John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Most everything about the Mets' second-half run has been remarkable, but the emergence of J.D. Davis and Amed Rosario, in particular, has bulked up a youthful position-player core that suddenly gives this franchise an entirely different feel, both in the present and the future.
Add that duo to Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil and Michael Conforto, and you can make the case the Mets have five cornerstone players, four of which are under contractual control at least through the 2023 season.
And that's not counting Dom Smith, who probably looms now as a valuable off-season trade chip, or Brandon Nimmo, who figures to be an important player when he comes back from his neck injury, even if it's more for depth at this point.
All of which raises an interesting question I never could have imagined even asking before all of this Citi Field magic began happening:
In a National League East loaded with position-player talent, can the Mets make a claim for having the best young core?
In truth, I'd still have to give the edge to the Braves, but even that is debatable now, the advantage potentially swinging to the Mets if Davis and Rosario continue to play at a high level and Nimmo eventually returns to something approaching his 2018 form.
It wasn't long ago the Braves seemed to be miles ahead in terms of young talent, but now the Mets have every right to believe they can compete for a division title in the years immediately ahead. At this point I believe they've moved ahead of the Nationals and Phillies on that front, which is quite a significant change as well.
Ok, so let's put it this way: which team's position-player group would you want most over, say, the next five years? Here's how I'd rank them:
1. Braves: Hard not to take the nucleus of Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Freddie Freeman and Austin Riley, who figures to move in at third base in place of Josh Donaldson next season.
2. Mets: In Alonso and McNeil they already had a potential home-run champion and batting title champ, and now Rosario seems to be coming of age as a dynamic offense-first shortstop, while Davis is proving the scouts wrong who predicted his minor-league numbers wouldn't translate to the big leagues against high-velocity fastballs.
In addition, Conforto is again trending toward the star level that has been elusive for him since he created huge expectations as a rookie in 2015.
3. Nationals: Their young core is built around Juan Soto, Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon and Victor Robles, with the 20-year-old Soto looming as a potential MVP. But they better not let free agent-to-be Rendon follow Bryce Harper out the door, or that core won't be nearly as dangerous.
4. Phillies: Harper, Rhys Hoskins, Jean Segura, J.T. Realmuto and perhaps Scott Kingery are the key figures, but Realmuto can be a free agent after next season, and it remains to be seen how much the Phillies will continue to spend after committing $330 million to Harper.
Whichever way you rank them, it's clear the outlook for the Mets in the division has changed dramatically over the course of this season. As such it should change the way GM Brodie Van Wagenen and ownership think about the immediate future.
That is, with so much youth -- and thus affordable contracts -- on the position-player side, the Mets should be willing to spend on pitching if they're serious about winning a championship.
So after all the talk about potentially trading Noah Syndergaard, it seems to make more sense to consider locking him up beyond the remaining two seasons he has before reaching free agency.
Same goes for trying to extend Zack Wheeler before he becomes a free agent this winter. Wheeler may never prove to be as consistently dominant as it seemed he might during his brilliant second half last season, but his high-ceiling stuff is a nice fit as a No. 3 starter behind Jacob deGrom and Syndergaard.
Steven Matz appears to be ironing out his inconsistency as well lately, and he has two more seasons before he can be a free agent. He too might be worth trying to extend, especially when you consider that as well-stocked as the Mets are on the position-player side, they have no top pitching prospects in the higher levels of the minors.
Yes, they have the newly acquired Marcus Stroman under control for another season, but he doesn't appear to be a front-end-of-the-rotation starter, fitting best as a complement to the top four starters rather than as a replacement for any of them.
Meanwhile, with Davis proving to be Van Wagenen's gold-star move of the off-season, the GM having acquired him from the Astros for three minor-leaguers, the Mets almost certainly will look to trade Smith, and his lefty-bat should bring back pitching depth.
That depth will be needed too. As it is, the Mets have been fortunate so far this season, as all of their starters have remained healthy, but that won't happen every year.
The point is that Van Wagenen and his bosses have an opportunity even they couldn't have seen coming. Whatever happens the rest of this season, the position-player talent has developed in a way that should give this franchise financial flexibility to pay for both starting and relief pitching in search of a championship.
After all, only a few months ago it seemed the Mets were in a fruitless chase to keep up talent-wise with their division rivals, especially the Braves.
Now that chase is on for real.