Or it might not. But it’s not as clear as some suggest.
First, for those unfamiliar with the issue, we’re talking about where the Mets finish in the 2013 standings. If they finish with one of the 10 worst records in all of baseball (ed: with the caveat that no top-ten team from last year fails to sign their pick), they can sign any free agent they like and still keep their 2014 first round draft pick. But as noted in the comments below they would lose their 2nd round pick and associated slot money. However, if they finish with more wins than the tenth-worst club, then signing certain free agents would cause them to lose their first round draft pick. In many cases those free agents will be among the most desirable players available.
And I hope we can all agree that the Mets should try to sign at least one highly regarded free agent in the coming offseason. If we do, then where the Mets finish could have a big impact on their 2014 draft.
As of Sunday morning September 1 the Mets are tied for the twelfth-worst record with the Angels, so if the season ended today the Mets would not be free to sign free agents without consequence. So, is it better for the Mets to finish 12-16 or 16-12 (e.g.) in their remaining games? 12-16 likely gets a protected pick while 16-12 almost certainly would not.
Regardless of whether you see 2014 or 2015 as the target date for contention, either scenario will require some of the Mets' homegrown position players to become average-or-better players. There are more holes to fill than there are dollars to "buy" plugs via free agency.
It’d also help Sandy Alderson’s offseason planning if a bunch of guys play like they deserve jobs next spring. If Lucas Duda lights it up, Ruben Tejada returns to 2011 form, Wilmer Flores raises his slugging percentage by 100 points over his next 100 at-bats, and Juan Lagares adds 20 points to his on-base and slugging percentages, then Sandy’s shopping list looks a lot different than it does today. Today we don’t know if we need a shortstop or not, if we need to consider going after Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu, if Flores is going to take one or three years to become a league average hitter, or whether Lagares's glove is enough to carry an iffy bat. Those are a lot of additional positions to try to fix in a single offseason.
Of course if all those guys play well, the Mets will likely win enough games to stay out of the bottom ten. But what is more important: getting average-or-better players at 2-4 positions or protecting one draft pick that’s stands an even chance of flaming out?
There is a path to a protected pick. But it might mean Wilmer still slugging .325 after 150 at-bats, Duda looking like Quadruple-A fodder, Tejada struggling and Lagares (or Matt den Dekker) striking out at unacceptable rates. Not all of those would have to happen but likely more than one. Is it really better to have 2-4 current guys look like failures than sacrificing a first round pick if we have the opportunity to add a Shin-Soo Choo?
I love first round picks as much as the next guy, but I’m more interested in a team that competes. And if we’re going to compete we need some of our in-house options to pan out. Sure you can assume Travis d'Arnaud, Flores, and Cesar Puello will all become All-Stars and save the day. Maybe they will, but memories are short. It wasn’t long ago that Duda, Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, and Tejada were bright, shiny new toys that were expected to be above average. Yesterday’s new, shiny guy can quickly become today’s "get him out of here" target.
Put another way, if Dillon Gee's & Jenrry Mejia’s performances this season were the principal difference between a tenth and eleventh place finish, would you trade the strides they’ve made for a first round pick?
The Mets would be much better off if some of the slightly older disappointments returned to form along with a couple of breakouts from today’s new guys. And if that improvement leads the Mets to win enough games to lose a draft pick then so be it. Three or four assets that can help either on the field or as trade bait could well help more than a single pick in the lotto that is the draft.