Mets: State of the NY Mets Franchise, Alderson’s Performance and Looking Forward


Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

In 2010, and with the alleged help of Major League Baseball, the New York Mets ushered in new general manager Sandy Alderson.

The man he replaced? Omar Minaya, who, only a few years prior, was widely lauded for the recruitment of superstars Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran, only to watch his Mets fall just one game shy of the 2006 World Series.

It looked, nevertheless, like a roster capable of perennial contention and, with relatively uncapped funding, Queens became a premier free-agent destination.

The run proved short-lived, however. Fate unfolded, changes were rapid.

Payroll restrictions. Roster turnover. Failed experiments. Failed expectations.

Much of Alderson’s tenure, now approaching the four-year mark, has been marred, at least partially, by surrounding uncertainty.

And an amply talented National League East division is on the seemingly perpetual ascent to boot.

Without context you could argue that franchise’s league-wide standing today is no better than it was the day Alderson first assumed the general manager’s helm. A principally erroneous claim, in truth, but crazy? Not quite.

State of the Franchise

Alderson certainly hasn’t returned the organization to prominence.

Been fruitless in multiple attempts at retooling an ailing bullpen that infamously cost the Mets division titles in 2007 and 2008.

New York’s run-differential, typically a strong indicator of overall performance, has actually trended southward on a yearly basis since his run in Queens began. In 2013 the gap ballooned to -65.

Just where, exactly, is the progress?

Where are the on-base machines of whom the innovative “Moneyball” approach he helped popularize is so strongly rooted? Or the dependable slugger to supplement David Wright‘s painfully unparalleled presence in the everyday lineup?

There have been missteps, sure.

A difficult situation, marked most notably by indeterminate finances, challenged Alderson’s acumen, led to years of abounding frustration and tested the collective patience of a fan base while the Mets wallowed in mediocrity.

But he’s simultaneously made, arguably, the best of the hand he was dealt.

Alderson took a franchise tied up in debt, much of which was non-baseball related, and rapidly spiraling into obscurity, and—using the few desirable assets available at his disposal—stocked a once barren minor league system with promising power-arms at every level.

For the first time in recent memory the Mets have a surplus of young and indisputably valuable pieces to build upon, regardless of your stance on the beleaguered GM.

Oftentimes, however, it still feels like ambiguity has to be an organizational philosophy—where does it end?

One particular affair of recent prominence and obscurity was finally addressed when the Mets shipped Ike Davis off to Pittsburgh. Davis’ departure served to provide at least some semblance of clarity to the tireless first-base debate.

Several more latent solutions look to be on the not-so-distant horizon, though the vast majority of the Mets’ roster flaws and issues are ongoing.

2014 Season Outlook

Alderson made the wrong type of headlines when his private 90-win projection hit public airwaves.

Right or wrong, a challenge or a prediction, ill-advised or otherwise—the bar was set. And if you willingly subscribe to small sample sizes, it may not be as ridiculous an expectation as it is an idealized account of the organization’s near-major-league ready talent.

The Mets record sat at 15-11 through their first 26 games. That’s a 93-win pace.

16 games later, the Mets are 20-23 and proactively seeking to quell the bleeding by way of in-house roster adjustments.

Shortstop Omar Quintanilla was the first casualty, designated for assignment in favor of the defensively challenged, yet offensively capable Wilmer Flores. New York’s shortstops ranked second-to-last in OPS (.508) at the time of Quintanilla’s demotion.

An injury to Dillon Gee, combined with the recent struggles of Jenrry Mejia opened the door for prospects Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom to join the major league rotation, making their respective debuts on consecutive nights opposite the New York Yankees.

Additional moves figure to be forthcoming.

And they simply can’t come soon enough for a remarkably pitiful bullpen that has already blown eight saves, the third highest total in baseball. Had just half of those ninth-inning leads been preserved, so too would the Mets 90-win pace—as well as the apparent legitimacy of Alderson’s lofty benchmark.

What’s more, the Mets have actually held a lead in 34 of their 43 games.

But is it attainable? I mean, are the 2014 Mets genuinely capable of finding a way to reach 90 wins as presently constructed?

The rotation seems up to the challenge. They have the talent, though a few rough outings in the batter-friendly confines of Coors Field and Yankees Stadium have left Mets starters with middling overall numbers at best.

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Significantly more concerning is the bullpen’s 3.72 SIERA (Skill-Interactive ERA), quite possibly the most predictive pitching metric available and the second-worst mark in the NL.

The Mets believe they have a future closer in Mejia, whose role-shift should help sure up the backend of the bullpen. He joins recently promoted Josh Edgin and the impressive arsenal of freshly graduated prospect Jeurys Familia.

Other live young arms, like that of Vic Black, await call-up.

But as is the case with all pitchers receiving their first glimpse at big league bats, it would be wise to keep expectations tempered. It’s the franchise’s inherent reliance on inexperienced commodities that makes a 90-win season so improbable.

What these prospects do provide, however, is a glimmer of hope. A chance to correct a pressing dilemma at the major league level internally, a luxury the Mets so overtly lacked in years past.

Assuming the Mets can somehow catch lightning in a bottle, piecing together a respectable relief corps by inserting a few youngsters into the bullpen, it will more than likely come down to the level of production gleaned from another area of the roster—a group of similarly untested position players.

24-year-old Travis d’Arnaud, for instance, will be depended on to become a integral piece of the everyday lineup.

After a dreadful start to his major league career the unproven catcher is beginning to show signs, however slight, of breaking out of his funk. Before landing on the disabled list with a mild concussion, D’Arnaud owned a .659 OPS in his last 66 plate appearances (first 48 PA, .488).

His .218 BAbip suggests he’s hitting into some hard luck as well, something that will presumably even out over the course of a full season.

The maturation of Juan Lagares in the batters box is assuredly more hopeful. His 128 OPS+ trails only Daniel Murphy (133) for the team lead.

Not even a hamstring injury was enough to slow Lagares down, though his BAbip has hovered around a likely unsustainable .400 thus far, usually a tell-tale sign of future regression. In any event, Lagares must learn to draw more walks if he is to become the multi-tooled player the Citi Field faithful fantasize about.

Most surprising of all, perhaps, is Wright’s severely slow start to the season. While his .707 OPS is unusually low, it’s still far from a cause for concern and, really, only a matter of time before he returns to the level of play we’ve become accustomed to.

That the Mets are still floating around .500, in spite of Wright’s uncharacteristic struggles, might even be a testament to the improved strength of the team around him, in fact.

The team currently ranks 7th in the National League in runs-scored and 9th in runs-allowed.

Consider Flores as some instant offense off the bench and at the sorely offensively-deficient shortstop position. When it comes to the team’s pitching woes, deGrom and Montero have already arrived and some more talented minor league reinforcements draw closer by the day.

With natural maturation, judicious roster juggling and the reversal of some poor early-season luck, expect the team to rise in both categories and, subsequently, the standings.

Future Outlook

Can we fairly evaluate Alderson’s full body of work, given the circumstances, at this point in time? Probably not.

Yet—year after year—question marks seem to ceaselessly proliferate up and down the roster. In a justifiably result-driven industry, the Mets’ woes have persisted.

It’ll take plenty of creativity and probably even more time, but this franchise needs help in almost every area.

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What they don’t need is some overpaid, overzealous free agent shortstop in an otherwise barren market to fill them. The Mets need the right pieces and, for now, the solutions remain predominately undefined.

Do the Mets have a longterm solution in Lucas Duda? Did the correct player get the nod? Tough to say definitively, though average production is probably a fair expectation.

The decision abstractly signifies the general direction of the franchise and what the future should hold, more importantly.

Of a newly implemented, organization-wide approach to hitting in which Duda, of all the Mets first-base options, best fits the mold. A symbol of the present front office approach, where public perception and popularity is superseded by advanced analysis and prudent decisiveness.

Consider it the first domino to fall as Alderson’s ultimate vision slowly, but steadily, becomes tangible.

His pragmatic strategy bestowed the organization with a wealth of potential. Yet, in reality, so much of what New York’s future holds is contingent on a multitude of perpetually evolving circumstances.

Some of the hopeful talent is already in place on the big league roster.

A highly touted, graduated catching prospect expected to provide years of above-average offense from the historically light-hitting position.

A mesmerizing, 25-year-old defensive wizard whom Mets fans hope will be patrolling center field for years to come.

A 29-year-old, offensively consistent second baseman making a strong bid for his first All-Star Game appearance.

And a perennial all-star third baseman in the prime of his career.  The team captain, two time gold-glove recipient and categorical franchise leader in hits, walks, runs-batted-in and runs scored. Owner of the sixth highest combined WAR-total (47.1) dating back to his rookie season—2004, a decade ago—in all of baseball. A true superstar in every sense of the term.

What remains around the diamond at the major league level is considerably less inspiring.

While the Mets certainly lack the depth of talent they’re endowed with at pitcher, a few position players have begun making waves down in the lower levels of the farm system.

2011 first round pick, 21-year-old Brandon Nimmo, is mashing at a .333/.463/.455 clip down in the historically pitcher-friendly Florida State League . With more walks (44) than strikeouts (38) and a MiLB second-best .463 on-base percentage, it’s only a matter of time before the Wyoming-born outfielder earns a promotion to Double-A Binghamton and finds himself one big step closer to competing for a major league roster spot.

Dominic Smith, though still at least a couple of years away from a chance to crack a big league roster, has scouts gushing over his smooth left-handed swing and can already be found close to the top of nearly every Mets prospects ranking.

Just 18 years of age, Jonathan Mayo of described Smith as, “perhaps the best pure prep hitter in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft class, and the Mets grabbed him with the 11th overall pick.”

Other prospects like Wilmer Flores and Cesar Puello, while familiar names to many Mets fans, have experienced professional success as high as Triple-A. When it comes to determining their major league value, however, both players raise their fair share of concerns.

The former, a third baseman by trade with a strong bat, but mostly just a player without a position. And the latter, a significantly lesser-touted outfield prospect, yet to prove worthy of promotion since his return from last year’s suspension in connection to baseball’s Biogenesis scandal.

Mets pitching, conversely—absolutely loaded with promise, starting with the big league rotation.

In addition to the ageless Bartolo Colon, proven mainstays Gee and Jon Niese continue to hone their respective crafts, irrefutably thrusting themselves into the upper-third echelon of MLB’s starting pitchers. Behind them is the electrifying young arm of Zack Wheeler, the prized bounty procured in a deal that sent Carlos Beltran to the San Francisco Giants in 2011.

Plenty more exciting and projectable young hurlers are waiting in the wings. In some cases, not very far behind either.

Pitching prospects like Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Gabriel Ynoa, Michael Fulmer, Domingo Tapia, Cory Mazzoni Luis Cessa, deGrom and Montero just to name—uh—a few, leave the Mets in a relatively unfamiliar position as the subject of envy around the league.

Syndergaard, the Mets consensus number one prospect, easily generates the most buzz, lighting up the radar gun with a consistently upper-90s heater and, as reported by CBSNewYork, “a hook from hell,” in the words of manager Collins.

At 6′ 6″ and 240 pounds, Syndergaard is an imposing presence on the mound and widely regarded as one of the top left-handed pitching prospects baseball has to offer. As such, it’s a view reflected by various prospect rankings, including that of Baseball Prospectus (No. 11), Keith Law (No. 24) and Baseball America (No. 16).

Should his Triple-A season progress expectedly, count on the flame-throwing Syndergaard to make his Mets debut sometime late in 2014.

As for Montero and deGrom, a major league relief-role appeared imminent before an unforeseen injury to Gee and several late inning collapses sent Mejia to the bullpen, opening up two spots in the starting rotation.

That Matt Harvey guy is supposed to be pretty good too, assuming all goes to plan following a rehab stint that has curiously, if not predictably, become something of a local hot topic itself.

Certainly nothing is ever guaranteed, but the light at the end of the tunnel grows increasingly impossible to ignore.

After every scouting report, every minor league at-bat, every inning of major league experience—a promising future becomes increasingly discernible. 

With every new infusion of youth on the big league roster, success feels less like a forgone fantasy and more like an impending reality .

Stay the course, Mr. Alderson. It’s no longer a matter of how or if. It’s a matter of when.