The Mets have made no secret of their desire to build a “sustainable winner.” If you’ve been paying attention to sports around the New York area over the last few years, then you’ve probably heard other teams cite the same term as well.
The Rangers hope their top prospect pool will produce more All-Stars en route to winning their first Stanley Cup championship since 1994. The Devils may finally be nearing the end of their long rebuild with a team built around two young centers in Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier.
The Yankees built a team that reached the ALCS in 2017 around the “Baby Bombers.”
Player development is the foundation of sustainability, so throughout the offseason, we’ll be looking at how a modern farm system is built and the changes the Mets have made at the development level in recent years.
It’s tough to quantify exactly what makes a good farm system and how to build one since different teams implement different systems, processes and philosophies, but the successful teams are often emulated so it’s worth exploring.
Let’s start by taking a look at what it means to win sustainably.
The idea is that the team contends for championships for a significant period of time without a break in action. Instead of having to go out and replace talent in free agency every year, as the Mets are doing right now, the farm system is able to regularly produce enough to be able to have players step into key roles without the team missing a beat in the standings.
It sounds simple in practice but it’s far more complex in execution.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros have come the closest to achieving this with the Yankees right behind them. The Dodgers’ mark of seven-straight postseason appearances from 2013-2019 is third only to the Atlanta Braves’ 14-year streak of division titles and the Yankees’ run of nine straight from 1998-2006. The Astros have been downright dominant since 2017, winning two World Series titles, four pennants and six AL West titles. Neither of these teams shows any signs of dropping off and both continue developing enviable crops of top talent.
The paths these two teams took to reach these points were vastly different. Houston, somewhat infamously tanked, losing at least 106 games in 2011, 2012 and 2013. They fielded a roster with a payroll of just $22 million and it drew the ire of many in the game. But former general manager Jeff Luhnow accomplished exactly what he wanted to when the club won the 2017 World Series with a homegrown core of players.
Out in Los Angeles, the Dodgers turned into a juggernaut in 2013 after a group led by the Guggenheim Partners bought the team. Taking a page from late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, the group set out to assemble the best team money could buy. The club already had a strong farm system but the new ownership group invested heavily in amateur and international scouting and player development.
The Dodgers continue to have one of the best top-to-bottom prospect groups in baseball despite having drafted outside of the top 10 each year since 2006 when they selected Clayton Kershaw, and one of the smaller available international bonus pools. The farm system has experienced continuity under different general managers and development directors.
Clearly, the Dodgers have an excellent eye for talent, but it goes beyond just identifying players that might hit it big in the big leagues. Even once prospects get to the Major Leagues, teams have to keep developing them. This is where those organizational philosophies come into play. If the hitting coach in Los Angeles is preaching the same things as the hitting coach in High-A, then it’s easier for a player to continue to progress by building on what helped him advance through the lower levels of professional baseball.
The Mets currently have a farm system that ranks in the top half of the league and a few top prospects are expected to graduate to the Major League level next season, but the club is still at the point where they have to build the Major League team through trades and free agency. They can’t rely on players like catcher Francisco Alvarez and third baseman Brett Baty to fill key roster spots. But they don’t intend to, as they already have other players ahead of each of them on the depth chart. The Mets planned ahead with the two of them in mind.
This is all an inexact science. Even the Astros missed big on two first-overall picks in pitchers Mark Appel (2013) and Brady Aiken (2014). When, exactly, could the Mets achieve sustainability? It’s tough to be able to say, but if Alvarez and Baty help contribute to a team that makes the postseason in 2023, then it would be considered another step in the process.©2022 New York Daily News. Visit nydailynews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.