The New York Mets are attempting to do something nearly unheard of in today’s game. They’re trying to build a championship team relying almost entirely on starting pitching.
For starters, it’s worth pointing out that the Mets’ pitching is undeniably strong. With an ERA of 3.20, the Mets rank third in all of baseball, below the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals. They’re also currently leading the National League East, so they’re certainly doing something right. But is it enough to work in the long term? Before we get more into the strategy, let’s take a look at the five players the Mets are banking on this year.
Matt Harvey, 26. With just two-plus years of service time, he will not be eligible for free agency until 2019. Harvey currently sports a career 2.47 ERA and 0.98 WHIP with 9.2 strikeouts-per-nine innings. He is already an All-Star and has a top-five Cy Young Award finish on his resume.
Jacob deGrom, 27. With less than one full year service time entering the season, he will not be eligible for free agency until 2021. He has a 2.35 career ERA and 1.01 career WHIP while averaging more than a strikeout per inning. He is an All-Star and won Rookie of the Year in 2014.
Noah Syndergaard, 22. His rookie status is still officially intact, meaning he has yet to begin accruing years of service time to begin his arbitration clock towards free agency. He was ranked as the 10th-best prospect in all of baseball just last year by MLB.com.
Zack Wheeler, 23. With roughly one year of service time accumulated, he will be eligible for free agency in 2020. He was ranked as the sixth-best prospect in baseball back in 2012. Wheeler pitched in the majors for parts of two seasons, but has since undergone Tommy John surgery to repair his injured elbow. He is hoping to be ready for the 2016 season.
Steven Matz, 24. He is still a prospect, playing in the minor leagues. He has also yet to accrue any years toward arbitration or free agency. Matz is currently ranked as the 18th-best prospect in the sport according to MLB.com.
It should be noted that New York didn’t exactly plan on building a team around five young starting pitchers and nothing else. The Bernie Madoff scandal crippled the team’s finances, and six years later, the Wilpons, the owners of the Mets, have still not recovered. So despite their New York address, the Mets are hardly playing or spending like the high-finance franchise across the East River.
The team also didn’t specifically draft with only starting pitchers in mind. It just so happened that the starting pitchers developed into phenoms, and no one else showed the same level of exemplary talent.
Wheeler was a first-round pick, sixth overall, in the 2009 amateur draft. Harvey was a first-rounder as well, seventh overall, in the 2010 draft. Syndergaard was a late first-rounder in ’10, and Matz was also taken early. He was a second round pick in 2009. The final piece, deGrom, was a diamond in the rough, or some far less valuable gem that the Mets managed to sculpt into a diamond. He was taken in the ninth round in 2010.
All five pieces came from two draft classes, but the Mets selected other players during those drafts, and also had high picks in subsequent drafts. Other than the random Michael Conforto (a valuable outfield piece who has been rather productive in his first chance in the majors), the rest of the bats have not developed, at least not yet.
This is becoming a problem for New York, or at least a very tough work-around. The 2015 Mets are challenging for the NL East title, well ahead of the schedule that the starting phenoms were supposed to be on. But even if all five are ready and raring to go in the majors in 2016, there is no offense here to back them up.
At the non-waiver trade deadline, New York attempted or was planning on dealing one of the arms away, Wheeler in this case, for center fielder Carlos Gomez. The trade made a lot of sense for both sides, especially since Wheeler is out for this year. However, the Mets backed out of the trade at the last moment because of reported concerns over Gomez’s health. Rumors swirled that the concerns were actually over Gomez’s contract and the money he would be owed.
Building around five young, arbitration-eligible starters is one of the most brilliant and fiscally sound plans an MLB team can have. With so little money spent on the most vital part of a roster, it leaves millions to spend filling in the rest. However, the rest of the Mets roster has not been filled in adequately at all.
NY ranks just 24th in runs scored and 28th in team OPS, with the lowest batting average in all of baseball this season. It has struggled to plate runners and provide run support for its slew of aces. The Mets are overachieving this year thanks to allowing the second-fewest runs in the majors and being fortunate with timely hitting and cluster luck.
Teams are capable of winning a pennant and a championship with one-sided rosters. It just makes the task that much more difficult. Even getting into the playoff hunt with a slanted talent base is a tricky endeavor. But building a long-term franchise?
That’s a whole lot harder.
The Mets are doing so this year, and they may be in even better position next year. However, balancing out the roster with some impact bats is the best thing the team can do, not only for its future success, but also for the sanity of its quintet of arms.