By Mike Steffanos
Try not to read too much into the Mets two-day (so far) debacle at Fenway Park. If we were honest, we knew going into the series that the Red Sox were a better team than the Mets. They're not, however, this much better, any more than the Mets are as superior to the Arizona Diamondbacks as they looked back in that 4-game series in Phoenix. It's just baseball, when you run into the wrong team at the wrong time it can get ugly for you quickly.
A lot has been made of the superiority of the American League over the National League over the last few years. Obviously there is some truth to that, although I wouldn't read as much into the All Star Game as some do -- that's kid of silly. A lot of folks attribute this dominance to the superiority of AL lineups over their NL counterparts. I don't buy that. The AL has emphasized offense since the early '70s, and for many years it was the NL that was by far the superior league.
The American League is driven by the free-spending Yankees and Red Sox, and also exceedingly well-run organizations like Oakland, the Anaheim Angels of Anaheim, Minnesota -- and now the White Sox and Detroit. Right now, it simply takes more from an organization to compete in the AL than in the NL, consequently AL teams are superior. This is the exact opposite of what was happening in the 70s and 80s, when powerhouses like the Reds, Pirates, Dodgers and even the Phillies and Mets at times forced NL teams to work harder to be competitive. If the Mets resurgence under Omar Minaya is more than just a passing phase that will help drive the NL, and in the long run it would be better if the league as a whole picked up its game. Still, the Yankees won a couple of World Series in the era of NL dominance, and the Mets can do the same if they build their team correctly.
As driven by offense as the AL is, it's still pitching that separates contenders from pretenders. The Red Sox had the best lineup for years, but only won when they had the arms to complement their bats. What we've seen the last 2 nights had every bit as much to do with the Mets being out-pitched as being out-hit. The Mets lineup doesn't concede much to the Red Sox, but right now in the category of young pitching especially, these two teams are miles apart. The Red Sox, never known for developing young players, most especially pitchers, identified a few years ago that there was a big shift in the game. Revenue sharing has enabled small-market teams to hold on to their Johan Santanas, Ben Sheets, and other promising young pitchers. What's more, it allowed them to go after and sign the type of solid veteran pitchers that most playoff teams look for in the middle of their rotation. This has created a market where a pitcher a sliver above league-average can command a multi-year contract at a healthy sum.
If the last couple of years has taught us anything, it's hard to get the pitching you need from somebody else. You'll either overpay in prospects or take on a bloated salary for something not all that much better than what you already have. The Red Sox were smart enough to see this and work hard to develop young pitchers in their system. Resisting the temptation to move this kids for over-the-hill or just plain mediocre talent, they're finally reaping the rewards for their foresight and patience now. Let a blowhard like Mike Francesa rant to you that "there's no such thing as a pitching prospect" all he wants, the simple truth is that, in the coming years, teams that can't develop some young cheap talent for themselves, especially pitching, are not going to be able to compete. You won't be able to afford to build good teams primarily composed of free agents, and you can't count on smaller market teams to help you out merely for salary relief. It's a whole new ballgame for MLB championship wannabees in the early years of the twenty-first century.
The current state of the National League east, and the entire league in general, has allowed the Mets to get by with a starting pitching staff that most likely isn't good enough to win a championship. There is a temptation to go out there and give up prospects or tie up salary in someone who isn't a big enough upgrade over what they already have to really justify it. The Mets will soon be facing a day of reckoning where large money contracts will be needed to ensure that Jose Reyes and David Wright stay put. Pedro and Glavine are approaching the end of their careers. If the Mets hope to be well-armed into the future, the onus will be on the organization to find a way to do it from within, as the Red Sox have done. They just can't buy their way out of this one, and trying to do that might handicap them for the long road ahead.
Minor League Baseball: Humber Pitches for St. Lucie
Chip Haunss reports that 2004 top pick Phil Humber has continued his comeback from Tommy John surgery by pitching 5 innings for Class A St. Lucie. Humber allowed 3 runs on 5 hits. He struck out 5 and walked 1.
Baseball Prospectus($): Jesus Flores
BP's Kevin Goldstein rated the top 10 catching prospects in the minor leagues, and St. Lucie catcher Jesus Flores comes in at #8:
The Mets have always liked Flores' potential, but his full-season debut last season--in which he hit just .216/.250/.339--was marred by a broken thumb that prevented him from holding a bat properly for much of the season. This year he's perfectly healthy, and his bat--which is his best tool--has not only come alive, it's gotten better every month.MONTH AVG HR/100 BB/100 SO/100 April .197 2.8 5.6 31.00 May .280 6.5 7.5 29.03 June .343 6.0 7.5 23.88
This does not take away from Flores' defensive skills, which are at least solid across the board according to one scout, who graded his arm as plus. If [Braves prospect Jarrod] Saltalamacchia is the biggest fall so far this year among backstops, Flores might be the biggest jump.