I’m OK with a little spin from the Mets. It’s to be expected from a team that will need nothing short of a miracle to even contend for the postseason, let alone reach it.
But let’s be honest about Sunday’s so-called homegrown lineup for a moment: Fielding a team of in-house talent is fine, and it’s fun to root for your own guys, but it can’t mask mediocrity.
Yes, seven of the nine players in the Mets’ starting lineup on Sunday were developed on their farm. This is certainly true, and it’s undoubtedly easier to root for Josh Thole and Ike Davis on a non-contending team than it is, say, Billy Wagner and Gary Sheffield. They’re young and enthusiastic and don’t make a lot of money, so even if they’re terrible, we project onto them a precociousness and zeal that may not actually exist. I’m not a parent, but I can at least vouch for this phenomenon with respect to the cherry tomatoes I grow in my backyard. They’re tastier than their pesticide-treated counterparts at the supermarket simply for the fact that I staked them and watered them everyday and watched them go from green to orange to red over the course of a few weeks.
But this magical ratio — this 7/9 or 77 percent (with a bar over it) — is perhaps misleading, and at the very least, it raises the question: So what?
Firstly, Jose Reyes and David Wright are established stars, veterans of a decade-plus of Major League service time between them. They are, unequivocally, the crown jewels of the farm system of the past 20 years to have made their mark with the Mets.
In the outfield, Angel Pagan was drafted by the Mets, acquired by the Cubs and then reacquired by the Mets. They deserve credit for remaining interested in Pagan and getting him back into the organization, but if they knew he would be this good, it’s safe to assume they wouldn’t have let him go in the first place, right? So, that only sort of counts. Fernando Martinez, for all his promise, has to be considered a disappointment thus far into his admittedly brief and interrupted career, whether it be attributed to injuries, mismanagement or simply to ineffectiveness. More on him in a moment.
Thole looks like an above-average prospect at catcher with a good approach at the plate although no power to speak of. Still, a good batting average and on-base skills plus solid defense are more than enough out of what is widely regarded to be the thinnest position in the bigs. No problem there.
The honeymoon is over for Davis, whose flawed swing has been exposed by Major League scouting reports. I’m not a scout, nor do I pretend to be one (although I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night). However, even to the eye not trained to detect such things, the manner in which he drops his hands down to his waist long before the pitcher has delivered homeward appears to hinder his ability to stay back on off-speed pitches in order to hit them with authority, if at all.
Davis’ strikeouts are piling up, which wouldn’t be a problem, necessarily, if he were racking up the walks to go along with it. Instead, his on-base percentage his slipped to .329, and his slugging is only fair at .438, which puts him in the middle of the pack among first basemen with no fewer than 300 plate appearances. At the least, he’ll probably end up needing a right-handed-hitting platoonmate, and at the worst, he may not develop the skills to hit middle- and top-tier right-handed pitching (particularly those with good secondary pitches), rendering him … a tick better than Mike Jacobs? Yikes.
And finally, we have Ruben Tejada, whom I think we can all applaud for the simple fact that he’s not Luis Castillo. But if that’s a prospect’s saving grace, then he may need to seek a different line of work sooner than later.
And so we arrive back at the existential dilemma of homegrown talent: So what?
Some of these players are great, some are OK, some might be decent, and some stink. Is it worth it to field a team of homegrown talent simply for its own sake?
Of course, the answer is no if they’re not worthy of being starting players. Sure, there are other factors to consider, chief among them that these players are cheap and under team control for a considerable amount of time before they can command salary arbitration or hit free agency. But their arrival does not suddenly free the team of burdensome contracts committed to the likes of Castillo, Oliver Perez, and yes, even Carlos Beltran and Johan Santana.
Which leads me to the penultimate quandary here, the F-Mart followup. I was enraged Saturday when he had been recalled to the bigs and promptly plopped down on the bench because the Mets were facing a lefty that night, the Phillies’ Cole Hamels. If the point of recalling F-Mart was to allow him to develop at the big league level and give the fans something to be hopeful for, why platoon him with Jeff Francoeur, whom we know stinks at this juncture?
How will F-Mart develop against left-handed pitchers if he’s on the bench when the Mets face one?
I appreciate the commitment to cost-controlled young talent, but that can’t be the objective here, nor should it be necessary to distract the fans with a kitschy ploy from another season that’ll end without a postseason berth. I’ll take nine hired guns every time — with the caveat that they be superior players.