The Mets will buy the Syracuse Chiefs of the International League and move their Triple-A affiliate from Las Vegas, NV to Syracuse, NY, playing at NBT Bank Stadium in Syracuse through at least 2025.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the Mets' agreement with the Chiefs on Tuesday in Syracuse, with Mets COO Jeff Wilpon saying the Mets "look forward to the opportunity to work with the staff to continue to bring affordable, family entertainment to baseball fans in Syracuse."
The move will occur after the 2018 season, finally ending the organziation's five years out west.
This is important and terrific news for the future of the Mets, especially their pitchers.
In 2015, Cashman Field, which is where Triple-A Las Vegas plays their home games, was ranked the worst ballpark in the Pacific Coast League by the team at Baseball America.
According to Baseball America, as well as any player or coach that I have talked with that has stepped foot on the field, Cashman Field is not a natural baseball experience.
It is 433 feet to center field, straight away, yet 320 feet down each line. The outfield is brittle, and more dirt than grass. The infield is more like a parking lot than dirt, leading to all sorts of bizarre, unexpected hops and ground balls that totally change trajectory. And the air is so dry that pitchers are forced to work extra hard (often unknowingly adjusting their mechanics) to gain more spin to keep from seeing average ground balls scorch through the infield and routine pop ups soar over the wall.
2016: Chasen Bradford pitches in a minor league baseball game at Cashman Field. Credit: Las Vegas Review-Journal
"It can be tough," Robert Gsellman told me in Spring Training. "It's actually harder when you start traveling to other parks and realize your park in Vegas is not like every place else."
Paul Sewald told me, despite growing up and learning to pitch in Nevada, he still found pitching in Cashman Field to be a challenge because pitchers are always tempted to change their delivery and grip to get more spin on the ball and produce better results.
"It's a challenge, it is, but it also provides an opportunity to drive home to them in real terms how important it is to keep consistent," Triple-A pitching coach Frank Viola told me in 2015.
According to Viola, he sees Vegas pitchers being forced to trust their fastball and to throw it for strikes more than a pitcher is asked to do in other organizations.
"You really have no choice, so they learn (in Vegas) instead of like most guys that end up figuring it out in the big leagues," Viola explained. "Coming up, a lot of these kids get out of jams by relying on their slider, but here you can't do that because it's not the same pitch you think it is."
The proof, according to Sewald and Gsellman, is in how many pitchers struggle in Vegas than succeed when being promoted to the Mets, such as Noah Syndergaard.
In 31 starts for Vegas before joining the Mets in 2015, Syndergaard was 11-7, but with a 4.10 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP. In his first 24 starts for the Mets, in the big leagues, he had a 3.24 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and struck out 166 batters in 126 innings.
2014: Syndergaard pitching at Cashman Field for the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s (MiLB.com)
For hitters, Cashman provides a different challenge in that it can create a false sense of reality, in terms of what they can expect from opposing pitchers.
The fact is, because the pitching is less effective, and the field and air quality is so dry, hitters often see a nice boost in their offensive statistics when playing home games at Cashman Field. Thankfully, (like when evaluating a batter from the Rockies and Coors Field), everyone in baseball understands the need to discount stats produced in Cashman, but that also impacts how those players are viewed as prospects.
Similarly, because hitters in Cashman Field see less quality spin and sink on pitches than batters developing in other ballparks -- Vegas hitters tend to struggle with their transition to facing the best pitchers in the world at the big-league level in truer ballparks.
"It was the first time I really failed as a pitcher and had no answers," Sewald added. "That place will humble you, but it also forces guys to think more about what they're doing on the mound."
Lastly, as if all of the above wasn't challenging enough for Sandy Alderson and his front office, having their Triple-A team in Vegas means their top prospects are always at least a seven- to eight-hour commute to Citi Field. This is tolerable for planned promotions. However, when an emergency, it can pretty much guarantee a next-day loss.
For example, during the first weekend in May (after Matt Harvey was suspended), suddenly in need of a starting pitcher, Triple-A pitcher Adam Wilk was rushed on to a red-eye flight (west coast time) to travel 2,000 miles from New Mexico to New York to start an afternoon game at Citi Field where he gave up three runs in the first inning to the Marlins, resulting in a 7-0 loss. Wilk was designated for assignment and the next day.
The point is, starting in 2019, the above will be a memory. Instead, the team's top prospects will all be in New York state, with Double-A in Binghamton and Triple-A in Syracuse. It will be easier to get these guys to Citi Field, and it will be easier for the scouts and suits at Citi Field to check in on their prospects upstate. It will also make for a truer climate and experience for players preparing to pitch and hit in a similar climate and environment just a few hours south.
By the way, the current Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse belongs to the Washington Nationals. In other words, because the location of Triple-A affiliates is like a game of musical chairs, with only so many stadiums for a set number of teams, it means there is a decent chance the Nationals end up being forced to move their Triple-A team to, yep, you guessed it, Las Vegas and Cashman Field. Oh well...
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. He recently left his position as Executive Editor and Dir. of Digital Content for SNY.TV to help sports brands build their own digital content businesses...