Friday, July 23, 2021

Another Hill to Climb

The New York Mets finally added a desperately needed credible starting pitcher to the mix, picking up veteran Rich Hill in a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays. Understandably, this isn't the type of transaction that's going to electrify the fan base. Still, it was a solid deal for a decent veteran starter that didn't tap into the Mets' limited pool of top-tier prospect talent. As we discussed Wednesday, the Mets lack a deep pool of prospects who would be attractive to potential trade partners.

I think most Mets fans are happy to see the club add a badly-needed starter, but I did see some comparisons to the kind of bargain-basement deals that took place when Fred and Jeff Wilpon were still running things. Of course, none of us know whether there are far bigger deals to come or if this trade is representative of as far as the Mets are willing to go this season. We won't really know the answer until a week from today at the deadline.

The New York Post's Joel Sherman made the point in an article yesterday that the Mets will have trouble pulling off a real blockbuster trade with such a limited pool of prospects that another team would place a high value on. He also notes a "lack of difference-making starting pitching." At least according to Sherman, the perception around the game is that the Mets want to hold onto their best prospects and might consider trading an offensive player on the Major League roster such as J.D. Davis, Jeff McNeil, or Dom Smith.

I wouldn't completely dismiss the possibility of such a deal taking place, but the Mets would have to be careful to avoid selling low on a player like McNeil or Dom Smith. There is a real question about whether the front office has been in place long enough to make real judgments on what McNeil and Smith really are as players. The other question in a deal such as this is whether the Mets offense can really afford to subtract a key bat after underperforming for so long this year.

If the Mets decide to make a deal involving one of their top prospects, the same sense of caution would apply. There is a real question as to whether the current management team has been in place long enough to have a real understanding of exactly what they have in their prospects. Complicating this even further was the absence of a minor league season in 2020.

Without wandering too far down the rabbit hole of Brodie Van Wagenen's trade of Jarred Kelenic, my biggest problem with the deal wasn't giving up Kelenic. If the Mets can build a sustained run of success over the next few years, they're going to have to be willing to part with real good prospects at times in exchange for the right player. The problem with trading Kelenic, putting aside the wisdom of acquiring an aging player like Robinson Cano, was that Van Wagenen dealt Kelenic away too soon. Even waiting one more year would have brought a much bigger return for the prospect. Van Wagenen sold too early on the kid.

From what I've read, the prospects that the Mets currently possess that could conceivably headline a big trade are Francisco Alvarez, Ronny Mauricio, Brett Baty, and possibly Matt Allan if teams are willing to take a kid recovering from Tommy John surgery.

I don't think the Mets should deal Alvarez. He's shown too much promise as a 19-year-old catcher with huge offensive upside.

You can make a good argument for trading either Mauricio or Baty. Mauricio is blocked at shortstop for the next decade by Francisco Lindor. Baty is a well-regarded bat, but questions remain about his ability to man third base. His value drops along with his chance to be an impact major leaguer if he has to move to first base. Baty just got promoted to Double-A, and Mauricio is still in High-A, so they're both a good distance from being Major League ballplayers.

Mauricio has added an impressive amount of muscle to his body, and it's translated to a real power gain. The 20-year-old has 11 home runs this season after only totaling 7 combined dingers in 2018 and 2019. He still can be quite impatient at the plate — the flaw that held back previous shortstop prospect Amed Rosario. Even with his new team, Rosario's OBP of .305 just doesn't cut it.

The 21-year-old Baty got off to an excellent start for High-A Brooklyn, slashing .309/.397/.514 over 51 games, earning a promotion to Double-A Binghamton. He's shown some real promise this season, as have Mauricio and Alvarez.

Still, all prospects have flaws, and there's no guaranty that any of these guys become Major Leaguers, much less impact Major Leaguers. So when a fan of a club like myself is hesitant to get on board for a deal that would include a well-regarded prospect, we get accused of being a prospect hoarder, in love with the promise of these prospects rather than thinking practically.

But that's not really the case with me. I wouldn't be against trading any or all of these prospects in the right deal, but I would honestly question whether any of them have reached their maximum value as trade chips at this point. I would therefore question whether the Mets could afford to move any kid out of such a tiny prospect pool in that case.

The Mets are trying to build out their pool of prospects to have enough available to add to their own roster and use as trade chips. This will take multiple seasons of really smart decisions, good drafting, correctly taking advantage of the international market, and honing and improving their development.

Meanwhile, enjoying more success at the Major League level will mean lower draft picks and less money for both the Amateur Draft and international signings. If they sign free agent players who received a qualifying offer, that will cost them a draft pick and the money assigned to that slot.

It will be complicated for the Mets to sustain success and develop a farm system that can continue to produce for them. The Cubs' failure to do that has caused them to take a step backward and do some sort of a rebuild, whatever name they want to put on it. Even the recent lack of success by the Yankees is partly attributable to their player development.

If that's not enough of a challenge, no one really knows how the current rules will be affected by the upcoming negotiations for a new basic agreement when the current one expires at the end of the season. Hell, we don't even know if the existing bad blood between the two parties will allow for a new agreement before the start of next season. There is quite a bit of uncertainty in how a team should best proceed with trying to be more competitive this season without handicapping their future.

I want the Mets to do what they can to reach their first postseason since their 1-game Wildcard loss in 2016. However, what I don't want to see is short-sighted moves that handicap them in future seasons. And, over all, looms the question of whether Jacob deGrom can be a regular contributor to this year's pennant chase. That question is unlikely to be definitively answered before the trade deadline, complicating any decisions the Mets front office need to make.

Please be well and take care.


 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos.

1 comment:

  1. You need to give to get. The only way to do that is to trade off ill-fitting major league pieces or giving up on prospects who may or may not amount to something. No one is giving you a difference maker for Travis Blankenhorn. If the right deal comes along for a multi-year guy and the demand is a Dom Smith or a Jeff McNeil you have to at least hear what the offer is all about. You still have to contend with Robinson Cano next season and the one after that. Assuming they are not getting out of the deal based upon his misconduct, he's theirs for just over $20 million per season for 2022 and 2023. Consequently, maybe it's time to consider selling a Jeff McNeil or a J.D. Davis or another low-cost option to land the impact starting pitcher for this year and beyond.

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