Monday, June 10, 2013

A Trade That Will Save the Mets?

I haven't had time to write a full list (Subjective Baseball will return to its regularly scheduled programming on Wednesday), but I will offer a few brief thoughts on the state of the New York Mets.

Obviously things are dire.  Although my lists on this site are even-handed, I never admit to being anything other than a diehard Mets fan.  Increasingly, though, we see (and even hear, as with Sandy Alderson's interview on WFAN this afternoon) Mets fans of all stripes calling for trades or signings that will kickstart this team's future, just like the trades for Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez did in the 1980s.

Let's not forget just how good these players were before being traded to the Mets.  Carter's bWAR during his tenure in Montreal was 55.5.  Hernandez's, in St. Louis, was 34.3.  Both players were at the heights of their career (Carter was 30, a bit old for a catcher, while Hernandez was the nearly perfect 29) so the fact that the Mets were able to get both players for so cheap was a bit of a miracle.  For Carter, all that was required was Hubie Brooks (who was actually very good) and spare prospects; for Hernandez, the Mets merely gave up Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey.  That's not to say that the Mets don't have the chips to craft a similar trade; rather, the world of baseball has changed, and not in a way that benefits the Mets.  Among players who are currently 30-years-old or younger, Carter's bWAR would rank first, while Hernandez would come in 7th.  To put this comparison in present terms, asking Sandy Alderson to repeat such a scenario is akin to suggesting that he trade for Miguel Cabrera (51.1) and Ryan Braun (35.3) within the span of a year.  Obviously, this is ludicrous.  Advanced baseball metrics have improved our understanding of a player's true value, and even the Brewers selling Braun for pennies on the dollar--semi-similar to what happened when Whitey Herzog banished Hernandez from St. Louis--seems radically unlikely.

A recent rumor has the Mets linked to Andre Ethier.  Among active players who were born after 1982 (so, 31-years-old or younger), Ethier's bWAR (16.7) is 37th--and he's 31 on the nose, older than either Carter or Hernandez at the time of their trades.  Selling the farm √† la Carter/Hernandez for Ethier, a player who has spent eight years in the MLB yet has never gotten over 3.8 bWAR in a season, would be a folly of epic proportions.  If the Mets are going to rebuild by trading for good players under contract, they need to do so with players who are very, not just marginally, talented.

Here's the good news: the increase in statistical knowledge has also led to the general overvaluation of prospects as commodities.  Remember Francisco Martinez?  Lastings Milledge?  Generation K?  You don't need to read my most recent article to know that prospects, even top prospects, don't always work out.  Sandy Alderson has worked very hard to stockpile the Mets' farm system with pretty good prospects, from Brandon Nimmo to Noah Syndergaard.  This can lead to one of two things: a 2015 team that features an almost wholly homegrown--or, at least, traded-for-when-they-were-still-in-the-minors--roster; or a 2015 team that features star players who were obtained by shelling out a number of top prospects.  Thanks to Sandy Alderson's direction, the Mets are still able to head down either path.  Let's not ruin it by calling for Alderson's ouster or ridiculous trades for Andre Ethier, okay?

(As a side note, while writing this article I started thinking about a trade for Braun and realized just how surprisingly realistic this could be.  Think about it: the Brewers have a terrible farm system and Braun's contract is only going to get more expensive as he ages.  Throw in the never-ending drug suspicion [hmm...] and you get a player who could be obtained for much less than then 7-bWAR superstar he really is.  Potentially very interesting.)

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