Reunited trio brings 'dynamic' vision to Mets
Ricciardi, DePodesta eager to help team succeed under Alderson
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The first business call Sandy Alderson made upon taking over the Mets was to J.P. Ricciardi, his old aide in Oakland and the former general manager of the Blue Jays. Alderson reached Ricciardi at a golf tournament in Massachusetts, where he was enjoying a semi-retirement of sorts that allowed him to watch his sons play basketball and hockey while he worked on the side for the Red Sox.
But Alderson can be convincing.
Over breakfast in western New England several days later, Alderson scratched out his plan to Ricciardi and to his wife, Diane, urging the couple to consider a move to the Mets. They did. And when Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein gave him permission to leave his new job shortly after taking it, Ricciardi sacrificed a 35-minute commute to Fenway Park -- in a world where his sharp Worcester accent isn't always the thickest -- for the chance to work again with his old boss.
"I really wasn't planning on taking the job," said Ricciardi, now Alderson's special assistant in New York. "I had a really good situation set up with the Red Sox."
Though Ricciardi has drawn criticism for handing out unwieldy contracts at times throughout his years as a baseball executive, Alderson saw through those shortcomings to the value beneath. Alderson saw a man who was never able to break through in the lopsided American League East, but who did use his gregarious personality -- at his core, he's a people person -- to build his baseball profile and extend connections throughout the game.
2010 Spring Training - New York Mets
News & Features
- Mets give Bixler Minors deal with spring invite
- Mets certain Johan will be at full strength come spring
- Mets feeling good about developing talent
- Ike slugs fourth homer in Mets' finale
- Mets reach five-year extension with Niese
Sights & Sounds
Spring Training Info
Consider that Brad Emaus, who is battling for the starting second-base job, is here because of Ricciardi. Or that bullpen candidate Jason Isringhausen earned a tryout thanks to Ricciardi. Such are the benefits that Alderson envisioned.
"I was pretty honored that I was the first guy he called right after he got the job," Ricciardi said. "I thought that was great. And then it just worked out."
Paul DePodesta's greatest professional regret is that he's never stayed in one place long enough to watch his work blossom. Spending no more than five years in four different cities, DePodesta was at least partially responsible for such accomplishments as the 2008 Dodgers winning the National League West and the 2010 Padres contending until the season's final day. But in each instance -- voluntarily, in all but Los Angeles -- he was gone before the accolades arrived.
"I don't feel like I've ever been able to see it through," DePodesta said. "I still have an emotional connection to every place I've been. I still root for all those guys."
Since Alderson scooped him up and named him vice president of scouting and player development, DePodesta has spent his days planting roots here in varying capacities. Some mornings, he leans against a fence at the Minor League compound, matching faces and names to arm actions and repertoires. Other days, he drives across Florida to scout amateur Draft prospects. Others still, he works from home in San Diego, where he maintains a permanent residence.
Thick-rimmed glasses aside, DePodesta hardly resembles his caricature in the best-selling book "Moneyball"; in a conscious effort to counteract that, in fact, he is often the only man in organizational meetings without a laptop in front of him. DePodesta's experiences as a general manager in Los Angeles and as a baseball operations assistant in San Diego, he says, have evolved him into something different.
And that -- the man, not the stereotype -- is precisely what Alderson recruited. Like Ricciardi, DePodesta has become a valued member of the new GM's cabinet, charged with revamping a Minor League system that, until recently, has produced little big league talent of value. That means taking stock of the system in place, keeping the engine, gutting the rest, then sprinkling in his own ideas and philosophies.
For DePodesta, it's become a familiar process.
"I'm ready to be somewhere where I can actually see it through," he said. "Hopefully, the carousel stops here."
Ricciardi jokes that "it's not like the Beatles are getting back together," referring to the fact that he, DePodesta and Alderson all rather famously cut their baseball teeth in Oakland. But there is a certain sense of symmetry here nonetheless, drawing the men and their ideas together.
"You enjoy each other's company," Ricciardi said. "You've all gone different ways, but now you come together and get to share those experiences, and hopefully those experiences will help you continue to build a good organization."
It is "Moneyball" evolved, even if all three men have criticized the book. They've all changed since then, anyway.
"We have different roles, different relationships now," Alderson said. "I think we're more comfortable in our respective skins."
Together with incumbent assistant GM John Ricco, the three newcomers form the game's most high-profile front office -- no other group comes particularly close. There is Ricciardi, the big league talent evaluator with hands in every aspect of the operation; there is DePodesta, the Draft and development specialist; and finally there is Alderson, the leader. All have slightly different ideas, skills and philosophies, now stewing together in a single pot.
"What made things interesting in Oakland was that we actually all came at it from a slightly different angle," DePodesta said. "That's what made it dynamic."
"But I'm not running the Wishbone when they're passing the ball," Ricciardi said. "We're not that far apart."
That's not to say they are the smartest group or the best group or the group most likely to succeed -- only time and luck can answer that riddle. But with three former GMs topping the hierarchy, they are certainly the group with the highest profile.
Mostly, that is a byproduct of "Moneyball," and it's irrelevant as far as they're concerned. Upon accepting a position with the Mets, Alderson did not seek out Ricciardi and DePodesta because of their celebrity. He did so for their attributes, knowing firsthand that their whole can be greater than the sum of their parts.
For Ricciardi, the new job represented a chance to work again with Alderson, while maintaining flexibility with his personal life and shying away from the demands of being a big league general manager. Eight years in Toronto taught him much about the position, from its benefits to its requirements to its strain. In particular, those years taught him that he has little desire to do it again.
"I know how to be an assistant coach," Ricciardi said. "I don't need to see my name in the paper. I don't need to be on TV. I don't need to do any of those things. I know what it's like. I know what Sandy is going through sitting in that chair, what he has to answer to, what the questions become. So I think I have no problem doing the job I'm doing."
For DePodesta, who was fired in Los Angeles amid heavy media criticism (despite creating the foundation of successful teams to come), the ambition to head a staff burns somewhat stronger. But DePodesta says he has turned down multiple general manager jobs over the past six years, citing a desire to remain someplace comfortable -- at least for now.
"The more important thing than a job title is feeling like you have a chance to impact an organization," DePodesta said. "As long as you have the autonomy to do that, it's pretty easy to be happy in your role."
In some ways, DePodesta, 38, still fashions himself as the kid brother of the group, looking up to Ricciardi, 51, as he did throughout his days in Oakland. But he's as much a part of this new regime as anyone, working to draft and develop a new generation of talent.
It is a massive undertaking, rebuilding the Mets, with DePodesta and Ricciardi at the center of it. And that's by design. More than pitching, more than hitting, the front office is the one area in which Alderson invested heavily this winter.
His new employees are equally invested.
"We're Mets now," Ricciardi said. "We want to see the Mets do well and we want to be a part of something good here. Really, that's why I came. I came because it's an opportunity for us to make a mark here, do some good things, and do it with good people."