The 2017 trade deadline was a microcosm of the entire season for the New York Mets. It was uncompelling, an excuse for fans to vent about the Wilpons’ frugal nature, and was overshadowed by the Yankees.
At their disposal for contenders were a legitimate middle of the lineup bat (Jay Bruce), a top-shelf setup man that could close (Addison Reed), and various other complementary pieces that could contribute to playoff bound teams (Duda, Granderson, and Walker).
What did these assets yield? Five reliever prospects. A Marlins-Padres matchup in September would be just as exciting to analyze than the return the Mets got for their veterans, especially in the midst of a train wreck of a season.
Compounding this disappointment further was Mets fans being subjected to Sandy Alderson’s decree that these transactions were, in part, a salary dump to appease ownership that was willing to spend over budget for heading into the season (a budget that ranked 14th highest in baseball as the 2017 season started).
This un-buzzworthy finish to July (and August, in the cases of Bruce, Walker, and Granderson) gave Mets fans very little reason for excitement. The best prospect they received (Jamie Callahan) is currently ranked as the 23rd best player in their farm system, per MLB Pipeline.
Grading any player transaction is a two-pronged approach. The results are obviously important, but the process needs to be put into focus as well. The former can’t be acknowledged at this time, but through the developments of an extremely unusual off-season, Sandy Alderson’s strategy to convert his disposable assets to hoard young relievers looks to be wise.
“Bullpenning” was the sexy term of the playoffs, and the team that equipped itself the best to execute this strategy significantly increased their chances of advancing as the leaves changed colors. Skeptics point out that the offensive fireworks in the last few games of the World Series proved that overreliance on the bullpen is unsustainable in the playoffs due to fatigue, but the reality is it proved that “bullpenning” is feasible—if teams have enough arms at their disposal.
With bullpens all the rage, the likes of Eric Hosmer and J.D. Martinez were shunned aside early on this winter for the Bryan Shaw’s and the Brandon Morrow’s. Shaw, entering his age 30 season, signed a deal worth $27 million over the next three years. For reference, Dellin Betances, who has been arguably the premier middle reliever in baseball since 2014, has accumulated roughly $4.5 million in four years. Why? He was a homegrown prospect and is under team control.
Middle relievers are what’s hot now. In the summer of 2017, the Mets shifted their focus to 2018 and beyond by stocking their farm system with relief arms so they can potentially avoid being caught in the inferno of overspending for solid relievers in the future. This is doubly important as Jeurys Familia, Jerry Blevins, and A.J. Ramos will all be free agents heading into 2019.
Below is the list of relievers that the Mets acquired in July and August. Their scouting reports are featured in the above MLB Pipeline link.
- Jamie Callahan
- Gerson Bautista
- Jacob Rhame
- Drew Smith
- Stephen Nogosek
Collecting hard throwing relievers is like buying lottery tickets in bulk. There are no guarantees of finding a winner but the odds of hitting increase with each one you get. It’s become very clear that the Mets strategy moving forward is to bet on Mickey Callaway and the minor league coaching staff to maximize the strengths of their pitchers through individualized coaching methods.
With the benefit of hindsight, collecting five talented relief arms in a buyer’s market last summer was prescient work by Alderson. But in a season that is a crossroads in so many ways for the franchise, their development on the farm is imperative.
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