Sunday, August 14, 2022

August and Everything After

In balancing the needs of the present with those of the future, the Mets are doing right by their fans.

Things have been fairly hectic for me lately. I haven't been able to post here as often as I would wish. More on that later, but first, let's catch up on some Mets thoughts. My last post was a week before the trade deadline. Although I did expect the Mets to make a stronger push for a left-handed reliever, I wasn't surprised that the Mets didn't make a huge splash in the deadline market. The brain trust had pretty well telegraphed their thinking ahead of time, and it was clear they weren't going to trade top prospects for rentals.

There was a lot of opining afterward that the club should have been more aggressive at the deadline. I get some of the reasoning. They're built to win now in many ways. They have a terrific one-two punch at the top of their rotation, with no guarantees that Jacob deGrom will be back next year and that Max Scherzer will continue to be a top-of-the-rotation starter as he approaches his 40th birthday. There was strong sentiment that they should have cashed in some chips and went all in. But I agree with GM Billy Epler's front office's disciplined approach. They couldn't afford to keep trading away top pics, as has become a dubious Mets tradition for the past several years.

On the other hand, if one thing becomes more apparent every year, it's the paucity of teams self-identifying as sellers. The number of contenders and would-be contenders scrambling for available talent from this limited supply should make the Mets rethink how they approach building their roster in the off-season. It seems even more ill-advised to start a season with Chasen Shreve and Joely Rodríguez as your top lefty bullpen options with the thought that you could always pick up a southpaw at the deadline unless the Mets manage to build out their farm system's depth much more than what exists now. Until then, I believe the Mets must be much more proactive in the offseason.

The Mets did an excellent job deepening their farm system in this year's draft, which should help in future years. But the job gets much more challenging going forward if the Mets sustain winning. The Mets will have to continue to improve their player development system if they hope to approach the depth of prospects that competitors such as the Braves and Padres were able to leverage.

These days, clubs seem much less inclined to dump useful players' salaries for dubious prospects who are unlikely to contribute anything in the future. The reason clubs were unwilling to deal for Mets' prospects beyond the top 5 or 6 was that there is little faith that the Mets' system can produce potential major leaguers from that next tier of talent. The Mets have improved dramatically in the past decade in graduating a few kids from their system into the big leagues, but the next challenge will be having players develop from lower down in their top 20.

I wrote a piece a couple of months ago on Junior Tilien, a 19-year-old infielder in the Mets' system. Tilien is enjoying a breakout season for the Low-A St. Lucie Mets in the Florida State League. Playing primarily shortstop and second base, Junior is slashing .260/.315/.440 with 13 2B and 12 HR in 295 PA. He has 22 BBs and has struck out 69 times. Those aren't bad numbers for a teenager in that league. In contrast, much-heralded 19-year-old prospect Alex Ramirez slashed .284/.360/.443 with 13 2B, 6 3B, and 6 HR over 306 PA in St. Lucie before his promotion to Brooklyn. Ramirez had 28 BBs and struck out 68 times.

Now I'm not trying to utilize dubious stat line scouting to claim that Tilien is equal to Ramirez as a prospect. That's clearly not the case. But Ramirez was one of the prospects the Mets were unwilling to ship out at the deadline. Alex is number 4 in MLB.com's top 30 Mets prospects, while Tilien didn't even crack their list. But the Mets signed Ramirez for $2.05 million in 2019. Tilien signed the same month for $185,000.

Ramirez may very well be a star someday, and that would be a huge win for the Mets' scouting and development. But if Tilien continues to progress and becomes a contributing major league ballplayer — either for the Mets or traded away to another club — that's also a huge win. Moreover, that's the sort of win the Mets need to start having to deepen their farm system enough to make trades and fill out their own MLB roster.

One move the Mets made before the deadline was acquiring Daniel Vogelbach from the Pirates in exchange for reliever Colin Holderman. It was tough to see Holderman go, as he's the rare home-grown reliever who has enjoyed some success in the Mets bullpen. But the positive here is that the Mets were able to take a guy who they drafted in the ninth round in 2016 and turn him into a good enough major league pitcher that another team valued in exchange for a piece the Mets needed. We need to see more of that.

If you're someone who came away from the trade deadline disappointed in the lack of a big splash, I'm not going to try to talk you out of that here. But I believe most of us fans can agree that there is still work ahead for the Mets organization if they truly want to challenge teams like the Dodgers, who do most things well and are blessed with a deep roster as a result. To compete, the Mets need to continue to pursue top international prospects, draft well at the top of the draft, and develop a good percentage of these potential impact players. But they also need to succeed with less-heralded international players like Junior Tilien, and lower draft picks like Holderman. 

One area they definitely need to improve is something at which the Dodgers have proven adept: importing players into the organization and "fixing" them. The Mets have taken a flier on a few guys in this vein, including Nick Plummer this season. Last year they traded for Khalil Lee and signed pitcher Sam McWilliams. McWilliams in particular seemed like a promising pitcher who a progressive club could turn into a bullpen piece. To be where they want to be, the Mets will eventually have to hit on some of these guys — whether they directly contribute to the Mets or are pieces in a trade.

The Mets have accomplished a lot in these first couple of years since Steve Cohen purchased the team. Still, so much more needs to be accomplished to remake themselves into an East Coast version of the Dodgers. There is much more work to be done to create the sustainable winner Cohen aspires to achieve.

A good friend of mine is a Red Sox fan. He enjoyed the Sox winning their fourth World Series title in 2018. He hasn't enjoyed the seasons since then, despite a fluky 90-win season last year that proved to be an illusion. Flags fly forever, indeed, but you have to root for the current version of your team. The Red Sox have really given their fans a feast or a famine over the last couple of decades. I appreciate that the Mets under Cohen are aspiring for more.

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Just a quick personal note here. I'm going through some training to make myself employable again after 4 recent back and neck surgeries have done a number on my body. I've been working towards a certificate in data analytics for the past month. It's monopolized my time to the detriment of this blog. As I continue to get more comfortable learning something new, I hope to have a bit more time to write going forward. I may not have a huge readership, but I appreciate those of you who are regular readers. Please bear with me. And, as always, be well and take care. Let's go Mets!


Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos.

2 comments:

  1. The Mets farm system was a mess during the whole Wilpon era. It's good to see some progress being made now. It opens up the prospect of low cost/homegrown ballplayers becoming a part of the future and also means that highly regarded minor leaguers can be parlayed for experienced ballplayers. Neither of these options were really there pre-Cohen.

    On your personal development during recovery, data analytics is truly still in its infancy as businesses need to identify patterns they didn't know existed and they need to figure out what to do with the information they glean. Making boring tables of numbers into useful graphs and charts can help immensely in this regard as it makes the black and white drudgery of poring over lots of rows and columns much more relevant when you can look at a graphical representation of what's happening and get that "Aha!" moment. Good luck with that. I spent my career in IT and project management, so I empathize with what you're doing.

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