Old Get Older, Thin Get Thinner
Omar Minaya is an early Christmas shopper, this much we know. On Black Friday, he officially announced the acquisiton of All-Star Carlos Delgado. Three days later, he did the same with Billy Wagner. Suddenly, the two largest items on Minaya's Christmas list were checked off. Many suggested the the team was close to checking off priorities three and four, as well, those being the catching and set-up positions.
It is not unlike the New York Mets to spend money. This is nothing new to a franchise that spent it's way into the 2000 World Series. However, this time around, it appears the Mets could pay a higher price in the end.
Consider the 2008 season. In this season, 2005 signees Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez will make a combined $21.5 million, at the ages of 31 and 36, respectively. New acquisitions Delgado and Wagner will make an estimated amount of $26 million in what will be their age 36 seasons. If the rumor mill is correct, than the team will also be giving $10-15 million on either Ramon Hernandez or Ben Molina, as well as a set-up man in the Tom Gordon mold. Nearly $60 million is already spent on veterans that will be past their primes.
Jim Duquette was nearly run out of New York after trading the farm system's prized jewel, Scott Kazmir, for the wild and volatile Victor Zambrano. Mets fans complained that their GM had no eye towards the future. Yusmeiro Petit is no Kazmir, and Zambrano no Delgado, but the evidence is clear: the new regime is not all that different from the old one.
The Carlos Delgado trade was an important one for this franchise. It was, in fact, a great trade, and one that any GM (with money) would make ten times out of ten. However, it's just another data point in a long list of the Mets dealing their future for the present. Sooner or later, these decisions will come back to haunt the Mets.
At this point, the farm system is made up of one player and a bunch of question marks. With Petit gone, Lastings Milledge no longer has to share the spotlight with anyone. In fact, at this point, Milledge is probably the one player closest to being untouchable, as only the likes of Manny Ramirez could lead to his exit. While Lastings plays the same defensive position as Beltran, you can only guess that one of the two good defenders could move, likely taking over for Cliff Floyd in left field.
So, we think the future has one homegrown player in it (oh, and that David Wright guy), but what's after that? Well, a whole bunch of questions, that's what. There is Gaby Hernandez, the only other player close to being legit in the system, though he suffered a serious second half breakdown. Can he compete in the higher levels? Can his G/F ratio continue to be so low, and Hernandez not allow any HR?
Following Hernandez is Phil Humber, their 2004 first-round pick. Humber missed the second half of 2005, and will likely miss most of 2006, with Tommy John surgery. Can Humber bounce back from the surgery like so many have? Was he, supposedly the safe choice then, the right pick considering the types of talent behind him?
Both Brian Bannister and Anderson Hernandez broke out last year, posting big numbers in AA and AAA. However, you have to wonder if Bannister's postseason numbers, pitching for the United States, is any indication that 2005 was a fluke. Or how about Hernandez, who had never hit well before last season. Is he just another in a long line of empty batting average players?
You have the international group, all under 20, and none having presented much more than tools: Carlos Gomez, Fernando Martinez and Emmanuel Garcia. There is the lone Cuban, Alay Soler, who has received so much hype, but has been away from competitive pitching for so long. There are the bad-defending bashers, Brett Harper, Mike Carp and Shawn Bowman.
Simply put, every player besides Milledge in the farm system has a large red mark on his resume. Milledge is the only lock for my upcoming top 75 list, though Hernandez will likely sneak in on the back end. Of course, all that could change if the Mets pony up, and sign Mike Pelfrey, who would rank ahead of Hernandez with his three plus pitches and considerable experience. Of course, it's hard to have a lot of faith in the scouting department, considering the lack of respect even their own organization gives them.
In three of the last four years, Mets signings have prevented them from having a second or third-round pick. The exception was 2004, in which the Mets were able to draft Gaby Hernandez in the third round. The Mets should also look at their 2001 draft as proof that more than one draft pick can be beneficial. While the team used their first pick on Aaron Heilman, a supplemental choice was what allowed them to draft David Wright.
The problem is one of philosophy. If the Mets can sign marquee free agents, they surely shouldn't hesitate because they will lose a draft pick. But there is no question that, after considering the evidence, that the front office has historically attacked the free agent market in a wrong, anti-Moneyball fashion. This season, Mike Piazza's exit will help make up for the draft pick lost for signing Billy Wagner. But, of course, there is the forthcoming catcher and set-up signings that should leave the Mets empty in the middle rounds...again.
The Amazins need to look no farther than across town to see the damage that their philosophies can cause. While the Yankees managed to win yet another division title last year, they did so with using anything left from their farm system. Old players continued to break down, contracts continued to pile up, and prospects continued to be traded. There is no question in my mind that had the Yankees traded Robinson Cano and/or Chien-Ming Wang before the 2005 season, the division title would have gone to a different team.
Rather than getting advice from their cross-town rivals, the Mets should be admiring the work of their division rivals. The Atlanta Braves are the perfect example of blending a farm system with Major League acquisitions. If the Mets could find a way to do this, and in a richer style at that, their success could undoubtedly be longer lasting than what they are currently looking at.
But that is going to take yet another front office upheaval, which few people see coming. Omar Minaya is spending money like a trust fund baby, the problem is that in the end, his signees will end up even more spoiled.