Mets made Series with homegrown talent, mid-market savvy
Forget, for a moment, the skyscrapers in the background of their iconic logo: The New York Mets, newly minted champions of the National League, are a quintessential mid-market success story.
Whether they play the Toronto Blue Jays or Kansas City Royals in the World Series, the Mets will have the smaller payroll of the Fall Classic contestants.
The Mets’ payroll of $120.4 million ranks 15th among the 30 big-league teams — the very definition of mid-market spending — according to the salary database at spotrac.com. (The Royals are just ahead of them at No. 14, with the Blue Jays at No. 10.) Despite playing in our nation’s largest market, the Mets had the third-lowest payroll among the 10 teams in this year’s postseason, ahead of only the Pittsburgh Pirates and Houston Astros.
It’s reasonable to argue the Mets should spend more on players than they do. But it’s undeniable that owner Fred Wilpon’s spending limitations — regardless of the cause — have created a tightly-knit, pitching-rich roster of players who are invested in one another’s success.
The Mets employed 26 homegrown players this season, one behind the San Francisco Giants for the major-league lead, according to STATS LLC. That was evident Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, where the champagne-soaked hugs were especially poignant because of time shared in places like Brooklyn, Port St. Lucie, Fla., and Binghamton, N.Y.
"We came up together," NLCS MVP Daniel Murphy told me after the clincher. "We know each other. We know each other’s families. We know each other’s children. Jon Niese has a little girl only a couple months older than my son. This is fun to do together."
It’s no coincidence that the four teams with the most homegrown players this year included the Giants (three titles over the past five seasons) and three playoff teams (Mets, Yankees, Cardinals).
David Wright spoke emotionally after Game 4 about the pride he shares with his teammates who also advanced through the organization. He believes the relationships among them became even closer as they endured all or part of six consecutive losing seasons prior to 2015. Now, those emotions have hardened their resolve in October — a phenomenon similar to the one the (largely homegrown) Royals experienced in last year’s World Series run.
Of course, the Mets’ convivial clubhouse will persist only as long as the pitching that has sustained the team’s postseason run. They’re winning now because they’ve drafted, developed and in some cases traded for the right pitchers. The starting quartet of Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz is the second in postseason history to consist entirely of pitchers 27 or younger, who arrived in the majors with the same team and made their playoff debuts in the same series. (The 2010 Giants are the other, according to STATS LLC.)
Two more names are relevant here: Zack Wheeler, the 11-game winner in 2014 who is expected to return next year from Tommy John surgery; and Michael Fulmer, a promising Double-A pitching prospect somewhat overshadowed by the Mets’ other great arms.
Fulmer became the key piece sent to Detroit in the transformative Yoenis Cespedes trade. In that way, the Mets’ best hitter during the second half is linked to the performances of deGrom, Harvey, Syndergaard and Matz.
"It’s more hoping than knowing," Mets vice president Paul DePodesta said, when asked how the team’s elite pitching coalesced. "We thought we had a handful of really good guys. History tells us not all of them turn out the way you want. In our case, every single one of them has turned out the way we want. I’m pinching myself. It’s unbelievable the way these guys have performed and how quickly they’ve done it at a high level.
"A huge amount of credit goes to our player development staff, our pitching coaches throughout the minor-league levels. Ron Romanick oversees our pitching program. At the major-league level, finishing guys off. From the very bottom of our organization to the top, at the major leagues, everybody’s on the same page. That makes a huge difference."
One American League executive observed this week that the Mets, under general manager Sandy Alderson, showed "incredible discipline as an organization to hang on to all their pitching in the face of pressure to trade for a shortstop." (Troy Tulowitzki was a perpetual rumor.) As it turned out, homegrown shortstop Wilmer Flores has amassed an .829 OPS in this postseason.
Now, why have the Mets operated like a mid-market team? The answer begins with the fact that the Wilpon family invested substantial amounts of money with Bernard Madoff, and the revelation of the Ponzi scheme in December 2008 negatively impacted the Wilpons’ finances. The Mets’ payroll dropped in subsequent years and has yet to return to its proper level.
Will strong attendance, postseason revenues and a possible World Series title allow the Mets to re-sign free agents like Cespedes and Murphy? That’s unclear. But we do know this much: Executives from other teams already are busily studying the Mets’ resurgence, for hints as to how they might engineer a similar revival.
All they have to do is find pitchers — and people — like deGrom, Harvey, Syndergaard and Matz . . . and keep them healthy.
Easy enough, right?
DePodesta grinned, the pennant celebration raging around him on the Wrigley lawn.
"Guys like this," he said, "are hard to find."