Travis d'Arnuad and Zack Wheeler — without question the Mets' top two prospects — might be ready to begin the season in the big leagues but will begin the year with Triple-A Las Vegas. The decision to be patient with both players is understandably a source of frustration for Mets fans since each player's debut is highly anticipated, particularly given the way the past few seasons of Mets baseball have gone.
With Johan Santana unquestionably starting the season late and Shaun Marcum's on-again-off-again status as a healthy starting pitcher, Wheeler's a much more appealing name than, say, Chris Young, who just left Nationals camp in search of a big league deal with another team. There's just no way that Young, one of the most ho-hum pitchers in the game, can match the excitement of the flame-throwing potential ace that is Wheeler.
The difference at catcher between John Buck and d'Arnaud isn't quite as drastic, but as the centerpiece of the R.A. Dickey trade, d'Arnaud's going to generate a hell of a lot more buzz among fans than Buck. On the upside, Buck likely provides a significant upgrade over last year's catching corps all by himself. The Blue Jays have chosen to carry former Mets catcher Henry Blanco as Dickey's catcher and J.P. Arencibia's backup while sending former Mets Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas to the minors to begin the year.
Two weeks ago, Rob Castellano looked at the true cost of a "Super Two" player and concluded the Mets would be wise to keep Wheeler and d'Arnaud in the minors until mid-June because the team could save considerable money down the road. That's important, of course, but perhaps the most important thing about the Mets' plans for these two players is that they keep them under team control for as long as possible. And that's where the first few weeks of the season come into play, just as they did last year for Mike Trout.
It's strange and backwards that Major League Baseball's collective bargaining agreement actively discourages teams from using their top prospects at the beginning of the season, but that's what it does. If the Mets put either player on the Opening Day roster, their control of them would run through the 2018 season. If they wait until roughly the end of April, they'll control these players through the end of 2019.
In an ideal world, d'Arnaud and Wheeler will develop into top notch players, the Mets will have strong financial footing, and both players will be locked up well beyond the time they're due to hit free agency. But none of that is guaranteed, and for now, at least, the Mets are making the wise move to keep both players in blue and orange — assuming they establish themselves as big league players — for as long as they possibly can.