It wasn’t such a long time ago the New York Mets were an excellent baseball team. As recently as 2006, they were one game away from the World Series, and as recently as 2008 they were battling for the postseason. But after winning between 70 and 79 games the last four years, the Mets and their fans are searching for answers. One thing that had to make Mets fans feel a little better about their team was when the New York Post’s Kevin Kernan asked Rays Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations (and de facto GM) Andrew Friedman about the Mets system and he had this to say:
“The Mets have a tremendous amount of young talent,’’ Friedman told The Post yesterday. “I think those guys have done a tremendous job of acquiring some high-end young players that they can grow with, and I think that [front office] is extremely good at supplementing around those guys and also having enough good young depth.
The Mets indeed have gathered themselves a group of young impact players even the Rays would be proud of. They found a great young starter on Jonathon Niese, signed him to a Rays-esque extension prior to the 2012 season, and watched him deliver a breakout year, going 13-9 with a 3.40 ERA in 190.1 innings pitched. Pairing him with talented young starter Matt Harvey and top prospect Zack Wheeler gives the Mets the chance for a homegrown top three in their rotation as good as anyone in baseball. And then you have prospects like Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard acquired in the R.A. Dickey trade, although Syndergaard could be a while away, right-hander Jenrry Mejia, infielder Wilmer Flores, and then a group of talented prospects in the low minors like their last two first round picks, shortstop Gavin Cecchini and outfielder Brandon Nimmo, and right-handers Luis Mateo, Rafael Montero, and Hansel Robles. But developing a good group of prospects isn’t the only way the Mets have emulated the Rays.
They found a great pitcher years ago on the scrapheap, R.A. Dickey, watched him turn into a Cy Young-caliber pitcher, and had no qualms dealing him when the right package of prospects came around from the Toronto Blue Jays, exactly what the Rays would have done. (In getting d’Arnaud, they got themselves the topflight catching prospect the Rays have never been able to get ahold of.) They’ve also had some success with pitchers like Chris Young and Chris Capuano and outfielder Scott Hairston on low-risk deals, and they hope that Shaun Marcum will be next. But their reclamation project track record has been far too spotty at this point and they’ve never been able to copy the Rays’ specialty of finding relievers on the cheap, getting a few nice middle relief finds like Jason Isringhausen and Tim Byrdak in 2011 but missing big with guys like Frank Francisco and never getting a consistent late-inning presence. The bottom line with the Mets is that they have made strides with their minor league system and have found some quality low-cost signings in the majors, but the core of their team simply isn’t there yet. They parallel the Rays’ Evan Longoria with quite possibly a better player in David Wright, but beyond him, Ike Davis, and maybe Ruben Tejada and Lucas Duda, who else can be above-average among their major league position players? But that’s not unexpected. If the Mets really want to follow the Rays’ example, it’s going to take time.
There’s going to be no quick fix for the Mets- they are going to have to get worse and compile top prospects through the draft for years before their team finally comes together. There’s hope on the horizon, but Mets fans are going to have to stay patient- something especially hard to do in New York City instead of Tampa Bay- and hope that their team refuses to yield to the pressure and continues to do the same. Fans during the Devil Rays years understand how tough it is to lose game after game and become a laughingstock throughout baseball. But if the Mets can somehow find the light at the end of the tunnel and put together a run of success anything like what the Rays have done in recent years, it will all be worth it.