In the coming days, assuming R.A. Dickey and the Toronto Blue Jays agree to an extension, you’ll hear plenty of talk from the New York Mets, all but acknowledging that they are giving up on 2013. Considering their financial restrictions made adding an outfield next to impossible, this was largely true whether Dickey stayed or not.
Instead, the talk will be about the coming greatness that is 2014.
In the New York Times, however, Tyler Kepner argued this: “By trading Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays, pending the negotiation of a contract extension, the Mets essentially told their fans that they do not expect to contend for the next three years.”
Look, the Mets could be right. Kepner could be right. And I’m not fan of splitting the difference simply to appear reasonable. But I think the sweet spot for hope is right in between, around 2015.
Take a look at this list from John Sickels of the top 20 Mets prospects, assuming the Dickey trade goes through. Of those 20, the number you can reasonably expect to debut in 2013 is: two of them. There’s Zack Wheeler, and there’s Travis d’Arnaud. Fortunately, they are two of the best, with highest ceilings, so that they are close, and therefore likelier to become real assets, is huge.
But move beyond that pair, and not only are most of the remaining 20 not likely to debut in 2013, most of the remaining 20 aren’t likely to be ready by 2014, either.
There’s Noah Syndergaard, second piece in the Dickey deal, Michael Fulmer, Luis Mateo, Rafael Montero, Domingo Tapia, Logan Verrett and Jack Leathersich, all potentially helpful pitchers unlikely to even begin 2013 in Double-A.
Among the pitchers, there’s Jenrry Mejia, who hasn’t managed to strike out enough hitters even at Triple-A to look like a good candidate to help the Mets, and Jeurys Familia, whose control problems make him suspect even as a reliever. They are raw enough that if younger and at lower levels, they’d have more of a chance to help. Hard to see it happening, or put another way, hard to plan around it. Jake DeGrom hasn’t pitched at Double-A, either, but could move fast; he’s a middle reliever, though, in all likelihood.
That first group, the one you’d look at to start flowering in 2015… there’s enough variety and talent there to survive attrition. And rest assured, these are pitching prospects: you’ll get attrition.
Even if they make it to the major leagues by 2014, which would call for some pretty irresponsible, Tony Bernazard prospect-rushing in most cases, the chances they will both do that and then dominate immediately like Matt Harvey are very slim. Look, 2015 could even be a season of growing pains for the survivors from that bunch.
Same goes for the hitting prospects in that top 20: Brandon Nimmo, Gavin Cecchini, Kevin Plawecki, Cory Vaughn, Danny Muno and Philip Evans. Only Vaughn will begin at Double-A; the others will not. Asking them to jump three levels in a year, if not four, then contributing to a contending team, is asking a lot. Asking some of them to reach Citi Field by the middle/end of 2014, contribute in 2015? Far from impossible.
There’s also Wilmer Flores, who doesn’t seem to fit on the Mets (he’s probably a third baseman in the major leagues, which is… taken), and Matt den Dekker, who put up a .629 OPS at age 24 in Buffalo last year. Genuinely surprised Sickels has him as high as he does. Also, he replicates, though not as well, basically everything Kirk Nieuwenhuis already does.
Here’s a rough sketch of how they contend in 2013: Wright and Davis and Tejada and Murphy are all great, John Buck is good enough until d’Arnaud cones up and immediately crushes big league pitching, Niese is Niese, Santana is healthy and effective, Wheeler makes quick work of Triple-A and adjusts to the major leagues the way Harvey did, Harvey doesn’t regress at all, Gee pitches all season like he did in the first half, a bullpen and outfield magically materialize. And no injuries, because no depth.
Here’s how it happens in 2014: Wright and Davis and Tejada and Murphy are all great, d’Arnaud, after some 2013 growing pains, settles in as a plus regular, the Mets deal Wilmer Flores for an outfielder, or Cory Vaughn develops, or they get someone via free agency, or deal one of the hopefully several pitchers who surmount Double-A in 2013 for another outfielder, or Nieuwenhuis figures out how to hit lefties, or some combination therein. A few of those arms are in position to help the bullpen, and replace Santana, surrounding Niese/Harvey/Gee, while Wheeler, after adjusting to MLB in 2013, settles in as regular contributor in 2014.
Not a ton of margin for error there. Not impossible, but the biggest difference between the two seasons is a year of time, and most of what’s coming isn’t a year away.
Here’s how it happens: Wright ages gracefully, Davis/Tejada/Murphy are all still in peak. d’Arnaud, two big league seasons in, is the team’s best offensive player. Brandon Nimmo develops fully, occupies starting OF role in 2015 after breaking in late 2014, while Mets supplement him with other OF from Vaughn/trade of Flores/trade of excess arms/free agency. Starting rotation has Niese/Gee/Harvey/Wheeler/fifth spot with those remaining arms after attrition, with a number of them around to fill out the bullpen, too.
Best of all, with $320 million in debt against the team due in 2014, and $450 against SNY due in 2015, either ownership will have figured out a magical way to convince the banks to roll over the debt and invest in the team, or a capitalized ownership group will be in place to supplement that talent base with at least reasonable spending on acquisitions.
So no, I don’t think the Mets are contending anytime soon. Who knows, though: they could surprise. They could also see this crop of youngsters fail to pan out, pushing the next great Mets team beyond 2016.
I think there’s reason to be hopeful about 2015. And the Dickey deal only helped in that pursuit.