Can Prospects Save the Mets?
Ok, in less than ten days we can finally begin to change the conversation in this terrible, boring, frustrating, no-good Mets offseason. The official date for pitchers and catchers is February 19th, although many Mets players have already matriculated down to Port St. Lucie.
I think much of the angst evident among the faithful during the past three winters has turned into apathy as they’ve done it to us again: a brief burst of activity followed by…nothing. That is unless you count the drivel oozing from the mouth of GM Sandy Alderson. As was posted here, I think Alderson is the fulcrum on which the Mets pantheon of awfulness (The Wilpons, Terry Collins, Citi Field, a Triple-A team in Las Vegas, losing WFAN, etc.) balances on.
This offseason, it has been all about the prospects. The Mets just can’t/won’t/don’t make any moves because they have this bumper crop of prospects that are soon to deliver the good times again. Or is this yet another set-up? Maybe there is a way to find out before you spend any of your hard-earned money on them.
Take a look at Baseball America’s top-10 Mets prospects coming into the new season:
- Noah Syndergaard
- Steven Matz
- Brandon Nimmo
- Dilson Herrera
- Kevin Plawecki
- Ahmed Rosario
- Michael Conforto
- Rafael Montero
- Marcus Molina
- Gavin Cecchini
That certainly is a great list and at several of those names have Mets fans dreaming of the day a pennant (or two) flies over Citi Field. Along with those supposedly robust ticket sales, these farm system rankings are being touted by the Mets as third party verification that better days are just ahead.
Like barnacles on a ship, negativity is attached to everything “Mets” these days, so there is no shortage of folks to remind us of Generation K and The Teenaged Hitting Machine. I have not been shy about my distain for most of the non-playing members (and a few that do play) in the Met organization, but I really do want the team to win. It is always difficult to project future performance of prospects, but some empirical evidence exists to at least help us take an educated guess.
Let’s start with BA’s top ten Met farmhands list from 2012 and 2013:
- Zack Wheeler
- Matt Harvey
- Jeurys Familia
- Cesar Puello
- Jennry Mejia
- Kirk Nieuwenhuis
- Michael Fulmer
- Reese Havens
- Wilmer Flores
- Luis Mateo
- Domingo Tapia
- Cory Mazzoni
15 names dot those two lists. Of them, Havens has retired, while Fulmer, Mateo and Mazzoni have been slowed by injuries. Tapia may have flamed out in the face of improved competition. Puello’s stock soared until his PED revelation. While I wouldn’t give up on these guys totally, their big league futures seem cloudy. Nimmo and Cecchini’s high rankings are mainly due to BA’s institutional high regard for first round draft picks. Sans those two, six of 13 (46%) have made it to the majors. Mejia already having made his debut in 2010 with the rest called up by the end of 2013. For argument’s sake let’s give both Nimmo and Cecchini (or one of them and Mazzoni) at least a cup of big league coffee. That’s eight out of 15 or a 53% yield. Not great.
Stick with me however and let’s take a look at BA’s two top farm systems from 2012 and 2013, which would be the Texas Rangers and the St. Louis Cardinals, respectively (BTW, the Mets system ranked 25th and then 16th in those two years). Seven of the top ten from each organization became major leaguers–although one of them was Yu Darvish. Because conventional wisdom indicates the Mets system is at or near the top of the organizational rankings (there is no 2015 info for BA yet) and that better systems produce more major leaguers, let’s risk the small sample size and assume that seven of the names on the 2015 Mets list will be in the majors by 2016.
Remember that Herrera and Montero have already debuted, so who are the other five? It might be easiest to project the four most advanced names: Syndergaard, Plawecki, Matz and Nimmo. That’s going to leave a lot of Mets fans, not to mention the Front Office disappointed with a wasted top pick (either Conforto or Cecchini). And it might mean that we shouldn’t buy into the Rosario hype. Or does Conforto join Nimmo in Queens while one (or both) of the AAA arms comes up lame? There’s a scary thought.
OK, you may be thinking, there will still be some disappointments, but overall the guys that do break through will make the Mets a lot better. Don’t count on it. How good have the 2012/2013 list graduates been? Harvey made the All-Star team and then had TJS; while Mejia, Familia and Wheeler appear poised to stick as better than serviceable performers. Kirk will likely peak in his 4th-outfielder/pinch hitter role. I am rooting for Flores, but I think that for a variety of reasons, he is being set up to fail. That’s one franchise-type player, three contending team-caliber players, a utility guy and a Mystery Box (Flores).
Prospect-wise, the Mets are close to where the Cardinals were two seasons ago. From that Cardinal list, the Oscar Taveras tragedy is unimaginable, but their #2 prospect went to Atlanta and the #6 prospect had TJS. The best of the remainder are in the same band as Mejia/Familia/Wheeler.
For arguments’s sake, call Syndergaard the next Harvey, while Matz, Nimmo and Herrera become regulars and Plawecki sticks as a backup. Added to the mix currently here, how much better does it make the Mets? I think it still leaves them as a flawed team, with a major Achilles Heel.
A deeper comparison between the Mets and the Cardinals shows that a strong prospect base is about where the similarities between the two franchises end. The Cardinals have made trades, signed free agents, aggressively promoted players, play better defense, have more speed and are well-run, from the owner’s box to the manager’s office. About the same thing could be said of the other perennial NL playoff teams, Washington and San Francisco.
While those teams have maintained a high standard year over year and the Cubs, Padres and Marlins have improved, the Mets have been characteristically moribund, appearing sclerotic while their more nimble competitors gleefully restock their rosters and their fan’s expectations for the coming season.
It’s all spilled milk now, but I were Alderson and the Diamondbacks asked for Syndergaard in return for Didi Gregorious, I would have pivoted off of Didi and onto Chris Owings. Largely overlooked in this plethora of pitching prospects is that the Mets also have three centerfielders: Kirk, Juan Lagares and Matt den Dekker. I would be hounding San Diego’s AJ Preller almost daily about pieces of my centerfield and pitching surplus for Wil Myers. Yes, I would trade Lagares. I think den Dekker can be almost as good defensively and he is a better leadoff candidate. How much different might we feel with Owings and Myers on board and Michael Cuddyer in the supersub utility role?
Maybe this changes when Alderson finally packages a bunch of prospects for that major offensive piece, or the Wilpons loosen the purse strings to allow a free agent signing. Or if Snydergaard is so good in Spring Training that they start him in the rotation with Harvey, Wheeler and Jacob deGrom, while trading Bartolo Colon. But what in recent history leads one to believe that any of this is really going to ever happen? Because Alderson says they might? Because the commissioner believes they would? And yes, I understand that there are non-prospect list sleepers like deGrom, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Counting on surprises isn’t a sustainable plan, plus baseball has a way of winnowing the flash-in-the-pan types from the here-to-stay ones. I like having a good farm system, but treating my top prospects as if each of them is a 2036 HOF inductee is preposterous and is ultimately far more risky than moving a few of them for some proven and controllable help.
Yes, the 2015/16 Mets should have plenty of pitching. They probably won’t have much else. On and off the field, the Mets are just so flimsy, a product of broke owners and an out-of-touch GM. While it is nice to think that we are on the verge of another 1984-1990 run, with the wild card meaning more post season play, what I see is a repeat of the 1975–76 Mets, teams that bubbled up over 500, but never seriously contended. If you’ll recall, by 1977 the players had had enough of a parsimonious ownership and front office (sound familiar?) and rebelled, leading to a major talent purge and a long period of sub.500 baseball.
Let’s talk each other off the ledge.