The recent injury bug that has hit the New York Mets pitching staff this past week has caused many people to have a defensive reaction regarding the team’s pitching depth, believing that they should hold on to their pitchers because of the fragile nature of their kind. They are glad that the team has such a long line of highly regarded pitchers in waiting for when somebody gets hurt, but the Mets have reached a point where they not only should trade from their pitching depth to bolster their offense, it would be irresponsible if they did not complete such a deal.
Michael Avallone wrote a piece earlier this week arguing the opposite perspective, saying that the Mets should keep their pitching because of how unstable their health is. Michael clearly states out the facts in his article and makes some very good points, yet I disagree with his conclusion. The basis for this disagreement stems from a claim that Michael makes:
“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.”
I reject the premise that you can never have too much pitching. The notion that pitching wins championships is hard to argue; if you have a stalwart rotation and a bullpen with electric arms, you’re in a good position to win every game you play and succeed in a short-series playoff format. However, pitching can only take you so far, and a successful team must find a balance with its offense.
The Mets currently have a very talented starting rotation with a constantly improving bullpen that has gone from a festering sore to a bright spot since the beginning of the season. The Mets have received more than they ever could have asked for from Lucas Duda, about what they could have expected from Curtis Granderson, and an underwhelming season—to say the least—from their star David Wright. The lineup has potential moving forward with the continued improvement from Travis d’Arnaud and expected bounce-back from Wright in the coming years, but even with a very solid pitching staff, they are still wallowing in mediocrity.
Keeping their pitching depth would be much easier if the Mets had the financial flexibility to sign the types of players that would change their offensive capabilities enough to turn them into a playoff contender. Discussing who the Mets should sign and for how much is always an issue, because it’s the Wilpons’ money, not the fans’ money. Also, big-ticket players like Shin-Soo Choo would not have propelled this current Mets roster into playoff contention, and the market can often sway teams into overpaying for certain players. The Mets have valuable pitchers, and as a result they should be able to acquire an equally talented and young offensive player in a trade without risking a financial albatross that could set them back.
Michael cites the Giants as an example of what strong pitching can do for a club once it reaches the postseason, which is true but needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Pitching carried the Giants to the World Series in 2010 and 2012, but they have always been looking to acquire offense and are a case study of how difficult finding quality hitters is. They missed the playoffs in 2011 because of their poor offense, and did what Michael is hoping the Mets do not do when they traded Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran.
The Beltran-Wheeler trade will always be considered a win for the Mets, considering Beltran made little contribution to the Giants and walked away in free agency while Wheeler continues to improve with the Mets. However, the Giants understood that they needed to add a hitter to compete, and sacrificing a prized prospect like Wheeler was necessary. The Giants definitely wish they had Wheeler now with the declining performance from their key starters, but at the time they were able to sacrifice Wheeler and still have a championship-caliber pitching staff. The Giants were still searching for offense at the next trade deadline and fleeced the Phillies of Hunter Pence, who is now one of their best offensive threats.
It’s easy to see the benefit of having a line of quality options come in and replace an injured pitcher, but at the same time, a pitcher going on the disabled list can substantially affect his value to other teams. For example, at the 2013 trade deadline there was a possibility of the Mets’ trading Bobby Parnell for a quality prospect. Beyond the fact that relievers are overvalued on the trade market, the Mets were out of contention and could have acquired a valuable asset for him. He immediately went down with an injury following the deadline, came back this season and underwent Tommy John surgery after one game, and is now nothing but a possible piece of the Mets’ 2015 bullpen.
Because the Mets didn’t trade Parnell when his value was highest, they lost out on his value as an asset. By failing to trade from their current starting rotation or stash of prospects when their value is highest, they risk doing the same.
Dillon Gee and Jonathon Niese are both underrated trade chips and have real value on the market as long as they are healthy. Both suffered injuries this season and have come back pitching less effectively, therefore creating concern on the trade market that their injuries are lingering and will hurt their performance moving forward.
As long as the Mets have pitching depth, they should avoid not trading pitchers for the fear they might get hurt and instead look to capitalize on their assets when their value is highest. The Mets have quality options to replace pitchers if they are traded, and just like the starters they deal, the replacements too could potentially suffer injury. But in that event, they will still have the return received for dealing the initial starter, and will be better off for it.
Sandy Alderson’s greatest ability during his tenure as general manager has been his patience while negotiating with other teams. He fleeced both the Blue Jays (in the R.A. Dickey trade) and Giants because of his patience, bringing in three tremendously valuable assets. However, that patience can become a problem as long as it remains true that sooner or later, a pitcher is going to break down. The Mets’ starting-pitching depth provides them with quality replacements for when a starter goes down, but the Mets also lose an asset that could help fix their pitiful offense.
The Mets are allowed to have their untouchable starters, as they should, but they need to capitalize on at least one—if not more—of their pitchers this offseason while their value is at their highest. If Niese or Gee completes the season healthy and performing well, the Mets need to maximize their value as cheap and effective mid-rotation starters. Rafael Montero’s inability to get major league hitters out has diminished his value tremendously, but if he ends the season with a string of positive starts, the Mets should not be afraid to include him in a package to improve the offense. Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler are both very promising and valuable, but the Mets shouldn’t be scared to trade them for a worthy return.
Stockpiling young players is fun and all, but at some point those assets need to be distributed in a way that can propel the Mets to a winning major league ballclub. The Mets happen to have most of their assets in a highly valuable and very risky positional area. As long as the Mets’ financial concerns affect the way they do business in free agency, they must capitalize on the value they have and improve their roster through the trade market rather than sit in mediocrity while watching many of their assets lose value due to injury.