Alderson driven by knowledge he's not done yet

GM got Mets back to World Series, but now he wants to win it

Alderson driven by knowledge he's not done yet

NEW YORK -- A memorable photograph exists of Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, reflecting alone in an otherwise empty seating block down Wrigley Field's first-base line. The Mets that Alderson constructed had just beaten the Cubs to move on to last year's World Series, bringing him back to that stage for the first time in 25 years. What the world did not yet know was that two weeks earlier, Alderson had received a cancer diagnosis.

All of it flitted through the GM's mind as he watched his players and staff celebrate on the field, Wrigley's ancient visiting clubhouse too small to contain them. Perhaps no part of the situation seemed quite real. And yet the overarching feeling, Alderson said, was one of achievement.

"You don't have that many moments like that," Alderson remembered late last month, sitting in the front corner of his Florida office. "Some people like to go crazy and drink champagne and smoke cigars. That's not how I react to that kind of accomplishment. I'm not big on 'rah rah' celebrations. I don't like to draw attention. I get the satisfaction out of accomplishing the mission."

Without a title, Alderson still considers that mission incomplete, which is what makes 2016 such a critical season for him. For the first time in Alderson's tenure, with enough pitching depth to make them the envy of the game, the Mets rank high on baseball's list of World Series favorites.

It's the task of converting those expectations into a title that drives him.

"I like to think that I approach each season trying to maximize whatever potential we have," Alderson said. "And I think that's true this season as well. We want to maximize our potential, and our potential is greater now than it probably ever has been. But that potential has to translate into performance."

It was not until well after last year's playoff run that Alderson revealed his cancer diagnosis, which he received in the days following the Mets' NL East title clinch. Alderson says now that he appreciated the playoff run even more "because it was a distraction from the reality of that diagnosis," though he prefers to keep those two aspects of his life -- the personal and professional -- separate.

Coming to the Mets after the 2010 season, with franchise morale at a notable low, Alderson knew he wanted to achieve something memorable. After his time as GM of the A's, he had moved on to posts as a Major League Baseball executive and the Padres' CEO. They were fine jobs, lucrative jobs. But neither offered the level of day-to-day competition that defined Alderson as a GM.

"You don't see that very often, a guy going to be president and then come back to the GM role," Mets assistant GM John Ricco said. "He got back into it to see if he could recapture, do what he had done. I think that is probably the feeling above everything else -- the satisfaction that, 'Hey, you know what? I was able to put a pretty good team together once again.' I think there's a lot of pride there for him.

"I think he showed himself, showed the game that he hasn't lost his touch."

Amid chemotherapy sessions last winter, Alderson completed one of his most active offseasons as GM, re-signing outfielder Yoenis Cespedes -- "a pipe dream," he admits, until late January -- and starting pitcher Bartolo Colon. He traded for second baseman Neil Walker and inked shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, all of it with an eye toward roster depth.

The idea is a World Series title -- nothing less. And for now, that's enough to drive him.

Beyond that? How much longer Alderson, 68, is willing to continue cranking through work like that is unclear. Two years remain on the three-year contract extension the Mets recently gave Alderson, and his health is a factor. But for now, Alderson is driven by his self-defined mission.

"I'm not getting younger, but I don't feel older," Alderson said. "When your contemporaries are retiring, playing golf, it causes you to think about that. But at the same time, I enjoy what I'm doing, as does my family. One of the things I've never done is try to figure out what my next job is. I've always said the most important job I'll ever have is the one I have right now."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.