When Sandy Alderson, one of the prime proponents of building a team instead of buying, opted to sign outfielder Michael Cuddyer, a 36 year old outfielder who had receiver a qualifying offer from the Colorado Rockies, he not only forfeited his team’s right to select a first round draft pick in the 2015 draft, but he indicated that his four year rebuilding project known as the New York Mets was finally done. No more drafting high ceiling high school or collegiate bats, no more high ceiling pitchers, nope, that phase of the rebuild is over.
Anderson gave up a hefty price on a gamble. Cuddyer is coming off a season in which he missed 3/4 of the year due to injury. He’s also leaving a city which is known for being exceptionally friendly to hitters. And of course, there is the big one, he’s about to turn 36 years old.
Granted, Alderson has seemed to strike some metaphorical gold with older players, Bartolo Colon has served as a decent stopgap to hold Matt Harvey’s rotation spot while he recovered, not to mention his enjoyable trips to the batters box.
Similarly, Curtis Granderson, while still not exactly what he was in Detroit, rebounded somewhat in his first year in Queens, hitting 20 home runs.
The point here is that Alderson’s strategy may finally be coming to fruition.
For the first two years of the strategy, it was unclear what his motive was. Was he treading water while the Wilpon family twiddled their thumbs on dwindling finances due to the repercussions of the Madoff Scandal? Was he looking to rebuild a farm system that had been the repeated victim of bad trades during the previous regime?
The most obvious theory goes into Alderson’s draft strategy ever since he took over the team.
Think about his past four years at the MLB Draft. He started out by drafting high schoolers. Brandon Nimmo, Gavin Cecchini, and Dominic Smith are all guys who are decent position players but aren’t expected in the majors until 4 or 5 years later. Then all of a sudden, he pulls a shocker and drafts the consensus top collegiate hitter in baseball in Michael Conforto. Conforto, if developed properly, could be up as early as late 2015 or even by the start of the 2016 season. Coincidence that he became Alderson’s first collegiate first round draft choice after 3 years of prep talent?
Not only that but his trades all seemed to be more geared for 2015 as well. Zach Wheeler, while he was ready by mid-2013, is expected to be a solid #2 by the start of the season, complementing arguably the best contributions, if the last ones, of the Minaya era in Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom. Travis d’Arnaud, while struggle and injury prone, is looking like one of the top young catchers in baseball, and while he’s no Mike Piazza, he does bring to mind the Mets’ earlier days of getting results out of young catchers. Not to mention, Alderson inadvertently developed the happy problem of catcher depth when he drafted Kevin Plawecki, but I digress here.
In addition to Wheeler and d’Arnaud, there is Noah Syndergaard to consider. Granted, 2014 was a struggle for him, as he adjusted to playing in Las Vegas, otherwise known as Hell for pitchers. Syndergaard’s struggles don’t necessarily indicate that he isn’t ready, rather they indicate that he is a byproduct of the Vegas environment. Assuming he’s ready to pitch in 2015 for the Mets, he should be in a more hospitable setting, despite the ever changing shape of Citi Field.
Lastly of course is the Marlon Byrd trade that brought over a perfectly capable reliever in Vic Black and a future infield piece in Dilson Herrera. Vic Black has proven himself to be a solid anchor in the bullpen as a right-handed batter. Injuries and struggles aside, he could prove to be a long term part of a bullpen that is long removed from the days of Frank Francisco, Ramon Ramirez and Jon Rauch.
Herrera progressed through the system at an advanced pace, and at 20 years old, made his major league debut. He filled in quite admirably as the team’s second baseman while Daniel Murphy was injured, and showed promise as a potential replacement should Murphy be moved. Obviously he is still rough around the edges, but if you make news for being the first player to go from A-ball to the majors for the Mets, there’s obviously something special.
This, however is only one part of Alderson’s idea. We still haven’t figured out why he felt the need to sacrifice his draft pick for Cuddyer.
This is actually probably one of the more simple questions to answer, at least from a hypothetical perspective.
If you look at the team that Alderson has developed, you’d see that pitching wise, the Mets actually have one of the better up-and-coming staffs in baseball. Think Detroit, but younger and without the mega contracts. The rotation is built mostly out of homegrown pieces. Harvey, Wheeler, deGrom, Jon Niese, Dillon Gee and possibly Syndergaard all make up a young and dynamic staff that could be together for years. The bullpen is also homegrown for the most part. Jenrry Mejia, Josh Edgin, Bobby Parnell, Jeurys Familia, Rafael Montero as well as the players they acquired through bargain deals and shrewd trades (Black) make up a staff that could run with the big boys of the National League.
Going off of that diatribe, does Alderson really need another pitcher in the draft? Would it make sense to draft a guy like Kyle Funkhouser from Louisville or Brett Lilek from Arizona State when the staff is already in place? Maybe, but in the future, it would create an overload, and while the adage is that there’s never too much pitching, there is too little money to lock up these pitchers long term.
Which moves me to the hitters. Now hitters are somewhat easier to develop, at least the college ones are. Assuming Alderson is done drafting high schoolers until the old team is disbanded through free agency and trades, who would he draft now? In the first mock draft, which was done way before Cuddyer signed with the Mets, I said that Dansby Swanson would be a solid fit. Now granted, the draft is all about BPA or GM tendencies, and while the idea here is that Alderson is a hitter guy, he’s already drafted a shortstop out of high school, and signed a promising young pelotero in Amed Rosario, who was considered a potential major superstar. Assuming Alderson had drafted Swanson, it would have sent a message to Cecchini and Rosario that they were pretty much dead weight or trade bait, and frankly, while there is potential with those two, it’s gonna be a long while before we see it, much like Nimmo and his breakout season this year, a full three seasons after he got drafted. So what happens? An outfielder is unnecessary. You have Juan Lagares in centerfield, Cuddyer in right field, and Granderson in left field, not to mention Nimmo almost ready for the Majors and Conforto soon to come after him. It makes no sense to go after another high school or college outfielder. DJ Stewart or Jahmai Jones would just serve as depth or trade bait as well. So with the outfield and middle infield situations in full capacity, we go to the corners and catching position. At third base, we have David Wright, who while he may be on the decline, is still a good five years away from being Derek Jeter-in-2013 levels of useless. And even then, there’s a solid backup for him in Matt Reynolds, the 2012 second rounder who has caught fire the past season. We’ve already covered catcher, so the next item is first base. Lucas Duda will be 29 when 2015 rolls around, giving him another 4 years of prime productivity. And even if he does decline, there’s still Dominic Smith. Granted Smith hit a bit of a second year wall, but he still was considered one of the top prep bats in the 2013 draft. And his arrival time likely coincides with the year that Duda would likely begin to decline. as he’s expected to be in the majors by late 2017 or early 2018. Getting a guy like Chris Shaw would be a waste, and a potential Ike Davis situation all over again.
So really, if there’s no needs to draft in 2015, then Alderson picked the right time to lose his pick. Assuming he has further plans to patch up holes with big league players, we can assume that the rebuild is finally over for the Mets. Cuddyer is the perfect temporary solution to hold the fort in the outfield while Nimmo finishes his minor league time, and whomever is at shortstop will likely leave an impression for whomever is next in line. The point here is that the Alderson rebuild may finally be over, allowing the Mets to be the top team in New York while the Yankees look into a rebuild.