The Mets may have young pitching to gamble on, but it's become painfully obvious that they're significantly lacking in young hitters. What's worse, the young hitters they do have in Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, and Amed Rosario are not yet consistently living up to their potential.
As a result, and because the team is without Yoenis Cespedes, Todd Frazier, and Juan Lagares -- the Mets signed free-agent OF-3B Jose Bautista on Tuesday.
To the tune of no more than $545,000, the Mets can simply release Bautista if he is unproductive. Thankfully, they pay the same price if he exceeds expectations and discovers the Fountain of Youth. Therefore, the decision to sign Bautista, start him in left field and have him bat fifth was a no brainer given their available internal options.
The thing is, while the Mets are desperately turning to Bautista, MLB is littered with a historic number of young, talented hitters lining up for All Star Games and Rookie of the Year awards.
Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Forget for a moment the Yankees, who are loaded with young position players due to multiple mutually beneficial trades a few years ago, the rest of the NL East is also taking part in the trend.
For instance, the Braves have Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Dansby Swanson. The Phillies boast Rhys Hoskins and Maikel Franco. And the Marlins, despite a recent sell-off, still have J.T. Realmuto, Justin Bour, and Brian Anderson.
The fact is, the Mets do not have a single player in the top 30 most-productive hitters under 30 years old in the National League.
Conforto is currently No. 35 with 0.3 WAR, and Rosario is No. 39 with 0.1 WAR. At the same time, the Nationals, Phillies, Braves and Marlins comprise nearly one-third of the top 34 spots...
The point is, if the Mets intend to become a perennial postseason contender in the current baseball economy, an edict needs to be given to Sandy Alderson to never again be in this position.
Alderson chose to invest in young pitching when rebuilding the Mets five years ago. However, though stocked with head-turning, headline-making, young power arms in 2015, Alderson approached scoring runs much like the way someone might play roulette, which is among the worst odds in the casino. The Mets got to the World Series in 2015, but don't forget John Mayberry Jr. and Eric Campbell made up the heart of the order during much of June. And, had Cespedes not been acquired and inspired, 2015 may have been a totally different story.
Alderson's strategy worked very well for teams five to 10 years ago, specifically the Cardinals and Giants, who annually reshuffled their offense around a bedrock of young pitching. The thing is, at a time when Alderson was working to replicate San Francisco's success, teams like the Cubs, Astros, Yankees, Braves, and Brewers were betting on bats -- not arms.
At the same time, a rise of young executives, a modern interpretation of statistical analysis, and the new Collective Bargaining Agreement combined to reshape the way teams are paying pitchers and veteran position players. As a result, defense, launch angle, and damage-to-contact ratios became the market inefficiency and a premium for young hitting was established just in time for the Mets to be built on pitching, poor defense, and an older hit-or-miss offense.
Based on the above, it should be of zero surprise that when Alderson's pitching sputters or becomes injured, the Mets sink like a stone in the standings, everyone panics and we all demand desperate changes to the roster, such as adding Bautista.
Bautista is at the point in his career (in terms of age, 37, and production) when he should either be attaching himself to the bench of a contending team or signing to be a stop-gap player on a rebuilding club. Instead, because of their lack of young hitting, the Mets are turning to Bautista in late May to be a weapon against left-handed starting pitchers, bat in the middle of the order, and save their evaporating offense. If he doesn't work out, I don't know what they'll do this season.
Going forward, though, Alderson eneeds to make a quick turn to restock his farm system in hopes of quickly catching up to the rest of baseball's best young teams. Or, he needs to do what he did 30 years ago with the A's and reinvent the next boom. In either case, the answer should never be Jose Bautista, which is the position the Mets are in today.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!