"We’re going to leave him there (Savannah) right now. The team is playing very, very well. There’s nothing wrong with someone playing his brains out and having a great year."
This quote came as a surprise to me, not because it doesn't make sense, but because it seems to represent such a drastic shift from the Mets' previous aggressive approach when it comes to pushing prospects, essentially throwing them into the highest level that the prospect could handle.
Regardless of what you think of the merits of the old or new philosophy as it comes to producing players, it got me thinking about what the Mets should be doing as a team. (Note: I'm not as down on the pushing prospects aggressively through the system as most people seem to be on the web.) I think thus far, the focus in the debate between aggressively pushing prospects and allowing for a more normal curve of development has been on what strategy would churn out better players.
On the aggressive side (we'll call it Tony B.,) the idea is that the best way to see what you really have in a prospect is to sort of see how he deals with adversity. A pivotal part of succeeding in the fishbowl that is the New York Media is handling adversity. Obviously, you want to see how a young man responds to failure. You don't want the first time he endures a slump to be when WFAN listeners are just waiting to declare the player a highly-touted bum or "an Alex Escobar."
(This picture just hurts)
Furthermore, the other argument for aggressively pushing prospects is that superstars generally come up to the majors when they're young, before the age of 25. (Ryan Howard is the only exception I can think of, because he was blocked by Jim Thome.) As a big market team, the Mets can try to identify home grown stars( Jose Reyes, David Wright), and try to build around the them using stars from free agency (Carlos Beltran, Pedro Martinez, Jason Bay) and complementary players through free agency (Rod Barajas, Henry Blanco, Alex Cora) and complementary players through trades when a player is about to get more expensive than his own team thinks he's worth (Ryan Church, Jeff Francoeur). Home grown stars provide so much surplus value that finding young stars is imperative. Essentially, 1 Reyes is worth more than 3 Daniel Murphies even if they give the same surplus value, because 1 star takes 2 fewer roster spots than do 3 complementary players (roster spots that can be used to house more stars). Therefore, the idea is that the farm system should be geared toward turning out stars, and rushing prospects reveals who the real stars are, thus allowing the Mets' considerable financial resources to theoretically address the rest of the roster.
While this may be true regarding true superstars, it misses the point of the minor league system. Furthermore, the true superstars will force your hand by truly dominating (think Evan Longoria, Stephen Strasburg, Jason Heyward, or to a lesser and happier extent Ike Davis). Pardon me for sounding too economic, but prospects are not just potential assets, they are assets in and of themselves.
Prospects as Trade Chips
(Prospects can keep the millionaire movers industry afloat)
The Tony B. point of view of what a farm system is for is overly simplistic at best, and fundamentally flawed at worst. The reality is that the farm system helps the major league team not just by developing players who produce at the major league level. A farm system can be tremendously helpful by producing trading chips that can be used to land veterans who either request a trade or must be moved for economic considerations ( Johan Santana, Roy Halladay, Carlos Delgado in 2005, Adrian Gonzalez right now, Mark Teixeira to the Braves and then to the Angels.) I mean, Gaby Hernandez, Yusmeiro Petit, and Matt Lindstrom, and the others really produced at the major league level for the Mets by turning into Lo Duca and Delgado.
As Mets fans know, when Halladay came onto the market last year, the Mets didn't have the farmhands to interest the Jays in sending him to Flushing. There were many factors that contributed to Halladay going to the Phillies, but I think one under-reported factor is that the stocks of the Mets' farm-hands were artificially low because they were playing in such advanced age-environments. While we can say that Flores' numbers last year were great for a 17 year-old in the Appalachian league, his stock would have been higher if he was destroying competition closer to his own age. This is where the true widsom of Collins' quote is revealed. If we have players who are having great years, then it's both good for their development AND it's good for their stock among talent evaluators throughout the game.
Oddly enough, it seems to matter less how good the actual player is going to be, but instead how good everyone thinks he's going to be. One more example seems to be the hype machine behind all the Yankee prospects. No Yankee prospect has really stuck in a while (since Jeter/Posada/Pettite/Williams/Rivera), but they've still been able to turn those prospects into veterans to help in AUG - OCT, because their prospects are held in high enough esteem. The Red Sox have prospects whpo are thought highly enough of to swap for Victor Martinez, further showing how a big-market club can use their farm system for immediate improvement. While we don't know if the package that the Indians' accepted is actually better than what the Mets or other teams were offering, the fact remains that it was enough to actually get the Indians to part with Victor Martinez. It seems as though perception is as good as reality, at least when it comes to the prospects' trade value.
If the Mets' prospects were to have good years, dominating competition that is closer to their age, then their stocks would be higher because no one would have to add the qualifier of "well, it was a good year, considering his age." Collins' new approach may not only help players become better by not retarding their development by throwing too much at them too fast, but it may also enable their stocks to rise throughout the game, especially as Minor League Equivalence stats become more in vogue among increasingly sabermetrically-inclined decision-makers.
The new strategy set forth by Collins will enable players' success, and hopefully will make the minor league system a good source of value for the big club.