Is the Mets’ window to win a championship, which most everyone once thought would be wide open as long as their young pitchers stayed healthy and under financial control, about to slam shut?
And if so, will they have any choice but to contemplate trading one or both of their star pitchers, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, come July?
The idea of a Mets-Yankees trade has gotten a lot of talk-radio buzz the last couple of days, and for good reason considering that deGrom could help put the Yankees over the top while blue-chip prospects like Estevan Florial, Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield could give the Mets the young players they desperately need.
The Yankees might just do such a deal, but there’s no chance the Mets would send deGrom to the Bronx to win championships. For one thing, they certainly could bring back a haul from a lot of other contenders for their ace.
But with little quality pitching at the top levels of their farm system, the Mets would be committing to a complete rebuild with any decision to trade deGrom and/or Syndergaard.
And for a team that is in win-now mode, committed financially for the next couple of years to key players in their 30s, that would be a most difficult call to make.
Yet it would also be foolish not to at least evaluate all possibilities, because it sure feels as if the Mets are headed for a crossroads faster than anyone could have imagined, with what seems to be a glaring lack of talent at the upper levels of their farm system.
After all, their 11-1 start now looks like the very definition of a short-sample anomaly that washes out over 162 games, based as it was on some hit-the-lottery combination of timely hitting and lock-down relief pitching.
Meanwhile, you knew the Nationals would get hot eventually, but even more significantly, the Braves and the Phillies are already speeding ahead of their expected rebuild timetables, winning with the types of young players the Mets desperately need — and plenty more on the way.
Years of unproductive drafts are catching up with GM Sandy Alderson, who tried to patch together a contender by signing 30-something free agents Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier and Adrian Gonzalez at a time when major-league baseball is trending younger and younger.
The Mets hired Mickey Callaway as manager largely to revitalize their once-ballyhooed young pitchers, and they were convinced that, if healthy, the rotation would again be among the best in the league.
Yet more than a quarter of the way into the season, there is no evidence that Callaway or new pitching coach Dave Eiland have had an impact.
It is nothing short of jarring, in fact, to take a look at the National League ERA rankings for starting pitchers:
1) Nationals, 2.92.
2) Braves, 3.41
4) Phillies, 3.46
12) Mets, 4.51.
And you probably thought the Braves and Phillies, 1-2 in the division as of Thursday, were winning mostly on the strength of their young offensive stars, especially Atlanta with Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies crushing everything in sight.
Well, they’re doing that too. The Braves rank first in the NL in runs scored, and the Phillies are fifth, but the pitching is the surprise.
Splurging for that three-year, $75 million deal to sign Jake Arrieta is paying off for the Phillies. He has pitched well and his ace-like stature surely has taken pressure off the other starters in the rotation, all of whom are age 25 or younger.
Whatever the reason, the Phillies’ starters have pitched to a 1.29 ERA over their last nine games, and new manager Gabe Kapler, no longer being booed in Philly, by the way, is not so quick to pull them out of games early anymore.
The Braves, meanwhile, are similarly young in their rotation other than Brandon McCarthy, but are about to get even younger. Counting 20-year-old Mike Soroka, who made his major-league debut with six shutout innings against the Mets a few weeks ago, the Braves have five starters 21 or younger who started the year ranked in the top 50 of all minor-league prospects by MLBpipeline.com.
Furthermore, with position players included, the Braves started the season ranked No. 2 among all farm systems in baseball, and the Phillies were No. 4, according to the site.
So even if the Braves and Phillies fade in the standings this season, they seem to be set up to contend for years. And both teams are expected to add top free agents next winter to boost their young cores: the Phillies, especially, have hinted at being big players for Manny Machado or Bryce Harper.
All of which prompted a major-league executive from a team in another division to say this on Thursday, when I asked him to size up what this means:
“The needle is pointing way up for them. You can’t say that about the Mets.”
It’s hard to imagine Alderson, who despises the thought of tanking, giving in to such a notion, but he can’t ignore the reality of the situation, either.
Indeed, the peril of committing to everyday players in their 30s these days is already starting to surface, as Yoenis Cespedes, Frazier and Bruce are all dealing with injuries of some sort.
Even more to the point, it has become clear that Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler aren’t the elite starters the Mets once thought they’d be, Jason Vargas has been a disaster, and, well, Matt Harvey is in Cincinnati.
Source: Ny Daily News