John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
If the trade for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz pays off in a big way for the Mets, new GM Brodie Van Wagenen will be hailed for his boldness and creativity. But to some degree such success would also vindicate Sandy Alderson as well.
After all, it's fair to say the Alderson regime's biggest failure was poor drafting that led to a weak farm system. Certainly, I made that case more than once over the last couple of years, when injuries at the big-league level exposed the organization's glaring lack of talent in the high minors.
However, that assessment needs to be updated a bit, and now that Alderson has officially moved on to become a senior advisor with the A's, where he won a championship as GM and groomed Billy Beane for his Brad Pitt moment, there's a chance his tenure with the Mets will look better in the years to come.
In fact, the perception of Alderson's work already has improved significantly in the seven months or so since he stepped down as GM due to health concerns (he announced at the BBWAA dinner Saturday that he's been cancer-free for four months).
Jeff McNeil is one obvious reason, as a 12th-round pick who suddenly blossomed into an important player for the Mets. And Peter Alonso is another, as a second-round pick who led the minors with 36 home runs last season, setting up high expectations that he can fill the Mets' need for a right-handed slugger in 2019.
Meanwhile, Brandon Nimmo, Alderson's inaugural first-round pick in 2011, last season proved to be more than a fourth outfielder, as he had been labeled by scouts in recent years, to the point where MLB Network recently ranked him No. 6 among all major league right fielders.
And Michael Conforto's strong second half revived the possibility that the 2014 first-round pick might finally play consistently at an All-Star level, and not just in tantalizing spurts as he has since arriving as a rookie sensation in 2015.
Even Amed Rosario, who wasn't a draft pick but an international free agent-signing by the Alderson regime, raised his game enough over the second half to rekindle at least some of the buzz that accompanied his rise through the minors as one of baseball's top-ranked prospects.
Finally, two more first-round picks were used as trade chips in Van Wagenen's deal for Cano and Diaz, as pitcher Justin Dunn (2016) and outfielder Jarred Kelenic (2018) were sent to the Mariners.
And while I would argue that Van Wagenen gave up too much in the trade, considering how desperate the Mariners were to get out from under Cano's contract, the point here is those former first-round picks provided the type of value the Mets expected when they drafted them.
All of which reflects well on the previous GM.
Sound familiar? Complaints about the farm system followed Omar Minaya out the door in 2010 as well, and yet when the Mets made their World Series run in 2015 during the Alderson era, they did it largely with players drafted or signed by the former GM -- from Daniel Murphy to Jacob deGrom to Matt Harvey to Lucas Duda to Jeurys Familia to Steven Matz.
Suffice it to say that if Nimmo, Conforto, Alonso, McNeil, and Rosario become the nucleus of a championship team in the years to come, the Alderson years will be remembered more fondly than it might seem at the moment.
As it is, the former GM's decision to rebuild around young pitching, which he once told me was more organic than planned, proved to be a blessing and a curse. Starting pitching dominance delivered that unexpected 2015 postseason, but injuries largely derailed the sustained success on which Alderson was planning.
That inherent risk of counting so heavily on young arms has convinced teams like the Cubs, Astros, and Yankees in recent years to rebuild around position players, and maybe the Mets would have had better luck had Alderson taken a chance and traded some of his pitching for offense.
Then again, after Zack Wheeler blossomed last season and Jacob deGrom turned into the best pitcher in baseball, there's still a chance that Alderson's decision to keep all of the pitching will bring a championship to Citi Field in the next few years.
The bottom line is that even with the injuries, most notably to the departed Matt Harvey, the Mets didn't do well enough in the draft to build around their pitching.
Just this week we were reminded of that when the Mets released infielder Gavin Cecchini, the No. 12 pick in the 2012 draft, who never developed as they hoped. If only they'd taken Corey Seager, selected by the Dodgers at No. 18 that year.
Of course, you can find those what-ifs in every draft, as top picks in baseball -- especially the high school kids -- aren't nearly the sure bets as in football and basketball.
Still, organizations value those first-round picks more highly than ever these days, and while it looks now as if Alderson hit on Nimmo and Conforto, Cecchini is officially a whiff and it's not looking good for Dominic Smith, the 11th overall pick in the 2013 draft.
The Mets also goofed in giving up their 2015 first-round pick as compensation for signing free agent Michael Cuddyer, who got old in a hurry in Queens.
Of their first-rounders since then, Dunn and Kelenic are now Mariners, while lefty pitcher David Peterson has made steady progress, on track to be a No. 3-type starter in the big leagues.
As for the big picture, the Mets' farm system still lacks depth and, to that point, it's possible that Van Wagenen will eventually regret giving up Kelenic and Dunn. On the other hand, if Cano and Diaz help the Mets win big in the next few years, it will be quite another story.
In some ways the same can be said for Alderson's legacy.