By: David Weiss
Click here for part one.
Sandy Alderson was hired to be the Mets GM after the 2010 season. The team was a wreck following the Madoff scandal. The Wilpon’s simply did not open their wallets so the Mets needed to build from within. In the minors, the Mets had some good pitchers. Steven Matz was taken with their first pick in 2009 and Matt Harvey was taken with the seventh overall pick the next year. Unfortunately, the position players in the minors were lagging.
Alderson made one of his biggest moves in his first year on the job. With the Mets not heading anywhere he traded their star slugger, Carlos Beltran, to the Giants for Zack Wheeler. Wheeler was selected with the sixth overall pick in 2009. That same year in his first draft, Alderson went for pitching and then some more pitching. After taking Brandon Nimmo with his first ever pick, Alderson selected Michael Fulmer with a later pick in the first round. He then selected pitchers in the next four rounds. When all was said and done, the Mets had taken 28 pitchers with their 51 picks, including 10 of their first 14 slots. For those paying attention, the new GM wanted to get as many pitchers as possible. This strategy worked in that the Mets took Lugo, Gsellman as well as around another half dozen guys who made the majors.
However, the gutsiest move that Alderson made was after the 2012 season. R.A. Dickey won the NL Cy Young award. The Mets than traded him in a seven-player deal which landed Noah Syndergaard. Syndergaard was selected by the Blue Jays with a supplementary first round pick in 2010. By the time this move was done, it was clear the Mets were going for the strategy of building a super rotation.
When 2014 rolled along, the Mets had a lot of pitching talent. Harvey and Wheeler had made it to the big leagues and showed that could be really good. Jeremy Hefner was showing some promise. An unknown pitcher named Jacob deGrom came out of nowhere to win the rookie of the year award. Rafael Montero had gone from an obscure 20-year-old signed out of the Dominican Republic to one of the top pitching prospects. Syndergaard and Fulmer were progressing up the minor league ladder. The vision was going according to plan.
In the bullpen, the Mets had quite a few guys who turned heads as well. Jeurys Familia, Josh Edgin and Jenrry Mejia each had good seasons in 2014. All in all, Alderson had created a team built around strong young pitching that many saw as the future of the game… or so we thought.
While the Mets had a lot of pitching prospects, the hitting was noticeably weak. Under Omar Minaya, the Mets were also taking lots of pitchers in the early rounds. In 2006, he took five pitchers before taking a batter and the following year it was six. Unfortunately, of these picks, only Joe Smith had big league success. The only noteworthy hitter that Minaya took with a high pick was Ike Davis. Players like Reese Havens, Javier Rodriguez, Robbie Shields and Blake Forsythe were high picks from 2008-2010 that never made it.
When Alderson came in, he took quite a few high profile high schoolers in the first round. Nimmo, Cecchini and Smith were the top picks from 2011-2013. The problem is that high schoolers take time to blossom and some question how good their competition is. The book is still open here, and only Nimmo has shown any big-league success… and that took 7 years.
To be fair, the Mets did have some minor league hitters who had big league success. Duda, Murphy, Lagares, Flores and d’Arnaud all were key pieces of the 2015 World Series team. The problem is that they were never the key offensive players. The Mets instead brought in experienced veterans to be the meat of the order. Granderson, Cespedes, Cuddyer, Walker, Cabrera, Bruce and Frazier have all been added with the intent of being the big bats.
So how did this play out? Rather than stocking up on young everyday players and veteran pitchers, Alderson did the opposite. In 2015, it looked like a winning formula as they won the NL pennant. They did so even with injuries to Wheeler and Matz. However, by 2016 there were cracks in the facade. The Mets made it to the playoffs despite Harvey and deGrom joining Matz and Wheeler. However, by 2017 injuries totally decimated the season. Now in 2018, the Mets once again are dealing with injuries to their main hitters. In short, the Mets got one great season and one good season out of the experiment.
So what did Alderson miss? To begin, pitching injuries are increasingly common. Tommy John has almost become a rite of passage for young pitchers. There is a Wikipedia page on this. Harvey, deGrom, Wheeler, Matz, Montero and Hafner all had it. Pitching is just an unnatural motion. With pitchers throwing harder and starting to do so at younger ages than ever, it takes a toll on their arms. This list doesn’t even include all the muscle and joint injuries that have also plagued Mets pitching. Simply put, all pitchers are in baseball are one toss away from a long injury. The thinking is that the older guys know how to protect their arms better.
With the faster pitches, the game has become much faster as well. Batters are hitting the ball harder. In addition, the analytics of the game has revolutionized the way we think about baseball. The problem with older position players is that they lose a step. They are more injury prone and less reliable. Add in the business side of the game in which they have long guaranteed contracts and you have a messy situation on your hands.
To conclude, the Alderson has done the exact opposite of the successful teams mentioned in part 1. He stocked up on young pitching and veteran hitting. It is not a formula that is not built for sustained success. The Mets are seeing now how other teams seemingly come out of nowhere with the youngsters leading the way.
Click here for part 3
(David Weiss is a lifelong Mets fan. He has lived in Israel since 2008 and runs the Facebook page Jewish Mets Fans.)