HOUSTON — As if the Mets do not have enough problems convincing someone — really, we are nearing the point of anyone — to run their baseball operations, imagine doing that while all the organization desires to become is on endless loop this October.
The Braves have won the last four NL East titles, or as many as the Mets have since 1974 — you know, 1974, when “All in the Family” was the No. 1 TV show in the country.
The Braves have displayed not just talent, but an organizational ingenuity and on-field grit that has been as foreign to the Mets as meaningful October games.
All sports have a follow-the-leader, copycat aspect to them. And the Mets should be going to school on the Braves. Of course, this partially necessitates the hiring of someone to run the baseball department before, say, New Year’s 2024. At this point, perhaps hang a clipboard outside Citi Field and anyone interested could sign up. Really, would that go worse than, say, Jared Porter?
One decision whoever is in charge will have to make this offseason is what kind of free agents to pursue. Here is a place to dig into recent Braves history for part of the answer. But let’s begin with Mets history.
After the 2014 season, the Mets signed Michael Cuddyer to a two-year, $21 million contract. They did so although the Rockies had made him the qualifying offer. That meant they had to forfeit the 15th-overall pick in the June 2015 draft to enlist a 36-year-old, righty-hitting corner outfielder with injury concerns.
In that moment, the Mets were concerned that if they didn’t strike quickly with Cuddyer they would be closed out of finding a righty-hitting corner outfielder they wanted to join Curtis Granderson and Juan Lagares. The Mets should have the self-confidence going forward that there are always other viable choices and swallowing a lot of pain — especially early in the offseason — is not worth it.
There also was a bit of appeasing the old ownership’s favorite player, David Wright, by signing one of his buddies, kind of like when the new owner’s favorite player, Francisco Lindor, ended up playing next to his buddy, Javy Baez. Really, when an organization is poorly run, it makes mistakes persistently.
But the reason we bring this up in conjunction with the Braves is that the Mets didn’t have that 15th pick in 2015, and among the players taken in that first round after 15th and before the Mets had their first selection at 53rd overall in the second round were Mike Soroka and Austin Riley, both by Atlanta (not to mention Walker Buehler with the Dodgers and Ke’Bryan Hayes with the Pirates).
For their inability to sign this year’s first-round pick, Kumar Rocker, the Mets have the 11th and 14th picks next June. Without a new collective bargaining agreement in place, we don’t know the rules for, among other items, compensation if a team signs a player given the qualifying offer. But if the current process stays in place for this offseason, the Mets would lose the 14th pick if they did so.
They shouldn’t do so. They do not know they are sure contenders for next season with their current void in both starting pitching and leadership. And a team in that position should not sacrifice the big picture. Besides, with Steve Cohen’s wallet, they can try to dominate the non-qualified market to create high-end depth. Also, upon his taking over, Cohen spoke not just about wanting to win a title within three to five years (harder to see now), but to create a model like that of the Dodgers with a strong self-sustaining element. And more first-round picks provide a better opportunity at that.
In 2018, there was a situation similar to that of what the Mets just endured with Rocker. The team with the eighth pick took pitcher Carter Stewart one selection before the A’s drafted Kyler Murray. Like Rocker, Stewart was a Scott Boras client who due to injury concerns (in this case with a wrist) had his signing bonus offer significantly lower and didn’t sign.
The drafting team, like the Mets will have in 2022, therefore, had two first-round picks the following year. And the Braves took catcher Shane Langeliers and shortstop Braden Shewmake, who are now two of their better prospects. Both are on a trajectory to make their major league debut next year.
The Mets had the sixth pick in that 2019 draft, took Jarred Kelenic and pretty much traded him less than a year later for his lowest value.
That was three years and — depending how you count them — as many as four Mets heads of baseball operations ago. The next person in charge, whenever that person is hired, really does have a lot of work to do.