The sigh of relief could be heard 90 miles away from Citi Field, all the way down the New Jersey Turnpike in Philadelphia. The Mets held their collective breaths when Jacob deGrom notified them last Saturday that he felt discomfort in his right shoulder. That they were able to exhale when the MRI results revealed tendinitis in his rotator cuff only underscores the fragility of pitchers in today's game.
New York has been through this before, going back to the mid-1990s hype of "Generation K:" Bill Pulsipher, Jason Isringhausen, and Paul Wilson. All three were expected to lead the Mets to a new age of glory. All three endured serious arm injuries soon after making their major league debuts and never reached the lofty heights expected of them. Only Isringhausen carved out a strong career, saving 300 games over 16 big league seasons. Today, "Generation K" can best be described as a prime example of the immense risks associated with young hurlers.
Fast-forward to 2014 and the Mets are once again flush with pitching. Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Rafael Montero, Noah Syndergaard, and deGrom are already household names with New York's fan base. And there's more where that came from with names like Steven Matz, Michael Fulmer, and Gabriel Ynoa working their way through the minor league system. However, Harvey's injury last year and deGrom's recent shoulder scare shows just how fragile pitching can be, and that's why GM Sandy Alderson needs to be extremely cautious with his decisions this upcoming winter.
Unfortunately for the Mets, they do not reside in a vacuum where their troubles are known only to them. The screaming need for another run-producer or two to add to the lineup is no secret around baseball. Names like Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies and Starlin Castro of the Cubs have been associated with the Mets, but so far Alderson has refused to part with any of his young arms.
New York has done itself no favors with fans during a slow rebuilding process. Apathy and anger is at an all-time high among the Flushing faithful. Trying to explain why keeping unproven youngsters instead of trading for an established bat may fall on deaf ears, but Alderson should be prepared to do just that.
There are two axioms in baseball that hold true: You can never have enough pitching, and sooner or later a pitcher is going to break down. The Mets have made it clear that the future success of the franchise will rest on the arms of their young hurlers, a future that they feel is coming fast, writes Paul White in USA Today.
If pitching indeed has become the name of the game, then the Mets are poised to be players—provided they show at least basic aptitude for the rest of the game.
But now comes the hard part. In addition to Harvey, who continues to work his way back from Tommy John surgery, Dillon Gee missed close to two months earlier this season with a strained lat muscle and Jon Niese has had three shoulder scares within the last year and recently came off a stint on the 15-day disabled list. Again, you can never have too much pitching.
Alderson knows this and that is why he must tread carefully. Does he swing for the fences and package a Syndergaard or deGrom to bring Castro or Tulowitzki to Queens? Or does he go a safer route, signing a shortstop and left fielder such as J.J. Hardy and Melky Cabrera, keep his surplus of pitching, and hope for a bounce-back season from David Wright and continued improvement from Lucas Duda and Travis d'Arnaud?
The more time passes and the more pitchers get hurt around the major leagues, the more Alderson may lean towards the cautionary path. By no means should he pass up an opportunity to obtain a certifiable run-producer or slugger, but if the cost is two of New York's best pitching prospects in one deal, he should say no and hold firm, particularly if it is for anyone short of the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton. Teams like the Athletics and Rays have been able to compete year-in and year-out with a basic formula: strong pitching and a balanced lineup that doesn't necessarily include a bona fide star anchoring the offense.
The Giants showed what strong pitching can do for a club once it reaches the postseason. Alderson shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth. He's sitting on a pile of arms that are the envy of baseball. If he and his front office are as good as they think they are, they'll make the right moves without sacrificing the wrong players.
It won't be simple and it won't be an easy sell, but it's the right way to do it.