Wednesday, August 2, 2023

The Mets' Remarkable 180-Degree Turn

The Mets' trade deadline "repurposing" of assets was even more stunning than their massive winter shopping spree. What happens next will decide how this is all ultimately viewed.

I must admit that I didn't foresee most of what happened with the Mets at this trade deadline. I knew David Robertson would be going and strongly suspected that Tommy Pham would be dealt. I was surprised when the Mets were willing to include so much cash in the Max Scherzer deal. I was less surprised when Justin Verlander was traded, although I had questioned whether owner Steve Cohen would invest millions more in acquiring more prospects. I am finally getting to the stage where I will no longer doubt the Mets owner's will to go to extraordinary lengths in doing whatever he feels needs to be done.

In my post from last Friday, I mentioned the meager returns the club received when trading away closers Jeurys Familia and Addison Reed back in the Wilpon era. The previous owners' unwillingness to take on much salary of players the Mets were unloading was always a limiting factor in the returns these trade pieces brought back. The stark contrast between that cheapness and Steve Cohen's seeming complete disregard for writing those large checks is mindboggling to someone like me who has followed this club for so long.

Even clubs with owners who aren't as cheap as Fred and Jeff would follow a more standard deadline playbook of including some money in these deals — certainly much less than Cohen and the Mets did — and taking better but still lesser prospects in return. The idea was to shed the salaries and long-term commitments. Then there would be some lean years while the club "retooled." Clubs that were actually trying would try to sign some veterans on short-term deals that made attractive trade bait at the deadline while also finishing low enough in the standings to acquire some high draft picks. I'm glad we Mets fans don't have to live through 4 or 5 years of that.

GM Billy Eppler insists the Mets will field a "competitive" team next season, but all the talk is about the Mets targeting 2025 or 2026 to make a run. Honestly, whether they executed the strategy they did in this deadline or mostly held onto their best players, I think the end result would have been the same, possibly even worse. Nothing I saw from Scherzer or Verlander this season gave me any confidence that they would be pitching at a high-level next year. The Rangers and Astros are powerful offensive teams that don't need these two to be Cy Young candidates, although I'm sure they'd be happy if they returned closer to that form. The Mets, on the other hand, have struggled offensively and are not well set up for next season. If the Mets stood pat, I think the best they could hope for in 2024 was a Wild Card run. With some intelligent management, there's no reason they couldn't do that anyway without those two guys.

We'll talk more about next year during the remainder of 2023, as there seems very little chance of anything happening over the last two months of the season that we'll want to pay close attention to. For now, my thoughts on the trade deadline is that the Mets did about as well as they could have given the cards they were dealt. I'm not concerned that most of the prospects acquired, and indeed the better ones, were position players. Positional redundancy among prospects gives a club the best chance of creating future Major Leaguers. Some will fall by the wayside, others will be traded for other needs — including pitching — and hopefully, some will someday be wearing orange and blue and helping to hoist the next Mets World Series trophy.

One thing that has hindered the Mets in making trades was that they had so few minor leaguers who were attractive to other teams. This deadline has added some real depth to the system. The Mets should be able to make future deals while retaining the kids they internally rate most highly. Of course, I have to restate that so much will depend on all of the upgrades the Mets have made to player development to start paying off in developing these kids into Major League ballplayers.

Although the Mets don't have any pitchers on Top 100 lists, there really are some interesting guys in the system. The Double-A Binghamton Rumble Ponies are loaded right now, with some of the better pitchers in the system: Blade Tidwell, Dominic Hamel, Tyler Stuart, and Christian Scott are all in the rotation. Coleman Crow, one of the two pitchers acquired in the Eduardo Escobar deal, is on the roster but is currently injured. The Mets need to develop some of these guys into MLB starters. While it's wonderful to develop the next ace on your staff, even if these guys can be mid-rotation or even back-end starters, that would represent a good value for the Mets. And if some that come up short as starting pitchers can be developed into bullpen pieces, that would be valuable, also.

Although the Mets' farm system clearly is a bit top-heavy in position players, including the best prospects they received from their deadline deals, there is some depth in pitching now throughout the system. Indeed, the Mets might have enough pitching depth to finally acknowledge that Tylor Megill might be better suited to a relief role. That's the sort of move I'd like to see from this club going forward. In my memory, Jeurys Familia was the last guy they successfully converted from a failed starting pitcher into a solid reliever. There is no reason that some of the live arms currently in the system couldn't help the Mets from the bullpen if they fail to do the job as starters.

The ultimate fate of these Mets prospects will be decided over the next few years. Eppler and Cohen emphasized 2025 and 2026 because that's when much of the money Cohen is eating will be off the books, and some of the more advanced prospects will be contributing in the majors. What happens next season, in my opinion, will greatly depend on who's running the show. I don't believe the Mets are doomed in 2024. However, they'll need someone more creative and just plain better at acquiring talent than Billy Eppler has been. Hopefully, it's David Stearns.

Eppler has mostly fallen flat on trades and lesser free agent signings that were supposed to help this team. Daniel Vogelbach has become the unfortunate poster boy for this, but he has company. The arms Eppler has accumulated to try to populate his bullpen have been almost entirely misses. Given that the Mets are purportedly operating away from the top of the market this winter, I don't have much confidence in a solid roster for next season if Eppler is still running the show.

If Steve Cohen can convince David Stearns to take the top job with the Mets, I would hope for better front-office performance at finding some value around the margins in procuring some ballplayers — something Stearns was successful at in Milwaukee. I would welcome cheering for a legitimate Wild Card contender next season after what I sat through in 2023. The moves that Eppler's front office was able to make around the deadline offer Stearns or whoever is running the show a degree of flexibility next season, if not the huge budget Billy Eppler was gifted with this past offseason. And given how badly things went this year, the bar is set relatively low to make us all happier next season.

We'll see how things go. The Mets simply must land Stearns or someone else of that caliber to run the show. I say that with all due respect to Billy Eppler, who has worked hard and has gotten many things right. Certainly, David Stearns, or whoever takes over, will be coming into a much stronger organization than the Mets were when Eppler signed on. But the need is still there for a head of baseball operations who can put together a better 1-40 roster in the future.

We'll talk again soon.  For now, I'm going to take a deep breath and probably not watch quite as much Mets baseball for the rest of the season, unless they decide to bring up Ronny Mauricio, which would give me more of a reason to tune in. I'm at the point with these Mets where I need a more compelling reason to tune in every day than the opportunity to watch ABs from Vogelbach, D.J. Stewart, and Rafael Ortega. No disrespect to any of these guys, but I've watched too many of them come through here over the years.

Be well and take care.


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2 comments:

  1. I don't see them as a WS contender til 2026

    ReplyDelete
  2. You're probably right. I'll settle for making the playoffs the next couple of years, with no guarantee of that.

    ReplyDelete

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