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Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Carlos Beltran Trade: Mets Rebuild Without Entering Rebuilding Mode

In March, the New York Post's Joel Sherman correctly predicted that the Mets would trade a core star at the deadline for a top pitching prospect. Only Sherman thought it would be Jose Reyes for the Reds' Homer Bailey. Instead, on the day the Carlos Beltran deal became official, the new-look Mets scored nine runs off of Bailey.

Who would have predicted last spring that the Mets would be able to use Beltran, still trying to come back from knee surgery, to land a top pitching prospect? That the debt-ridden Mets would be able to throw in four million dollars in the deal? And that the Mets would hold on to Reyes with increased hope of re-signing him?

Almost every sportswriter last spring thought Reyes was a goner. ESPN's Buster Olney thought that the "Mets will seek ‘power arms,’ in a deal for Reyes, and says the Giants will be interested."

Reyes may yet leave the Mets. There is no guarantee that Wheeler will pan out. A few years ago, many considered Bailey one of the top two pitching prospects in baseball. The other one was Phil Hughes. While it's too early to write off Bailey or Hughes, both have been disappointments so far relative to expectations.

Beltran, underrated and underappreciated as a Met, is irreplaceable with the current roster.

But Beltran, 34 with bad knees, is not part of the Mets' future, especially as a Scott Boras client. Even if the Mets had no money issues, should they have given Beltran the kind of money and years Boras will demand?

Madoff or no Madoff, it would have still made sense to do what the Red Sox did with stars like Pedro Martinez and Johnny Damon - let them go while they still had something left, but bring back top prospects with which they could retool. With the supplemental pick the Red Sox received for Pedro, they drafted Clay Buchholz. One of the picks they got for Damon turned out to be Daniel Bard.

If the Mets had kept Beltran, they would not have gotten any draft picks. But getting a top prospect was even better. As risky as prospects are, draft picks are even riskier. Better to get a top-ten pick from a couple of years ago, who has had a chance to show in professional ball that his reputation is deserved. Someone like Wheeler, the sixth pick in 2009.

But if Reyes had been traded at the deadline, it would not have mattered how many Zack Wheelers the Mets got back. The Mets would have been in full rebuilding mode.

Last year, the Padres almost won the NL West. Then they traded Adrian Gonzalez in the prime of his career. The Padres supposedly got a great haul of prospects from the Red Sox. Maybe those prospects will pan out one day. But today, the Padres are in last place, 14 games under .500, while Gonzalez is a top contender for AL MVP.

If the Padres get lucky, Anthony Rizzo, the first base prospect obtained from the Red Sox in the Gonzalez trade, will turn out to be another Gonzalez. But then, as he approaches free agency, the Padres will have to trade him.

This spring, the Mets looked like they were turning into the Padres - a low-budget team with little hope of contending on a regular basis. The future is still uncertain, but with both Reyes and Wheeler in the organization, it looks a lot brighter than it did just a few months ago.

1 comment:

Uncle Mike said...

Far be it for me to give the Mets credit on anything, but they have begun to do the right thing -- if not the Wright thing.

They had four burning questions that had to be settled: What to do with K-Rod, Beltran, Wright and Reyes. The first two have been settled sooner rather than later. They may not have put in the dentures to replace them, but the two infected teeth are gone, and the Vicodin now seems to be working.

A healthy Ike Davis next season, and one or two other acquisitions would help -- and I'm talking about what Nick Swisher looks like when he's on his game, not necessarily a healthy, walk-year Beltran. So the Mets, at least in terms of offense, aren't that far away from respectability. But they have to decide whether it's worth keeping the more stable Wright, or the more talented but box-of-chocolates (which can get messy and be full of nuts) Reyes.

Then there's the pitching. If they're all healthy, Pelfrey, Niese, Dickey and Gee are all solid 3rd, 4th or 5th starters. But the Mets need an ace, and with his injuries, Santana is a major question mark. If he comes back and is what he was, the Mets may be closer to contention than anyone realizes.

But, for the moment, even with the K-Rod and Beltran situations resolved, the Mets still have more IFs than the Yankees have All-Stars.