Monday, December 17, 2012

In a Future Age

I'll put it rather bluntly: I am going to miss having R.A. Dickey on the Mets. I'm sure just about every Mets fan will. Dickey was the kind of player that you couldn't possibly dislike, and the reasons for that went far beyond the success he found in his 3 seasons with the Mets. He turned from a journeyman to a star, a quirky, quotable personality with a story of survival like no other. Mets fans rallied behind them and, in 2012, they were treated to the kind of special season only comes along so often. But, Baseball being the fickle business it is, just as Dickey's amazing story was reaching its culmination, he was dealt away before the Mets and their fans ever really had a chance to celebrate his Cy Young Award with him. I'm sure I'm not the only Mets fan who aches sorrowfully about this, and Dickey himself tweeted as much earlier this afternoon. I'm thankful that we had this time together. 

All that being said, we have to be careful, as fans, not to become overly sentimental about the Dickey trade. Or any trade, for that matter. It's the way Baseball works. Things may not seem so great now, but I'm of the belief that sometime in the near future, this trade will end up making a lot of sense for the Mets. The reality of the situation is that Dickey wasn't going to get any better than he was last season. Yes, he's a knuckleballer, and knuckleballers can go on forever, etc, etc. But wisely, Sandy Alderson dealt Dickey when he was at the peak of his value, and the haul of prospects he brought back is clearly evidence of this. Sentimentality aside, this trade was a no-brainer for the Mets. The arguments I've heard, and there have been several, against the trade seem to come from 3 places. 1) People thinking with their hearts rather than their heads, 2) People who don't seem to realize what the point of making this trade was for the Mets, or 3) Complete ignorance.

With Dickey, the Mets were able to deal from a position of strength. The Mets were not a good team in 2012, and the chances of them being a good team in 2013 are fairly slim, Dickey or no Dickey. The Mets have many, many problems, like the lack of a decent Catcher or a viable Major League Outfielder. But one thing they did have was plenty of good starting pitching. Dickey was the headliner, obviously, but behind him, Jon Niese was beginning to come into his own. Matt Harvey ascended and immediately showed he belonged. Dillon Gee was proving solid before injury struck. Johan Santana was there too, and pitched really well for a couple of months before things unraveled for him. But while the Mets got a lot of really good starting pitching, most days they didn't hit and the end result was a lot of Met losses by a score of 3-1 or 4-2. The Mets will bring back all four of these pitchers next season (My somewhat blind and also probably foolish hope that they would bring back Mike Pelfrey ended today when it was announced he'd signed with Minnesota). In addition, other pitchers in the vein of Zach Wheeler and Jenrry Mejia are ready to ascend. Point is, the Mets don't really need to worry a great deal about their starting pitching, unless injuries strike, and that could, and will, happen to anyone. Dickey was at a point where he became expendable. Not because he did anything wrong, but because he happened to be a commodity that could bring back good value.

The prevailing thought is, obviously, that you can never have too much pitching, and that's true. But as I keep saying, you can't win if you don't hit, and the Mets offense was pretty miserable, enough so that it just doesn't make sense for the Mets to keep all this starting pitching at the expense of being able to generate any runs to back their starters. David Wright and Ike Davis will hit, but they appear to exist as an island in the middle of the Mets lineup. Being able to bring in a prospect the stature of Travis d'Arnaud is huge for a multitude of reasons. Those unfamiliar with d'Arnaud should know that he was originally drafted by the Phillies in 2007. He wound up in Toronto prior to 2010 in a trade whose centerpiece was none other than Roy Halladay. In AA ball in 2011, d'Arnaud blossomed, hitting .311 with 21 HRs and 78 RBI, and was off to a fine season in AAA in 2012 before a knee injury undercut his season. Prior to 2012, he was ranked the 17th best prospect by Baseball America, and the top prospect in the Blue Jays system. And, he's a Catcher. Last time I checked, the Mets were throwing out a virtual shit stew at that position, involving the punchless Josh Thole, the talentless Mike Nickeas and the retread Rob Johnson, all of whom combined to generate absolutely nothing worthwhile. d'Arnaud is projected for stardom, and even if that doesn't come immediately, I see no reason why he shouldn't start immediately and why he couldn't easily surpass the production from the iron triumverate. Conveniently, the Mets shipped out Thole and Nickeas with Dickey, so d'Arnaud shouldn't have much of a challenge earning the role as starting Catcher.

d'Arnaud is the impact player that Alderson was after when he shopped Dickey, but for good measure, Alderson managed to poach another top prospect from the Jays' organization in 20-year old Pitcher Noah Syndergaard. Syndergaard is still a ways from being a factor, having just finished a season in A ball, but he's built like Mike Pelfrey, boasted a K/9 rating of over 10, and has drawn comparisons to such pitchers as Chris Carpenter and Roy Halladay. By time he ascends, he'll probably have learned a bit more stamina and polish, the kind of things necessary for a front of the line starter. Plus, by then, we'll know for sure what the Mets have in Harvey, Wheeler, Mejia and whoever else is kicking around the organization.

The bottom line here is that yes, Dickey will be missed. It sucks that this deal had to happen, but I trust what Alderson is doing here. This is exactly in line with the plan he's set forth ever since he took over. Alderson has targeted specific guys and held out until he was able to get the trade he wanted. So he's flipped Dickey and Beltran and acquired multiple pieces that stand to help the Mets for several years looking forward. It's a slow, tedious process, and it's going to mean another year of probably not competing very much. There are still a lot of holes. But the Mets, as built, weren't going to be any better if they didn't make the trade. Alderson has dealt depth for improvements at a sorely needed position. There are still holes here, but for the first time in several seasons, I think we can actually begin to feel slightly optimistic about the Mets chances. The hope, I think, is that 2013 plays out something like this:

1) The Mets tread water for the season and hopefully finish around .500. Maybe those 3-1 losses start to turn into 4-3 wins every so often.
2) Ike Davis plays healthy all season long and develops into one of the NL's best 1Bmen, like I think he's capable of.
3) Ruben Tejada builds on his solid 2012 season and, to some degree, Daniel Murphy does as well (I'm more optimistic about Tejada than Murphy, but at least Murphy won't embarrass himself).
4) Matt Harvey continues to step up and Zach Wheeler ascends.
5) Someone in the Nieuwenhuis/Duda/Valdespin Pu-Pu Platter turns into a reasonably respectable OF (smart money is on Nieuwenhuis I suppose, but none of them appear likely to pan out).
6) Come the offseason, once Santana and Bay come off the Books, and the Mets can go after a bigtime Outfielder and a solid Starting Pitcher (assuming this is necessary based on the performance of the current rotation).
7) Contend seriously in 2014.

World Series Championships have been won on similar lines of thinking. But in order to get to that point, the person driving the bus has to be willing to make a move that's unpopular or risky. Alderson has made a name for himself making moves like this just about every team he's worked for. Yeah, these are calculated risks he's taking with the Mets. It may not work. But I trust his judgement. He has made the moves necessary to rebuild a farm system stripped bare from mismanagement and short-sighted thinking. This will begin to pay off eventually. It won't be immediate, but this too shall pass.

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