A realistic appraisal shows the Mets to have little chance of winning the World Series with the current roster but loaded with bad contracts extending for years from now. Mo Vaughn is under contract through 2004 with $22 million left on his contract after this year. Roger Cedeno is signed through 2005 with $14.5 million left. David Weathers is signed through 2004 with $6.9 million left. The linchpins of the current Mets, Mike Piazza and Al Leiter are signed for big money in future years when they will likely be in decline.
The Mets farm system has been resuscitated after having been weakened by a win-now approach through a series of good drafts. It is deep in quality pitching and features standout prospects at shortstop, third base, and catcher. However, it is thin in hitting talent at the upper levels. With the trade of Alex Escobar and the death of Brian Cole it is weak in outfield talent. It is lacking in first and second basemen and legitimate power hitting prospects. Power hitting prospect Craig Brazell has serious strike zone judgment issues to work out.
Phillips hurt his 2002 draft with the offseason signings of Cedeno and Weathers; the signings depriving him of second and third round picks. However, the Mets used to their advantage the fact that they did not have to worry about signing bonuses for second and third round picks. When Scott Kazmir fell in the draft due to monetary concerns, the Mets were able to nab him with the #15 pick. Kazmir is regarded as the best pitching talent in the draft.
The thing to do with the Mets is try to get rid of as many bad contracts as possible. Unfortunately, the Vaughn and Cedeno contracts may not be moveable. Weathers should be worth a nice prospect from a contender, but won't be moved as long as the Mets are in the race. The thing not to do is saddle the Mets with more bad contracts.
With the Mets 11-7 since the All-Star break, Phillips will be looking to make moves to bolster the team for a playoff run. However, the talent available is not particularly appealing and other teams are demanding a high asking price. It may be best for Phillips to stand pat. Phillips has stated that he has taken standout prospects Aaron Heilman, Jose Reyes, Justin Huber, and David Wright out of all trade talks.
The rumored trade of Jeromy Burnitz for Bobby Higginson is just the kind of trade Phillips should not make. Certainly Burnitz has been a disappointment, but his contract expires after 2003. Higginson is signed for two further years for a total of $29.55 million. Such a deal only extends the cycle of bad contracts, which Phillips must bring to an end.
A trade that has been mentioned that may not be an actual possibility is still interesting to think about. It would send Mets top prospect Jose Reyes to the Montreal Expos for pitcher Bartolo Colon. If the Mets pull off this deal, they must win the World Series or they will have wasted one of the best prospects in baseball.
Colon is having a great year ERA wise, but his peripherals suggests he is not pitching as well as that ERA indicates. He is not likely to keep up this low an ERA in the upcoming years. With Colon this year, the Mets have a stronger rotation, but far from a dominating staff. Their lineup is still full of holes. Even with Colon, the Mets are too weak to match up in the playoffs.
Any such deals, or major deals of any kind are unlikely in the current environment in baseball. Had the Mets not taken off as they have, they would be more inclined to retool for the future.
The Mets could have moved Roberto Alomar, Weathers, Mark Guthrie, and/or Armando Benitez for prospects. The Indians trade of Paul Shuey for prospect Francisco Cruceta is such a deal as the Mets could have made. Alomar and Benitez could bring back top prospects, and Weathers and Guthrie Al Leiter was signed to a two-year extension and makes the Mets more attractive to potential ticket buyers in those years.
One rumored deal had Shawn Estes going to the Cincinnatti Reds for Brandon Larson and pitching prospect Ty Howington. Larson could have been a decent stopgap at third until Wright is ready. Howington is a lefty with #2 starter stuff should he find his control.
The Mets have adhered to a win-now philosophy for the entirety of Steve Phillips' tenure. He has consistently produced veteran teams laden with bad contracts. The Leiter/Piazza era is coming to a close while the Reyes/Heilman era will soon be upon us. The Mets have to realize that the Leiter/Piazza era will not bring a World Championship ring. The Mets have enough prospects to form the core of a very good team, but the Mets must end the cycle of bad contracts. This may require the Mets to improve their player evaluation system. The best sign is that the Mets will not trade their star prospects.
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