Do the Mets Have Difference Makers?
NOTE: This is a guest post by longtime, loyal MetsToday commenter “Argonbunnies.” Enjoy.
After Omar Minaya’s parting slew of over-priced contracts to past-their-prime stars, most Mets fans were eager to follow the smart teams and build from within. Alderson has staked the premise of contention in the next few years on the viability of that strategy. But can it actually work for these Mets?
All the teams that have successfully built from within have produced players that fall somewhere from “superstar” to “well above average” – in other words, difference-makers. Many, many other teams have built around free agent stars with serviceable homegrown talent, as that’s an excellent way to meet a budget.
Teams that grow average talent without growing or importing difference-makers, however, don’t tend to contend unless a ton of things go right. And that seems to be where the Mets are heading. Not just where they’re at — that’s not news, we’ve known for over a year that 2012 playoffs were an extreme longshot — but also where they’ll be in 2013, and 2014.
The Rays got good mileage, and great performance-per-cost, from guys who never approached stardom. Guys like Jeff Niemann, B.J. Upton, Joel Peralta and Wade Davis can all contribute. But would the Rays really have gotten anywhere, ever, without Longoria and Price? That’s the Mets’ problem. Their farm system has succeeded in producing a few Niemanns and Uptons, and this is hailed as a sign that it’s been better than advertised. But really, we haven’t churned out a single player the quality of Ben Zobrist, much less a Cy Young talent like Price.
I’d love rooting for someone like Daniel Murphy on a team where he’s the #7 hitter, and all he really needs to do is hit well for a second baseman while not adding much to the payroll. But the Mets are not close to being that team, and I don’t see how they’re going to get there any time soon.
I say this based on how I see our young talent, which I’ll divide into the following categories:
A player who is well above average or better. The kind of player teams will pay top dollar to get. On a contending team, worth a high price.
A player who is not trivial to replace, and does some things well, but overall is not more than slightly above average. This is a great contribution to get from a young player making league minimum! However, from a player who’s been through arbitration, on a team with payroll limits, one has to question whether they’re worth their place in the budget.
A player who should be replaceable for close to league minimum. Someone who deserves to be in the major leagues, but just barely.
Here are my thoughts on our talent pipeline, going from the top to the bottom:
Matt Harvey – potential Difference-Maker
When was the last time a Mets prospect seemed better than advertised? Harvey’s got okay control of a truly elite fastball, and his secondary pitches can occasionally be filthy. Hall of Famers come from beginnings like that. Of course, so did Matt Clement. I think it’s pretty impossible to guess at this point.
Zack Wheeler – potential Difference-Maker
Wheeler’s minor league stats are pretty mediocre for a top prospect. Scouts seem to have downgraded his curve. But most were higher on him than Harvey, and Harvey looks to have tremendous upside, so who knows?
Jon Niese – Serviceable
Every pennant-winner needs a guy like Niese, but no pennant-winner leans on a guy like Niese to be a difference-maker. Jon’s slow refinement of his command seems to be keeping pace with the league’s increasing familiarity with his cutter and curve. He’s slightly above-average in most things, and his ERAs have arguably been unlucky. I expect him to settle in as a respectable #3 starter for many years. If there’s a huge dearth of those in today’s game, then maybe he counts as a difference-maker, but I don’t think so.
Ruben Tejada – Serviceable
Ruben is a good player. I’m happy to have him. But is he a difference-maker? No. He’s a good fielder, but not so good that he routinely saves runs other shortstops wouldn’t. He’s a disciplined hitter, but has so little power that he’ll never scare pitchers out of the zone and draw walks. And though he doesn’t strike out much, he doesn’t strike out so little than you can assume a .300 AVG either. The only caveat here is youth, the possibility that Tejada evolves into a difference-maker. But his tools aren’t particularly projectable, so that would seem overly optimistic to me.
Ike Davis – Serviceable
His bat might be special at another position, but at 1B, it’s not. He has excellent footwork around the bag, but zero range and poor reactions to batted balls. His swing is strikeout-prone. Great power, doesn’t choke in the clutch.
Dillon Gee – Serviceable
He’s got flaws. His fastball has been crushed and he’s been homer prone. But he’s way better than many teams’ 5th starters, so he’s clearly not simply replaceable filler.
Bobby Parnell – Serviceable
An above-average reliever, but a choker who pitches worse in bigger spots. Will clearly never live up to his stuff, but his stuff still makes him decent. Any team with a lockdown 8th and 9th inning tandem would be happy to have him pitch the 7th.
Daniel Murphy – Serviceable
If you think it’s easy to find an excellent defensive 2B who can hit okay, then Murph is filler at best. But the state of 2B today seems weak, so I’ll say that Murph’s below-average D is acceptable given his above-average ability to hit singles and doubles. He’s basically Freddy Sanchez.
Josh Edgin – Serviceable
Can be nasty. Can be erratic. Mechanics and stuff vary from outing to outing. Pretty tough against lefties. Seems a bit better than ye average disposable lefty specialist, so I won’t call him filler.
Jordany Valdespin – Filler
Speed, power, and the ability to play middle infield. He might easily be more than filler if he could play SS every day. I have to go on what I’ve seen, though, which is a below-average outfielder who’s slump-prone due to erratic plate discipline and pitch recognition. When hot, he does damage. And he doesn’t hit worse in the clutch. If he’s still improving, then there’s some hope to be quite serviceable. Clearly not a difference-maker, though.
Lucas Duda – Filler
Duda’s 2011 was spectacular. Alas, he never hit with that combination of patience, power, and contact before, and he hasn’t at any time this year, so it’s looking like a fluke. He tries hard in the field and has a very strong arm, but he’s a borderline liability due to his slowness. His offense would have to be like 2011 to make him more than replaceable.
Jenrry Mejia – Filler
At some point the results have to matter more than the great velocity and unusual movement. The velocity & movement say he should be Kenley Jansen. The results say he can’t miss bats in AAA. Mejia’s one demonstrated skill is that he doesn’t seem to allow many homers. I don’t see anything but astronomical odds against him being a difference-maker, but he may become serviceable if he can stay healthy and refine his command a bit more.
Jeurys Familia – Filler
Well, as long as I bothered to rate Harvey and Wheeler, I might as well rate Familia. A big arm who only flashed any sort of command once in his career (2011). By far the most likely prognosis is a high-K, high-BB guy in the bullpen. Or, well, I guess “never sticks in the big leagues” probably has better odds. Anyway, after a poor 2012, I can’t imagine he even has more trade value than the undeveloped hard throwers in every team’s system.
Josh Thole – Filler
Catchers with better arms, more leadership, more power, and fewer singles are a dime a dozen. I won’t miss those singles too much. Thole simply needs to be a more consistent hitter than he’s been to have any real value.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis – Filler
Good speed, but not amazing. Good hustle. Solid reads. Major trouble calling for the ball. Some power, some patience. Slow bat, major holes in his swing. Is it hard to find an OF on the scrap heap who can do that? I don’t think so.
If we’re counting guys plucked from other teams’ minors, then Turner & Baxter seem like capable bench guys and Hefner can be the 12th man on a staff. But bench guys and 12th men are filler. The rest of our minor league talent is likewise replaceable; not “bad” so much as “just like everyone else’s minor league talent”.
The two definite difference-makers in the Mets organization right now (Wright and Dickey) are going to be paid every penny they deserve in their next contracts. If Harvey and Wheeler both become difference-makers immediately, then we may have the budget to import lineup help while all our serviceable parts are still cheap. Otherwise, the Tejada-Davis-Gee-Parnell discount will expire while Harvey and Wheeler are rounding into form, and the “build from within” plan won’t be much farther along than it was when Alderson took over. By the time guys like Tapia and Nimmo hit the big leagues, Wright and Dickey may be filling the roles of Bay and Santana (that is, eating up the payroll without adding many wins). I tend to be an optimistic fan, and I tend to admire teams who build from within and win on the cheap, but when angry Mets fans call for this team to spend more money, I do think it may be our only hope. Our organization simply doesn’t have the talent to be the next Rays.