Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Future Is Now For The Mets

The recent past has not been kind to the New York Mets.  Since opening its new ballpark in 2009, the team has given its fan base a state-of-the-art facility, delicious food options, Free Shirt Fridays and six consecutive losing seasons. 

The Mets left Shea Stadium in 2008 and apparently also left their winning ways in the rubble of their former home.  General managers Omar Minaya and Sandy Alderson tried to give fans hope by signing veteran players like Francisco Rodriguez, Jason Bay, Jose Valverde and both Chris Youngs.  But none of those players were able to repeat the successes they had as younger players.  Other than the Bartolo Colon signing by Alderson, neither general manager had much success when it came to the veteran players they chose to sign as free agents.  Fortunately, they had success in other areas.  And those areas are now paying great dividends for the Mets.

They may not have always looked sure of themselves, but at least Minaya and Alderson got something right.

Omar Minaya may have been responsible for some off-the-wall signings and inexcusable long-term deals, but no one can complain about his skills at drafting amateur players.  Gold Glove winner Juan Lagares was a Minaya guy, as was 30-homer hitter Lucas Duda.  From a pitching standpoint, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Jeurys Familia are all pitching at an All-Star level for the Mets.  All three standout pitchers were brought aboard by Minaya.

Similarly, Sandy Alderson has tried throwing a potpourri of players on the proverbial wall to see which ones will stick, but most of them have turned into former pitcher and current semi-pro football player Kyle Farnsworth.  Where Alderson has excelled is in the wheeling and dealing department, as he has completed several shrewd trades of veteran players for young talent.

Zack Wheeler was Alderson's first big acquisition, and although Wheeler will not pitch in 2015 as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, he was a key contributor in 2014 and figures to continue to bolster the starting rotation once he returns in 2016.  Travis d'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard became property of the Mets following Alderson's second year as the team's GM, even though the team had to part with a popular Cy Young Award winner in R.A. Dickey.  Dickey has since become the definition of mediocre in Toronto (29-29, 4.00 ERA in 74 starts), while d'Arnaud has established himself as an offensive threat for the Mets behind the plate and Syndergaard is about to make his major league debut on Tuesday after blasting his way through Triple-A lineups in 2015.

But the Alderson guy who has given the most to the Mets even after he announced his retirement from baseball is John Buck.  Buck was a throw-in in the same deal that brought d'Arnaud and Syndergaard to the Mets.  A tremendous first month with the team in 2013 - Buck had ten homers and 29 RBI in his first 23 starts - made Buck trade bait in July, as Alderson sent Buck and right fielder Marlon Byrd, who was having an offensive renaissance of his own in New York, to Pittsburgh in exchange for reliever Vic Black and second baseman Dilson Herrera.  Black pitched beautifully out of the bullpen for the Mets in 2014 (2.60 ERA, 8.3 K/9 IP in 41 appearances) and figures to continue in that role once he recovers from a herniated disc in his neck.  Meanwhile, Herrera is currently the team's second baseman until David Wright returns from the disabled list.  But after collecting three homers and 11 RBI in an 18-game tryout last season, Herrera is doing even better in his first week back with the Mets, posting a .263/.333/.474 slash line in six games after torching Triple-A pitchers to the tune of a .370 batting average and nine extra-base hits in 20 games prior to his call-up.

William Shakespeare wrote in "The Tempest" that "what's past is prologue".  The past has certainly been quite tempestuous for the Mets and their fans, especially since the team moved from Shea Stadium to Citi Field.  But events of that past, particularly the amateur drafts and international signings overseen by Omar Minaya and the trades orchestrated by Sandy Alderson for top prospects, are now serving as a prologue for the winning baseball that is currently being seen at Citi Field.  With an 18-11 record, the Mets have been in first place for most of the season.  Their lead in the National League East has not been below 3½ games since April 21.  And most of their success has been due to young players who project to be part of the team's future for years to come.

The Mets struggled to be relevant for six long years.  Those tumultuous half-dozen seasons are now in the past.  Fans have looked forward to the future for much too long.  The future is now meeting the present with the call-up of Noah Syndergaard, who joins players like Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Jeurys Familia, Juan Lagares and Dilson Herrera to form what could be the core of winning Mets teams well into the next decade.  (And let's not forget Steven Matz, who should also make his major league debut at some point in 2015.)

It's a good time to be a Mets fan.  And the present success of the team bodes well for the club as it continues to march toward what appears to be more and more like a bright future.

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