered.
"The first thing we discussed was the starting pitching in our minor leagues," Wright said. "I think Sandy would even be somewhat shocked with just how good all of them have been. Very rarely do you mention four or five guys that are in the minor leagues, fast-forward a couple years, and all of them are these types of pitchers.
"We also talked about the type of trades, the types of free-agent acquisitions that were Sandy's type of guys. I had faith in Sandy. It was a pretty detailed plan."
Alderson inherited a solid foundation built by Minaya's staff, but this took plenty of additional construction and a willingness on ownership's part to invest in the Mets again.
Here's a breakdown of the three-part program it took to get the Mets back to the World Series for the first time in 15 years:
When Alderson first came aboard during the 2010 offseason, he knew the Mets had talent in place -- along with a bloated, inefficient payroll. Of the $142 million on the books, $97 million was tied up in six players, but many of those contracts would be expiring in the next year or two. Plus Minaya -- through draft picks and international signings -- had left Alderson with a solid collection of future starters, including much of the current core: Daniel Murphy, Lucas Duda, Wilmer Flores, Juan Lagares, Jeurys Familia, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Ruben Tejada.
Early on, Alderson was charged with doing more with less, and the biggest free-agent signing on the Mets' horizon was locking up their homegrown star, Wright. They already had let Jose Reyes walk without extending an offer, but that didn't happen with Wright -- even if the long-term deal necessary didn't exactly fit with Alderson's philosophy. Had it been anybody but Wright, who meant so much to the organization, Alderson probably would have moved on.
"We were looking for payroll flexibility," he said Saturday. "We were looking to develop our system, see our own players mature and add to those players. And in the meantime, try to be competitive."
After R.A. Dickey won the Cy Young Award in 2012, Alderson was faced with a choice that, in actuality, was no choice at all.
Minaya first acquired Dickey, a journeyman knuckleballer, on a minor-league contract and later signed him to a two-year, $8.5-million deal. Alderson was left to decide how to proceed: exercise a $5-million option for '13, give Dickey an extension or trade him at the peak of his value. He chose the third option, dealing him for two highly touted prospects -- Travis d'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard. The pair developed into major components of this year's World Series team and cornerstones of the franchise going forward.
Adding Syndergaard, with his 100-mph fastball, to a young stable of pitchers that included Harvey, deGrom and Matz planted the seeds for what would grow into one of the sport's most dominant rotations. But with the Mets lacking in the area of position players, especially at shortstop after Reyes' departure, Alderson had to turn away a number of trade requests, all seeking his promising fireballers. That included Zack Wheeler, currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, who was acquired in the Carlos Beltran trade, Alderson's first significant swap.
"I think what we were trying to do from the outset was develop good players," Alderson said. "And it turned out that we had some very good pitchers. That wasn't necessarily apparent at the outset. So I think what we tried to do at the outset was identify our assets. It turned out that our strength was pitching, and the one thing we did was try to protect that over time and not move any of it."
That also didn't happen overnight. DeGrom and Matz needed Tommy John surgery while still in the minors. After starting the All-Star Game at Citi Field, Harvey had his breakout 2013 season end in August because of an elbow injury, and he too had Tommy John surgery that October. Harvey's absence tempered Alderson's expectations for 2014 but prompted him to sign Bartolo Colon as a $20-million stopgap for the rotation.
While Colon, then 41, seemed like a costly risk at the time, he became an integral part of the staff, a mentor for the younger pitchers -- such as the closer, Familia -- and a crucial piece in their postseason bullpen.
That same offseason, the Mets signed Curtis Granderson to a four-year, $60-million contract, leaning on him more as a leadoff, on-base machine than the slugger who delivered 40-plus homers annually for the Yankees.
PUSH FOR THE PLAYOFFS
The Mets arrived in spring training this past February with the hope of competing for an NL wild card. Many expected the loaded Nationals -- who had signed Max Scherzer to a $210-million contract -- to win the division. But the Mets reeled off 11 straight wins early in the season, and despite key injuries to Wright and d'Arnaud, still managed to keep pace with the Nats long enough to convince Alderson to bring in reinforcements before the July 31 trade deadline.
In the span of a week, Alderson moved swiftly to strengthen the team's offensive woes, making the bold move of calling up Michael Conforto from Double-A Binghamton on July 24. On the same day, he acquired Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson from the Braves to give Terry Collins more versatile bats for the Mets' sputtering offense.
Needing bullpen help, the Mets dealt for Tyler Clippard three days later to set up Familia. But it wasn't until 13 minutes before the deadline that Alderson pulled off the biggest swap, prying Yoenis Cespedes from the Tigers.
Two nights earlier, Alderson had stood in front of reporters and tried to explain the collapse of an agreed-upon deal with the Brewers for Carlos Gomez, a public-relations catastrophe that also involved Wilmer Flores -- one of the trade pieces along with Wheeler -- crying on the field during a game because he had heard he was being traded.
For once, however, the Mets got a few lucky breaks. As embarrassing as the Gomez fiasco appeared at the time, it left the door open for Cespedes, whom the Tigers hadn't made available until that week. The Mets, previously unwilling to take on significant salary at midseason, picked up roughly $5 million on Cespedes, who rewarded them with 17 homers, 44 RBIs and a .942 OPS in 57 games. The Mets, 52-50 on July 30, then went on a 31-11 streak.
Cespedes, a pending free agent, is unlikely to re-sign with the Mets despite dropping a clause in his contract that had prevented him from doing so. But that's nothing to worry about now for Alderson, who has brought the Mets all the way back from Madoff to the brink of a championship.
"We're happy to be in the World Series," he said. "I don't think that we qualify it in terms of financial capacity or player development. A lot of things came together. And our payroll is up quite a bit from where it's been. We're playing a team that has a comparable payroll.
"If anything, I think this probably is some evidence that money is not absolute king. But we're happy to be here -- however torturous the route -- and looking forward to going."