Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton once said that hindsight is always 50/50, although that quote would look more at home if it were attributed to Yogi Berra. It is only using hindsight that we are able to look back at the Mets' drafts over the past ten years and decide who would have made for the optimal first-round picks. We can also determine who would have made for the most sub-optimal picks, had things shaken out a little differently.
In an effort to narrow it down to players who should have been on the Mets' radar at the time of their selection, only players taken within fifteen picks of the Mets' first round pick will be eligible for being considered the "optimal pick." This is not a critique of the Mets' front office, but rather a fun exercise in hindsight and in examining what could have been.
2005 - Mike Pelfrey (9th pick)
Optimal pick: Andrew McCutchen (11th)
Pelfrey wasn't a complete bust for the Mets, but he never figured out how to strike batters out above the Double-A level. Unfortunately, the Mets play at the major league level, so Pelfrey never amounted to more than rotational depth. McCutchen has developed into one of the best overall players in baseball and would have brought the kind of punch the Mets' offense has sorely needed over the past decade or so.
It could have been worse: Wade Townsend was selected by the Orioles the pick before Pelfrey, but injuries and control issues kept him from ever reaching the major leagues, last pitching in the minors in 2010. Pelfrey may not have turned out the way Mets fans had hoped, but had Townsend fallen past the Orioles, the Mets may have taken a player who made no impact whatsoever.
2006 - No Pick
With a pick awarded as compensation due to the Mets' signing of Billy Wagner, the Phillies selected Kyle Drabek 18th overall.
2007 - Eddie Kunz (42nd)
Optimal pick: Josh Donaldson (48th)
The expectations for a supplemental first round pick are obviously lower than that of a top-10 pick, but that won't make Mets fans feel any better about the selection of Kunz. At the time of the pick, Kunz was billed as a fast-moving relief prospect who might top out as a setup man. He never came close to reaching his modest upside, though, striking out 5.0 batters per nine, while walking 4.7 over six minor league seasons. Donaldson took a circuitous route to the majors, developing from catching prospect into one of the best third basemen in baseball.
It could have been worse: Well, maybe not...but outfielder Kellen Kulbacki was selected by the Padres two picks before Kunz, and he doesn't even have his own Wikipedia page. So there's that. Once the #84 prospect, according to Baseball Prospectus, Kulbacki last played in the independent Frontier League in 2012.
2008 - Ike Davis (18th)
Optimal pick: Andrew Cashner (19th)
For a while, it looked like Davis was on his way to becoming one of the faces of the franchise, but health problems and contact issues conspired to keep the powerful first baseman from producing sustained success. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2013, Cashner has pitched to a 3.10 ERA and 3.38 FIP while also battling injuries of his own. It is completely possible that Cashner will flame out and end up being less valuable than Davis over the course of their careers, but no general manager would prefer Davis to Cashner at this point.
It could have been worse: The Blue Jays selected David Cooper, also a first baseman, one pick before the Mets took Davis. If the Blue Jays had taken Davis and the Mets went with Cooper, they would have drafted a player who has suffered through even more injuries than the oft-sidelined Davis. As it turned out, the Mets signed Cooper to a minor league deal in May of this year, only to release him less than three weeks later.
2008 - Reese Havens (22nd)
Optimal pick: Jake Odorizzi (32nd)
Havens battled injuries his entire minor league career and was never able to come close to matching the expectations many in the scouting community had for him, eventually retiring before the 2014 season. Odorizzi looks to be a blossoming young starter, with a 3.60 ERA and a 3.51 FIP since 2014.
2008 - Brad Holt (33rd)
Optimal pick: Lance Lynn (39th)
It may be hard to recall, but Brad Holt was once rated the #98 prospect by Baseball America. The 2014 Long Island Duck was never able to solve his command issues and was released by the Mets after the 2012 season. Lynn has developed into a durable, dependable workhorse, putting up back-to-back seasons of 200 innings and sub-3.50 ERA.
It could have been worse: Neither Havens nor Holt made the major leagues, so it's hard to find any picks that were objectively worse. The good news for Mets fans was that help was on the way in the near future. Matt Harvey is looming in part two of this exercise.